State v. Stoddard, 12989

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation206 Conn. 157,537 A.2d 446
Decision Date02 February 1988
Docket NumberNo. 12989,12989
Parties, 56 USLW 2473 STATE of Connecticut v. Robert STODDARD.

Jon C. Blue, Asst. Public Defender, with whom, on the brief, were Joette Katz, Public Defender, and Frank Riccio, Asst. Public Defender, for appellant (defendant).

Frederick W. Fawcett, Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, were Donald A. Browne, State's Atty., and Jonathan C. Benedict, Asst. State's Atty., for appellee (State).


PETERS, Chief Justice.

The principal issue in this appeal is whether the police are constitutionally required under state law to inform a suspect whom they are holding for custodial interrogation of timely efforts by counsel to render pertinent legal assistance. The defendant, Robert Stoddard, was charged by amended information with the crime of felony murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54c. 1 After a jury found the defendant guilty as charged, the trial court rendered a judgment sentencing the defendant to a term of imprisonment of fifty years.

The jury could reasonably have concluded that, on the evening of March 23, 1984, the defendant went to the home of the victim knowing that the victim, who was soon to embark on a trip to Las Vegas, had a substantial amount of cash on hand. Two days later, after the victim had failed to meet a traveling companion to depart for Las Vegas, the police investigated. Entering the victim's home through an unlocked door, an investigating officer found the victim lying dead in the bathroom. A subsequent autopsy revealed that the victim had died from a single gunshot wound in the back of the neck. In their search of the victim's home, which had not been ransacked, the police were unable to locate the wallet, cash or jewelled rings known to belong to the victim.

On the night of the crime, the defendant borrowed a car, allegedly in order to pick up money due him from the sale of his house. He returned to the apartment where he was living approximately one and one-half hours later with more than $2000 in cash. He proceeded to destroy several credit cards and papers. After a few hours of local bar hopping, the defendant, joined by his girl friend, set out for New York City in a taxicab. On their return to Connecticut, the defendant disposed of the slide and barrel of a pistol by throwing them from the window of the moving taxi into a river. A firearms expert concluded that the slug removed from the victim had been fired from the barrel that had been thrown into the river.

On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court should have granted his motion to suppress statements that he gave to the police because: (1) the failure of the police to inform him of counsel's repeated efforts to contact him to provide pertinent legal assistance prior to his stationhouse confession rendered inoperative his waiver of the presence of counsel; (2) his right to counsel would have attached but for an impermissible delay in arraignment, itself caused by the closing of courts on the allegedly illegal state holiday of Good Friday; and (3) his right to counsel had attached with the issuance of an arrest warrant. Because we agree with the defendant on his first claim, we need not consider the latter two.


The defendant contends that the due process clause of article first, § 8, of the Connecticut constitution requires the police to inform a suspect in custody of timely efforts by a specific attorney to provide pertinent legal assistance. As the defendant concedes, this claim is untenable under federal constitutional law. The United States Supreme Court recently held that efforts by counsel to contact an in-custody suspect have no bearing on the validity of that suspect's waiver of rights guaranteed by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). Moran v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412, 422, 106 S.Ct. 1135, 89 L.Ed.2d 410 (1986).


The relevant facts are undisputed. On March 27, 1984, two days after the discovery of the victim's body, the defendant, having heard that the police wanted to question him regarding the death, called a Bridgeport police detective. After telling the detective that he would not come to the station, the defendant said that on the night in question he and his girl friend went bar hopping in Bridgeport and in New York City. Roughly one week later, the defendant gave a written statement to the police following a stationhouse interview accompanied by Miranda warnings. In that statement, the defendant denied killing the victim. The defendant's next encounter with Bridgeport police came on Thursday, April 19, 1984, at about 1:15 p.m., when he was arrested outside his home. Before leaving for the police station, the defendant spoke briefly with his girl friend through the partly opened front door of his home. 2 The defendant was then taken to the nearby station and, en route, received Miranda warnings. Because the drive to the station took only two or three minutes, the defendant was in custody at the station no later than 1:30 p.m. Upon arrival, the police again apprised the defendant of his Miranda rights, completing the task at about 1:40 p.m. In a process normally taking thirty to forty-five minutes to complete, the defendant was booked, and then taken to a room for interrogation.

