STATE v. JEFFREY T. CONNOR, SC 19421

Judicial District of Hartford

 

†††† Criminal; Whether Defendant Competent to Waive Right to Counsel; Whether Appellate Court Properly Considered Issue of Whether Remand Hearing was Procedurally Flawed; Whether Appellate Court Properly Vacated Defendantís Convictions. †The defendant was charged with several crimes, including kidnapping and robbery, in connection with his abduction of his ex-wife.† He was found competent to stand trial and permitted to waive his right to counsel and represent himself at the trial.† The defendant was found guilty and he appealed, claiming that the trial court wrongly concluded that he was competent to waive his right to counsel at the criminal trial.† In State v. Connor, 292 Conn. 483 (2009), the Supreme Court made new law, ruling for the first time that, upon finding that a mentally ill or mentally incapacitated defendant is competent to stand trial and to waive his right to counsel at that trial, a Connecticut trial court must also determine whether the defendant also is competent to conduct the trial proceedings without counsel.† The Supreme Court remanded the defendantís case to the trial court to determine whether, applying the new standard, it would have denied the defendantís request to represent himself at trial.† The Supreme Court directed that, if it was determined on remand that the defendant was not sufficiently capable to defend himself without the aid of counsel, the defendant must be granted a new trial.† On remand, the matter was referred to a different judge (the second judge) than the one that had previously allowed the defendant to represent himself and that had presided over the defendantís trial (the first judge).† The second judge, relying primarily on an assessment of the defendantís trial performance provided by the first judge, ruled that the defendant was competent to represent himself during trial, that the first judge properly granted his request to do so, and that the defendant was not entitled to a new trial.† The defendant appealed, and the Appellate Court (152 Conn. App. 780) reversed and remanded with direction to grant the defendant a new trial, ruling that the second judge did not conduct a meaningful hearing to evaluate retrospectively the defendantís competence.† The court observed that retrospective, or nunc pro tunc, competency determinations are disfavored because they are inherently unreliable and that the Supreme Courtís decision to permit a nunc pro tunc determination here was predicated on the assumption that the first judge would conduct the proceedings on remand. †It explained that, based on the record before it, the trial court could not have reliably reconstructed the defendantís mental state at the time of trial, noting that six years had passed between the date of the trial and the date of the remand hearing, that the defendantís medical records were of uncertain legal significance, and that the first judgeís affidavit did not set out any observed facts that would assist the second judge in reconstructing the defendantís competency at the time of trial.† The state appeals, claiming (1) that the Appellate Court wrongly considered the issue of whether the remand hearing was procedurally flawed where the defendant never raised that claim before the second judge or before the Appellate Court, and (2) that the Appellate Court wrongly determined that the second judge failed to conduct a meaningful hearing on remand and wrongly decided that the defendantís convictions should be vacated as a result.