State v. Watson

Decision Date21 January 2020
Docket NumberAC 41563
Citation195 Conn.App. 441,225 A.3d 686
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
Parties STATE of Connecticut v. Semmion WATSON

Peter G. Billings, New Haven, for the appellant (defendant).

Margaret Gaffney Radionovas, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Patrick J. Griffin, state's attorney, and Seth R. Garbasky, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

DiPentima, C.J., and Bright and Lavery, Js.

DiPENTIMA, C.J.

The defendant, Semmion Watson, appeals from the judgment of conviction of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a (a) and sale of narcotics in violation of General Statutes § 21a-278 (b), rendered after a trial to the court. On appeal, the defendant claims that (1) the state failed to disprove his self and premises defenses beyond a reasonable doubt and (2) the court improperly precluded the testimony of a defense witness. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of conviction.

The trial court set forth the following facts in its memorandum of decision that are relevant to our decision. On October 5, 2013, the victim, Anthony Stevenson, entered the defendant's New Haven apartment to purchase crack cocaine. After ingesting the drug in the apartment, the victim refused the defendant's request that he depart. After the defendant grabbed the victim in an effort to force him to leave the apartment, the two struggled over a knife with a blade of approximately six inches. Once he gained possession of the knife, the defendant repeatedly stabbed the victim. The victim sustained fifty-one stab wounds, including thirty-one in the back. Fourteen stab wounds penetrated the victim's chest and abdominal cavities, causing injuries to his lungs, liver, spleen and kidney. The defendant exited the apartment as the victim lay on the floor profusely bleeding and uttering that he "was dying." At no point did the defendant summon medical assistance for the victim; instead, he "purposefully did not return to his apartment or disclose his whereabouts to the police" until his arrest approximately thirty-six hours later. The victim died as a result of the stab wounds.

In a three count information dated August 30, 2016, the state charged the defendant with murder, sale of narcotics and tampering with physical evidence in violation of General Statutes § 53a-155 (a) (1). The defendant elected a court trial before a three judge panel, Alander, O'Keefe and Cradle, Js. (panel), on the murder charge, and a court trial before Judge Alander, the presiding judge of the panel, on the remaining two charges.1 At the conclusion of the state's case, the defendant filed a motion for a judgment of acquittal as to the murder and tampering with physical evidence charges. The panel denied the defendant's motion for a judgment of acquittal as to the murder charge, and Judge Alander granted the defendant's motion with respect to the tampering with physical evidence charge.

On September 29, 2016, the panel found the defendant guilty of murder. Specifically, the panel unanimously concluded that the defendant had stabbed the victim on the evening of October 5, 2013, causing his death. The panel found that "[t]he sheer number of stab wounds—fifty-one—is powerful evidence that the defendant intended to cause the death of the [victim]. Also telling is the depth of those wounds—as much as six inches—and the force needed to inflict them. Finally, the defendant's failure to render or seek medical assistance to the obviously dying [victim] reflects an intent to cause his death."

The panel further concluded that the state had disproved, beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant's claims of defense of self; see General Statutes § 53a-19 ; and defense of premises. See General Statutes § 53a-20. Specifically, it found that "the defendant did not actually believe that [the victim] was using or about to use deadly physical force, or inflicting or about to inflict great bodily harm and that the defendant did not actually believe deadly physical force was necessary to prevent an attempt by [the victim] to commit a crime of violence. We simply do not believe the defendant's assertions that [the victim] first came at him with a knife and that he used deadly physical force to defend himself and his premises."

Judge Alander found the defendant guilty of sale of narcotics. On December 1, 2016, the panel sentenced the defendant to forty-five years of incarceration on the murder count and Judge Alander imposed a ten year concurrent sentence on the sale of narcotics count, for a total effective sentence of forty-five years of incarceration.

This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

I

The defendant first claims that the state failed to disprove his self and premises defenses beyond a reasonable doubt. Specifically, he argues that the panel erred in concluding that the state had met its burden of disproving these justification defenses, as its decision was unsupported by the evidence and drew unreason-able inferences. We are not persuaded.

We begin with our standard of review and the relevant legal principles. "On appeal, the standard for reviewing sufficiency claims in conjunction with a justification offered by the defense is the same standard used when examining claims of insufficiency of the evidence.... In reviewing a sufficiency of the evidence claim, we apply a two part test. First, we construe the evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the verdict. Second, we determine whether upon the facts so construed and the inferences reasonably drawn therefrom the [fact finder] reasonably could have concluded that the cumulative force of the evidence established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt .... This court cannot substitute its own judgment for that of the [fact finder] if there is sufficient evidence to support the [fact finder's] verdict .... We ask ... whether there is a reasonable view of the evidence that supports the [fact finder's] verdict of guilty....

