STATE v. EDDIE A. PEREZ, SC 19285

Judicial District of Hartford

 

†††† †Criminal; Joinder; Whether Appellate Court Properly Determined that Two Political Corruption Cases Were Wrongly Joined for Trial; Whether Refusal to Sever Cases Violated Defendantís Right to Testify. †The defendant is the former mayor of the city of Hartford.† He was charged with receiving a bribe and other offenses in connection with his alleged solicitation and acceptance of remodeling work to his residence.† In a separate case, the state accused the defendant of participating in a scheme to extort money from a contractor who had sought to purchase and develop property owned by the city.† The trial court granted the stateís motion to consolidate the two cases and, during trial, the court denied the defendantís repeated requests that the matters be severed.† The jury found the defendant guilty of bribery and extortion charges and the defendant appealed, claiming that the court improperly consolidated the cases.† The Appellate Court (147 Conn. App. 53) agreed, finding that, because the trial was long and complicated, the jury likely intermingled or confused the evidence in the separate cases, noting that the jury heard testimony from forty-two witnesses and considered 150 exhibits during the five week trial.† The court also emphasized that the jury heard detailed and complicated testimony regarding numerous events that took place over extended periods of time and that the two cases did not involve discrete, easily distinguishable factual scenarios.† It explained that both cases involved the defendantís misuse of power as mayor and required testimony as to how municipal government operates.† It also pointed out that the cases involved overlapping time periods and that the stateís closing argument blurred the lines between the cases.† It further opined that the trial courtís instructions to the jury that the cases should be considered separately did not remedy the harm caused by the improper joinder.† The Appellate Court also determined that the trial court improperly declined to sever the two cases even after it became apparent that the defendant wished to testify in the bribery case but refrain from testifying in the extortion case.† It emphasized that the defendant informed the trial court that his testimony in the bribery case was necessary in order to counter the stateís allegation that he had lied to an investigator and that he wished to remain silent in the extortion case because the main witness against him in that case was a convicted felon who lacked credibility.† The Appellate Court determined that the defendantís strategy was significantly undermined by the trial courtís failure to sever the cases and that the defendantís interest in testifying in the bribery case should have taken precedence over concerns of judicial economy.† The Appellate Court reversed the defendantís convictions and remanded for new, separate trials on the bribery and extortion charges.† In this appeal, the state argues that, in resolving the consolidation issue, the Appellate Court improperly considered the entirety of the proceedings and did not limit its evaluation solely to the information that was available to the trial court at the time that it consolidated the cases. †It also contends that the Appellate Court improperly concluded that the trial courtís refusal to sever the cases violated the defendantís right to testify in one case and remain silent in the other.