In the meantime, within fifteen minutes of the arrest, the defendant's girl friend tried to reach attorney William Fitzpatrick III, who had represented the defendant on prior charges. Informed that William Fitzpatrick was unavailable, she spoke instead with his senior partner, John Fitzpatrick, who told her that he would promptly contact the defendant. At about 1:30 p.m., Attorney Fitzpatrick made the first of four calls to the Bridgeport police station. Identifying himself as counsel for the defendant, Fitzpatrick explained that he wanted to arrange to speak with his client. On this and all subsequent calls, counsel's requests to speak with the defendant were not limited to any specific purpose. Although the trial court indicated that one of counsel's primary reasons for calling was to arrange bond for the defendant, counsel testified repeatedly that his general goal was to speak privately with his client. Because the trial court expressly credited the entirety of defense counsel's testimony and the state agreed, the record amply supports a broad interpretation of counsel's efforts.

When the officer answering counsel's first phone call said she had no record of the defendant's presence, counsel asked to speak to a higher authority. A sergeant who was summoned to handle counsel's call told him that, "we have no record of him being here." Counsel's second call, made at about 2 p.m., resulted in a similar denial of the defendant's presence at the station. Because of these responses, counsel did not personally appear at the station demanding to see the defendant, and did not ask the police not to interrogate the defendant.

Shortly into the interrogation, the defendant telephoned his girl friend at 2:17 p.m. She in turn spoke to Attorney Fitzpatrick for a second time. Counsel thereafter called the Bridgeport police station again some time after 3 p.m., identified himself as the defendant's lawyer, and asked to speak with him. Because counsel was again told that the defendant was not on the premises, counsel made no further effort to reach his client until the next morning. Later that evening, the defendant gave a statement implicating his girl friend in the victim's death and denying that he had killed him. The defendant spent the night in the lockup of the Bridgeport station.

The next morning, counsel made a final unsuccessful attempt to contact his client. He received the same answer denying that the defendant was in the custody of the Bridgeport police. At mid-morning, however, the defendant was brought from the lockup to view newly obtained evidence, consisting of the slide and barrel of the pistol the police had retrieved from a river. After signing a card containing Miranda warnings, the defendant told the police he would discuss the crime. Prior to giving giving written statement, the defendant also signed a waiver of rights form. By 3 p.m. that afternoon, the defendant had signed an incriminating five page statement, which was later read to the jury by one of the interrogating officers. None of the defendant's other statements was admitted at trial.

During this course of events, from arrest to confession, the defendant did not know that his attorney was making repeated efforts to contact him. Similarly, the interrogating officers had no knowledge of the efforts of counsel. In his calls, counsel did not specifically request to speak with the detective bureau, and because the front desk officer did not forward the calls, no one in the detective bureau knew of the calls. 3

After a hearing, the trial court held the statement to be admissible. The court determined, inter alia, that under prevailing state and federal law the defendant had fully waived his rights to counsel and to remain silent and had freely chosen to incriminate himself. In the calculus of waiver, the court gave no weight to the repeated efforts of counsel because it found the holding of Moran v. Burbine, supra, to be controlling. After determining that the defendant was not informed of the Thursday calls because of inadvertence, however, the court stated: "I cannot personally find any excuse for failing to tell [the defendant] on Friday."


The defendant first urges us to impose a duty upon police officers who are holding a suspect for custodial interrogation to act reasonably, diligently and promptly to apprise the suspect of efforts by counsel to provide pertinent and timely legal assistance. He further argues that any dereliction in the performance of this duty necessarily undermines the suspect's...

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  • State v. Hamilton
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • January 11, 1994 elaborate discussion of the state constitutional issue in the defendant's briefs, he did raise the issue, and cited State v. Stoddard, 206 Conn. 157, 537 A.2d 446 (1988). In Stoddard, discussed below, we reviewed the historical setting and sociological considerations of the state constit......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Social Capital and Protecting the Rights of the Accused in the American States
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    • Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice No. 18-2, May 2002
    • May 1, 2002
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