STATE v. SHELVONN JONES, SC 19097/19098

Judicial District of Danbury

 

†††† †Criminal; Search and Seizure; Whether Prosecutorial Improprieties Violated Defendantís Due Process Rights; Whether Defendant Consented to Police Seizure of Evidence. Danbury police, responding to reports of a street robbery, found the intoxicated defendant at the scene.† Believing the defendant to be a victim, police gave the defendant a ride home for his safety.† Before the defendant entered the police cruiser, the officer told him he would conduct a patdown pursuant to standard police procedure for anyone not under arrest entering a police cruiser.† The defendant then told the officer that he had a utility knife in his possession and handed it to the officer.† The defendant was told that he could retrieve the knife when he was sober.† When police subsequently received information that the defendant was a suspect in an assault with a knife, the defendant was arrested and the utility knife was processed as evidence.† The defendant was charged with attempted assault in the first degree, assault in the second degree and possession of marijuana.† Before trial, the court denied the defendantís motion to suppress the evidence of the knife, finding that he voluntarily handed over the knife and that the police did not exceed the scope of that consent.† At trial, the defendant testified that the complainant assaulted him and that he inadvertently cut the complainant during the fight.† During cross-examination, the prosecutor asked the defendant three questions that compelled him to comment on the veracity of the complainant and police officers, and the prosecutor referred to those questions in closing argument.† The defendant was convicted of assault and acquitted of the other charges.† On appeal, the defendant claimed, and the state conceded, that the prosecutorís questions and remarks violated State v. Singh, 259 Conn. 693 (2002), which adopted the evidentiary rule that asking a witness to comment on another witnessí veracity is improper.† The Appellate Court (139 Conn. App. 469), agreeing that the statements were improper, concluded that the Singh violations deprived the defendant of his due process right to a fair trial primarily because the improprieties were severe and were central to the critical issues in the case and because the stateís case, which turned entirely on credibility, was not strong.† The court was not persuaded by the stateís argument that the prosecutorís statements were not prejudicial in the context of the stateís larger, permissible argument that the defendant had a motive to lie.† In addition, the Appellate Court addressed, as a claim likely to arise on retrial, the defendantís claim that the trial court improperly denied his motion to suppress the utility knife.† It determined that the trial court properly relied on the consent exception to the warrant requirement and that the trial courtís finding that the defendant handed over the knife voluntarily was not clearly erroneous.† The Supreme Court will now determine whether the prosecutorial improprieties during cross-examination and final argument violated the defendantís due process rights and whether the denial of the motion to suppress was properly affirmed.