STATE v. STEPHEN TUNICK, SC 18262
Judicial District of Fairfield
Criminal; Disqualification of Trial Judge; Whether Case Should be Remanded to Trial Court for Hearing on Whether the Trial Judge Actively Participated in Pretrial Negotiations. The defendant was convicted of fourth degree sexual assault. On appeal to the Appellate Court (109 Conn. App. 611), the defendant claimed that the trial judge improperly denied his motion to disqualify the judge from presiding over the defendant's criminal trial. In his motion, the defendant alleged, among other things, that the trial judge had actively participated in plea negotiations prior to trial. Specifically, the defendant claimed that the trial judge pressured and attempted to coerce him into accepting the state's proposal that he waive his right to a trial and accept accelerated rehabilitation. The Appellate Court's review of the transcript uncovered only a few references by the trial judge to accelerated rehabilitation. In those portions of the transcript, the trial judge expressed to the parties his belief that the defendant was, at that time, supposed to make his decision as to whether to apply for accelerated rehabilitation or go to trial. When told by the defendant's counsel that the defendant had opted to go to trial, the trial judge explained to counsel that, once the trial started, he would not entertain an application for accelerated rehabilitation. The Appellate Court found that it would take a tortured reading of the transcript to conclude that the discussion between the trial judge and the parties amounted to a plea negotiation. Determining that it did not appear from the record that the trial judge had participated in any plea negotiations, the Appellate Court affirmed the defendant's conviction. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court improperly affirmed the defendant's conviction without first remanding the case to the trial court for a hearing on the question of whether the trial judge had actively participated in pretrial negotiations.