STATE v. ANTHONY MARTINEZ, SC 19198

Judicial District of Fairfield

 

†††† †Criminal; Prosecutorial Impropriety; Whether Prosecutorís Statements During Closing Arguments Constituted Prosecutorial Impropriety that Deprived the Defendant of a Fair Trial.† In 2009, the defendant and Maria Vargas were arrested for selling drugs at a park in Bridgeport.† Prior to the start of his trial, the defendant moved to suppress $60 that had been found on his person at the time of his arrest.† The trial court granted the motion, and it subsequently informed the defendant that he could argue to the jury that there was no evidence that he had any money in his possession at the time of his arrest.† Thereafter, during closing arguments, the prosecutor stated as follows: ďNow one may say, well, why wasnít there any money found on [the defendant].† Well, if youíre setting up an operation in a park, you want to make sure that the drugs and the money are found on the co-conspirator; it makes sense.Ē† The defendant moved for a mistrial on the ground that the prosecutor improperly stated that he did not possess any money at the time of his arrest and that he was involved in a conspiracy with Vargas, who did have money and drugs in her possession when she was arrested.† The trial court denied the motion, and the defendant was ultimately convicted of possession of narcotics with the intent to sell and conspiracy to possess narcotics with the intent to sell.† On appeal, the defendant argued that the statements that the prosecutor made during closing arguments constituted prosecutorial impropriety that deprived him of his right to a fair trial.† The Appellate Court (143 Conn. App. 541) agreed, finding that the prosecutorís statement that no money was found on the defendant was improper because the trial court only intended to permit counsel to argue that there was no evidence of money found on the defendant.† The Appellate Court also determined that there was no evidentiary support for the prosecutorís argument that it is common practice for drug dealers to compel their coconspirators to hold any incriminating evidence of drugs and money.† The court then went on to conclude that the cumulative effect of the prosecutorís statements deprived the defendant of his right to a fair trial.† It reasoned that the prosecutorís statements were not invited by the defendantís arguments and that the frequency and severity of the improprieties were magnified by the fact that the prosecutorís closing argument was relatively brief.† It also emphasized that the statements related to the central issue of the case, namely, whether the defendant had dominion and control over the drugs that were found on Vargas.† The Appellate Court further noted that the defendant objected to the statements, and it determined that the trial court could not have employed any curative measures that would have adequately remedied the improprieties.† Finally, it concluded that the stateís case was not very strong because the evidence connecting the defendant to the drugs that were found in Vargasí possession consisted largely of circumstantial evidence.† In light of the foregoing factors, the Appellate Court held that the defendant was entitled to a new trial.† In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court properly reversed the defendantís convictions on the ground that prosecutorial impropriety deprived him of his right to a fair trial.