"The rules governing the respective burdens borne by the defendant and the state on the justification of self-defense [and defense of premises] are grounded in the fact that [u]nder our Penal Code, self-defense, as defined in ... § 53a-19 (a) ... is a defense, rather than an affirmative defense. See General Statutes § 53a-16. Whereas an affirmative defense requires the defendant to establish his claim by a preponderance of the evidence, a properly raised defense places the burden on the state to disprove the defendant's claim beyond a reasonable doubt. See General Statutes § 53a-12. Consequently, a defendant has no burden of persuasion for a claim of self-defense [or defense of premises]; he has only a burden of production. That is, he merely is required to introduce sufficient evidence to warrant presenting his claim of self-defense [or defense of premises] to the [fact finder].... Once the defendant has done so, it becomes the state's burden to disprove the defense beyond a reasonable doubt." (Citation omitted; emphasis omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Alicea , 191 Conn. App. 421, 446–47, 215 A.3d 184, cert. granted on other grounds, 333 Conn. 937, 219 A.3d 373 (2019) ; State v. Nicholson , 155 Conn. App. 499, 505–506, 109 A.3d 1010, cert. denied, 316 Conn. 913, 111 A.3d 884 (2015) ; see also State v. Grasso , 189 Conn. App. 186, 198–201, 207 A.3d 33, cert. denied, 331 Conn. 928, 207 A.3d 519 (2019).2

Next, we set forth the substantive principles with respect to the defendant's claims of self-defense and defense of premises. Regarding the claim of self-defense, "[u]nder § 53a-19 (a), a person may justifiably use deadly physical force in self-defense only if he reasonably believes both that (1) his attacker is using or about to use deadly physical force against him, or is inflicting or about to inflict great bodily harm, and (2) that deadly physical force is necessary to repel such attack.... We repeatedly have indicated that the test a [fact finder] must apply in analyzing the second requirement, i.e., that the defendant reasonably believed that deadly force, as opposed to some lesser degree of force, was necessary to repel the victim's alleged attack, is a subjective-objective one. The [fact finder] must view the situation from the perspective of the defendant. Section 53a-19 (a) requires, however, that the defendant's belief ultimately must be found to be reasonable." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Revels , 313 Conn. 762, 779, 99 A.3d 1130 (2014), cert. denied, 574 U.S. 1177, 135 S. Ct. 1451, 191 L. Ed. 2d 404 (2015) ; see also State v. Terry , 161 Conn. App. 797, 805–807, 128 A.3d 958 (2015), cert. denied, 320 Conn. 916, 131 A.3d 751 (2016).3

Regarding the claim of defense of premises, § 53a-20 provides in relevant part: "A person in possession or control of premises, or a person who is licensed or privileged to be in or upon such premises, is justified in using reasonable physical force upon another person when and to the extent that he reasonably believes such to be necessary to prevent or terminate the commission or attempted commission of a criminal trespass by such other person in or upon such premises; but he may use deadly physical force under such circumstances only (1) in defense of a person as prescribed in section 53a-19, or (2) when he reasonably believes such to be necessary to prevent an attempt by the trespasser to commit arson or any crime of violence ...." (Emphasis added.) See also State v. Terwilliger , 294 Conn. 399, 409, 984 A.2d 721 (2009) ; State v. Nicholson , supra, 155 Conn. App. at 506–507, 109 A.3d 1010.

We begin our analysis by setting forth the defendant's theory of self-defense and defense of premises. See, e.g., State v. Revels , supra, 313 Conn. at 779, 99 A.3d 1130 ; State v. Grasso , supra, 189 Conn. App. at 198, 207 A.3d 33. The defendant did not testify at trial. Instead, defense counsel used the...

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3 cases
  • State v. Robert H.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • June 23, 2020
    ...view of the evidence that supports the [fact finder's] verdict of guilty." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Watson , 195 Conn. App. 441, 445, 225 A.3d 686, cert. denied, 335 Conn. 912, 229 A.3d 472 (2020)."[W]e do not sit as the seventh juror when we review the sufficiency of th......
  • State v. Velazquez
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • June 2, 2020
    ...if there is sufficient evidence to support the [fact finder's] verdict ...." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Watson , 195 Conn. App. 441, 445, 225 A.3d 686, cert. denied, 335 Conn. 912, 229 A.3d 472 (2020). Additionally, as our Supreme Court often has noted, "proof beyond a rea......
  • State v. Watson
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • March 25, 2020
    ...assistant state's attorney, in opposition.The defendant's petition for certification to appeal from the Appellate Court, 195 Conn. App. 441, 225 A.3d 686 (2020), is denied. KAHN, J., did not participate in the consideration of or decision on this ...

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