WALTER HINDS v. COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION, SC 19393/19394

Judicial District of Tolland

 

      Habeas; Procedural Default; Whether Habeas Relief Proper Where Jury not Instructed on Kidnapping in Accordance with State v. Salamon; Whether Claim that Cumulative Effect of Trial Court Errors Caused Due Process Violation Legally Cognizable. In 2002, the petitioner was convicted of kidnapping in the first degree and sexual assault in the first degree.  After his conviction was affirmed on appeal, he brought this habeas action by a two count petition.  He claimed in count one that he was entitled to a new trial on the kidnapping charge because the trial court committed constitutional error in failing to instruct the jury in accordance with State v. Salamon, 287 Conn. 509 (2008).  In Salamon, the Supreme Court held that “to commit a kidnapping in conjunction with another crime, a defendant must intend to prevent the victim’s liberation for a longer period of time or to a greater degree than that which is necessary to commit the other crime.”  The petitioner claimed in count two that multiple errors by the trial court, which were deemed individually harmless on direct appeal, nonetheless had the cumulative effect of violating his rights to due process and a fair trial.  The habeas court granted the petition as to count one and denied it as to count two, and both the petitioner and the respondent commissioner appealed.  The Appellate Court (151 Conn. App. 837) affirmed the habeas court’s judgment.  With respect to count one, the Appellate Court agreed with the petitioner’s claim of instructional error but determined that the claim was subject to a procedural default analysis because the petitioner had not raised it at trial or on direct appeal.  It then concluded that the petitioner had satisfied the cause and prejudice standard for overcoming procedural default.  The Appellate Court held that the petitioner had demonstrated “good cause” for failing previously to raise the Salamon claim because “there was no reasonable basis for counsel to have asked . . . for an instruction not [permitted at the time of the petitioner’s criminal trial] and, indeed, expressly rejected by then controlling decisional law.”  The Appellate Court further held that the petitioner had demonstrated “actual prejudice” because, given that there was evidence at the criminal trial regarding the closeness in time and location of the restraint and abduction to the sexual assault, there was a reasonable probability that he was prejudiced by the lack of a Salamon instruction.  The Appellate Court affirmed the denial of the petition as to count two, agreeing with the habeas court that the petitioner’s cumulative error claim was not legally cognizable and citing Connecticut appellate authority rejecting similar claims.  Both the petitioner and the commissioner were granted certification to appeal the Appellate Court’s judgment.  In the commissioner’s appeal, the Supreme Court will consider whether the Appellate Court properly affirmed the habeas court’s granting of relief on the ground that the jury was not instructed in accordance with Salamon.  In the petitioner’s appeal, the court will decide whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that the petitioner was categorically barred from prevailing on his claim that he is entitled to a new trial due to the cumulative effect of certain improprieties because none of the improprieties, standing alone, was sufficiently harmful to warrant a new trial.