STATE v. BILLY RAY WRIGHT, SC 19411

Judicial District of New Haven

 

†††† Criminal; Whether Appellate Court Properly Concluded That Trial Court Improperly Limited Defendantís Cross-Examination Into Police Investigative Procedures; Whether Appellate Court Properly Concluded That Defendant Was Deprived of Fair Trial.† The defendant was charged with murder in connection with the shooting death of a man outside a New Haven bar.† At trial, while cross-examining the investigating police officers, the defendant sought to elicit testimony as to whether the officers had acted in accordance with standard police investigative procedures in investigating the shooting.† The trial court sustained the stateís objections to the questions, ruling that inquiry into general police investigative procedures was not relevant and that defense counsel was limited to asking about procedures followed by the officers in this particular case. †The defendant was convicted and he appealed, claiming that the trial court violated his constitutional right to present a defense by limiting his cross-examination of the investigating officers, which he claimed was intended to establish that the police investigation into the shooting was inadequate.† The Appellate Court (152 Conn. App. 260) reversed the defendantís conviction, ruling that the defendant had a constitutional right to challenge the adequacy of the police investigation, and that the trial courtís limitation of his cross-examination into proper police investigative procedures generally followed in a case such as this deprived him of a fair trial.† The court explained that police officers could be considered experts for purposes of explaining ďordinary police procedures,Ē and that it was appropriate for the defendant to ask the investigating officers whether, based on their training and experience, general procedures of police investigation were followed here.† The court also observed that the stateís case was weak and that there was a lack of effort by the police to identify and question potential witnesses near the scene of the shooting or to canvass the area across the street to see if anyone had witnessed the shooting.† In light of those observations, the court concluded that the defendant might well have established reasonable doubt had he been given appropriate leeway in cross-examining the investigating officers about what trained and experienced officers are expected to do generally when investigating a murder case.† Finally, the court concluded that, in light of the weakness of the stateís case, the state could not meet its burden of establishing that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. †The state appeals, claiming that a defendant does not have a constitutional right to challenge the adequacy of a police investigation, that a trial courtís decision to exclude evidence on that subject is an evidentiary ruling that must be reviewed under the abuse of discretion standard, and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion here.† Finally, the state claims that, if there was any error here, it was harmless error that did not deprive the defendant of his constitutional right to a fair trial.