State v. Zayas

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation490 A.2d 68,195 Conn. 611
Decision Date09 April 1985
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Jose ZAYAS.

Temmy Ann Pieszak, Sp. Public Defender, with whom, on the brief, was Joette Katz, Public Defender, for appellant (defendant).

William Domnarski, Deputy Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, were Robert Lacobelle and Carl Schuman, Asst. State's Attys., for the appellee (State).


PARSKEY, Associate Justice.

The defendant was convicted by a jury of the crime of attempted burglary in the second degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-102 1 and 53a-49. 2 In his appeal the defendant challenges (1) the reopening of the state's case as an abuse of discretion and as a violation of the prohibition against double jeopardy; (2) the court's instructions on the intent to commit a crime within a dwelling; (3) the instruction on the substantial step element of a criminal attempt; and (4) the sufficiency of the evidence. We find no error.

We consider the defendant's claims in the factual context of the trial. On March 18, 1980, in the early afternoon, Barbara Askew left her one family home in Bridgeport. She had locked the doors and windows before leaving and took with her one of the three keys to the house. Her husband and her mother-in-law, the only other people with permission to enter the home, had the two other keys. She did not return home until 7:45 that evening. At about 7 p.m. two police officers, in response to a call, approached the Askew home. Upon arrival they observed two men, one of whom was the defendant, on the porch of the house near the front door. As the officers approached the men, they descended the porch steps and complied with an order to stay where they were. One of the men said the two were looking for someone named Poppy. One officer went onto the porch and noticed that a small storm window was pushed up and that there were pry marks on the wooden window sill. There were also paint chips on the sill. The two men were searched and a screwdriver was taken from each man. One of the screwdrivers was found at the time of the arrest to match perfectly with some of the pry marks on the window sill. A detective later matched both screwdrivers to the pry marks.


After the state had rested its case the defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal claiming that the state had failed to prove an essential element of the crime charged, namely, that the crime was committed at "night" as required by statute. The applicable statute; General Statutes § 53a-100; defines "night" as the period between thirty minutes after sunset and thirty minutes before sunrise. The defendant argued that the state had failed to establish that the offense occurred at night within the meaning of the statute by failing to offer evidence as to the time of sunset. The state thereupon moved to reopen its case for the purpose of establishing the time of sunset. After the court granted its motion, the state offered a certified document from the United States Naval Observatory on the basis of which it asked the court to take judicial notice of the time of sunset at Bridgeport on the day in question. The court admitted the document as a full exhibit. 3 Although the procedure followed was unnecessary, we find no error.

The time of sunrise and sunset on any given day is a matter that falls within the realm of facts which are capable of immediate and accurate demonstration by resort to easily accessible sources of indisputable accuracy and therefore may be judicially noticed. State v. Morris, 47 Conn. 179, 180 (1879). Facts judicially noticed need not be proved. "Whatever a court will notice without proof it may state to the jury, or allow to be stated to it, without proof." Thayer, A Preliminary Treatise on Evidence at the Common Law, p. 302. The source of information relied upon is used "not strictly as evidence, but for the purpose of refreshing the memory of the court and jury." State v. Morris, supra. "[I]n a jury trial, the court may in its discretion cause the matter [judicially noticed] to be submitted to the jury either by having it read into the record or marked as an exhibit, or may place it before them in its charge. If the information is thus placed before them, there would be no error in the refusal of the trial court to admit as evidence in the case the source from which it is derived." Nichols v. Nichols, 126 Conn. 614, 622, 13 A.2d 591 (1940). Even if a fact judicially noticed is not open to argument, however, the better practice is to give the parties an opportunity to be heard before judicial notice is taken. Moore v. Moore, 173 Conn. 120, 122, 376 A.2d 1085 (1977). But whether a particular fact should be noticed presents a judicial and not a jury question. See Nichols v. Nichols, supra, 126 Conn. at 621, 13 A.2d 591.

