FITZGERALD DIEUDONNE v. COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION, SC 19140

Judicial District of Tolland

 

     Habeas; Whether Appellate Court Properly Applied Standards Regarding Burden of Proof and Weighing of Evidence Set Forth in Strickland v. Washington for Review of Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claims.  The petitioner was involved in an incident in which he allegedly resisted several police officers as they attempted to restrain and arrest him.  He was convicted of assaulting the first officer who had attempted to restrain him.  He brought this habeas corpus action, alleging that his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to present the testimony of Jessie Boiteux, an eyewitness to the incident.  Before the habeas court, Boiteux corroborated the petitioner’s version of the events, testifying that the petitioner did not assault any police officers or resist arrest.  Under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), a petitioner, in order to prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, must establish both that counsel's performance was deficient and that the deficiency prejudiced the defense.  The habeas court granted the petition, concluding that both prongs of Strickland were satisfied.  The commissioner of correction appealed, claiming that the habeas court, in making its prejudice determination, failed to weigh properly the totality of the evidence adduced at both the criminal and habeas trials.  Specifically, the commissioner contended that Boiteux’ testimony did not pertain to the first phase of the altercation in which the first officer initially pursued the petitioner and attempted to detain him, and that the uncontested evidence regarding that phase was sufficient to support the conviction.  The Appellate Court (141 Conn. App. 151) affirmed the judgment, finding that the commissioner’s claim was based on unsupported assumptions; namely, that Boiteux did not witness the entire altercation, that the altercation unfolded in phases, and that the jury’s guilt determination was based on the petitioner’s conduct during the supposed first phase of the altercation.  Further, observing that the petitioner’s criminal case was a close one in which the jury had to determine guilt on the basis of conflicting testimony about the altercation, the court concluded that counsel’s failure to call Boiteux, a neutral witness whose testimony would have corroborated the petitioner’s version of the events, was sufficient to satisfy Strickland’s prejudice prong.  The Appellate Court ruled that the habeas court’s determination that Boiteux’ account of the events corroborated the petitioner’s testimony was not clearly erroneous and that the habeas court properly weighed the totality of the evidence in concluding that the absence of Boiteux’ testimony created at least a reasonable probability that the result of the trial would have been different had he been called to testify.  In this appeal, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court properly applied the standards set forth in Strickland with regard to burden of proof and weighing of the evidence.