STATE v. MAURICE FRANCIS, SC 19305

Judicial District of Hartford

 

†††† †Criminal; Right to Counsel; Juror Misconduct; Whether Defendant Waived Right to Counsel when he Elected to Testify at Trial; Whether Trial Court Properly Dismissed Juror who Asked Whether Certain Testimony Could be Verified.† The defendant was charged with murder in connection with the death of his girlfriend.† During his trial, the defendant stated that he wanted to be called as a witness.† His attorneys then informed the trial court that the defendant had not sought their advice in determining whether to take the witness stand and that if he decided to testify, he would essentially be representing himself.† After the defendant continued to express his intention to testify, the court ruled that he could represent himself on the condition that standby counsel be appointed to assist him while he was on the witness stand.† Thereafter, a defense witness testified that the weather was warm and sunny on the day of the murder.† In response to that testimony, a juror gave a note to a court clerk, asking whether the jury could find out what the weather was actually like on that day.† The court questioned the juror about the note and dismissed him on the ground that he had improperly started to form an opinion as to whether the defendant was guilty.† After the defendant was convicted of murder, he appealed, claiming that the trial court improperly forced him to choose between his right to counsel and his right to testify on his own behalf.† He also argued that the court improperly dismissed the juror who wrote the note because he was only ďinternally deliberatingĒ and had not discussed his note with the other jurors. †The Appellate Court (148 Conn. App. 788) disagreed and affirmed the defendantís conviction.† As to the defendantís first claim, the Appellate Court opined that it was not clear from the record that the defendantís attorneys did not represent him while he was on the witness stand. †It explained that the attorneys never moved to withdraw as counsel for the defendant and that at no time did the trial court tell the defendant that if he chose to testify, he would have to waive his right to counsel.† It further concluded that even if the defendant represented himself when he testified, the trial court properly canvassed him in accordance with Practice Book ß 44-3 to ensure that his decision to represent himself had been made in a knowing and intelligent fashion.† The Appellate Court emphasized that during the canvass, the trial court clearly advised the defendant that he had the right to counsel.† As to the defendantís claim regarding the excused juror, the Appellate Court determined that the trial court had a legitimate concern that the juror had already formed an opinion as to the defendantís guilt or innocence at the time that he wrote the note.† In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the defendant waived his right to counsel when he elected to testify and whether the trial courtís dismissal of the juror was proper. ††