It was not necessary for the court to reopen the state's case in order to inform the jury of the time of sunset on the day in question. Judicial notice may be taken at any stage of the proceedings. See Nichols v. Nichols, supra, 620-21, 13 A.2d 591; Fed.R.Evid., rule 201(f). That on March 18, 1980, the sun set at 6:02 p.m. in Bridgeport is not open to argument. The defendant did not at the trial nor does he now on appeal question the accuracy of the time stated nor the authenticity or reliability of the source of the information. So long as the parties are offered an opportunity to be heard the court may notice any fact concerning the parties and events of the case that is appropriate for judicial notice. See Moore v. Moore, supra 173 Conn. at 122, 376 A.2d 1085. After the parties had rested, the court properly could have advised them that, on the basis of the Naval Observatory document or any other pertinent reference material, it proposed to inform the jury in its charge of the time of sunset. That it permitted the state to put that fact before the jury in an exhibit is of little consequence. See Nichols v. Nichols, supra, 126 Conn. at 622, 13 A.2d 591; State v. Morris, supra 47 Conn. at 180.

The fact that the allegedly missing element was a proper subject for judicial notice removes the essential underpinning from the defendant's claim that permitting the state to reopen its case constituted an abuse of judicial discretion or a violation of the prohibition against double jeopardy.


We next consider the court's instruction on criminal intent. The court charged the jury that in order to convict the defendant they must find that he intended to commit a crime inside the dwelling. The court did not instruct the jury on any particular crime regarding this element of attempted burglary. The defendant argues that this lack of specificity in the jury instructions deprived him of due process of law because it allowed the jury to find him guilty without necessarily finding all of the elements of attempted burglary to have been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

The information charged the defendant with having committed the crime of attempted burglary in violation of the pertinent statutes. The defendant did not request a bill of particulars, did not submit a request to charge on the definition of burglary and failed to except to the trial court's instructions on the ground that the court did not properly instruct the jury on the element of criminal intent. Although this issue has not been properly preserved; Practice Book § 854; because a failure properly to instruct the jury on each element of the crime charged might result in denying the defendant due process of law, we shall nevertheless consider it. State v. Smith, 194 Conn. 213, 217, 479 A.2d 814 (1984). Our inquiry, however, is of a limited nature. "A claimed constitutional error, raised for the first time on appeal, will be examined, if at all, not to ascertain whether the ruling or instruction was undesirable, erroneous, or even universally condemned but rather whether when viewed in the context of the entire trial it violated some right guaranteed to the defendant by the fourteenth amendment to the constitution of the United States; Cupp v. Naughten, 414 U.S. 141, 146, 94 S.Ct. 396, 38 L.Ed.2d 368 (1973); or article first, § 8 of the constitution of Connecticut." State v. Kurvin, 186 Conn. 555, 564-65, 442 A.2d 1327 (1982). The question then is whether, considering the substance of the charge rather than the form of what was said, it is reasonably possible that the jury was misled. State v. Smith, supra, 194 Conn. at 219, 479 A.2d 814.

The trial court instructed the jury that to constitute attempted burglary the evidence must show not only that the defendant attempted an unlawful entry into a dwelling but that he did so with intent to commit a crime therein; that the intended crime could be either the more serious offense of felony or the less serious offense of misdemeanor, each by definition providing for a possible period of incarceration depending on the degree of seriousness; and that an unlawful entry is not enough unless it is accompanied by an intent to commit a crime inside the building. The jury was cautioned that, although the determination of the defendant's mental state was a matter of inference derived from his conduct, the defendant could not be convicted of the act charged unless the jury found that the accused committed the act charged with a criminal purpose.

The defendant asserts that the failure of the court to instruct the jury as to what specific crime or crimes the evidence might show an intent to commit permitted the jury to convict the defendant on wholly non-criminal conduct. We disagree. Common experience tells us that an unlawful entry into a dwelling at night is not without purpose. Nor are people accustomed to enter homes of strangers through a window for innocent purposes. To any person of ordinary intelligence, the expected by-product of a surreptitious unlawful entry into the home of...

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