STATE v. RAFAEL MEDRANO, SC 18895
Judicial District of Hartford
Criminal; Whether Prosecutorial Improprieties Deprived Defendant of a Fair Trial; Whether Trial Court's Jury Instructions Unduly Emphasized Defendant's Interest in Outcome of Trial. While attending a high school graduation party, the defendant stabbed Joel Quinones with a pocketknife, causing his death. Thereafter, the defendant was convicted of intentional manslaughter in the first degree and carrying a dangerous weapon. On appeal, he claimed that the prosecutor engaged in impropriety that deprived him of his right to a fair trial. He also argued that the trial court's instruction to the jury on the credibility of witnesses unfairly undermined his trial testimony in that it unduly emphasized his interest in the outcome of the trial. The Appellate Court (131 Conn. App. 528) disagreed and affirmed the defendant's convictions. It first acknowledged that the prosecutor did indeed engage in impropriety during the trial. It explained that the prosecutor made statements that (1) were not based on reasonable inferences from the facts in the record; (2) unreasonably appealed to the emotions, passions and prejudices of the jurors; and (3) expressed the prosecutor's opinion that the defendant was not credible. The improprieties identified by the court included, among other things, the prosecutor's statements that the defendant carried a pocketknife to "settle some scores," that the defendant was Quinones' "judge, jury and executioner" and that the defendant was "not a credible person." Nevertheless, the court concluded that the prosecutorial improprieties did not deprive the defendant of his right to a fair trial. It reasoned that the improper statements were neither frequent nor severe and that defense counsel failed to object to any of the improper remarks or request curative instructions. It further opined that the state's case against the defendant was relatively strong, emphasizing that the defendant admitted that he stabbed Quinones because he "wanted to make him bleed." The court also determined that the improper comments were unrelated to the critical issue in the case, namely, whether the defendant possessed the requisite intent to be convicted of murder, first degree manslaughter or some lesser offense. With regard to the defendant's claim that the trial court's jury instruction concerning his interest in the outcome of the trial was improper, the defendant conceded at oral argument that in State v. Williams, 220 Conn. 385 (1991), the Supreme Court gave its approval to the same type of instruction. Accordingly, the Appellate Court deemed the claim as waived. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the defendant was deprived of his right to a fair trial as a result of prosecutorial improprieties and whether Williams should be overruled.