Judicial District of Waterbury


      Criminal; Sufficiency of the Evidence; Search and Seizure; Whether Defendant had Dominion and Control over Drugs Found in the Closet of a Residence Where he was Visiting; Whether Warrantless Search of Closet was Permissible as a Search Incident to a Lawful Arrest.  In 2008, several police officers sought to serve felony arrest warrants on the defendant.  They went to a residence in Waterbury, where they believed the defendant had been staying.  They found the defendant in a bedroom closet and, after removing him from the closet, they handcuffed him as he was lying on the floor of the bedroom.  The police searched the defendant and found narcotics in his pocket, and they also searched the closet and found a bag of narcotics there.  The defendant was charged with possession of an amphetamine-type substance with the intent to sell and possession of a controlled substance with the intent to sell within 1500 feet of a school zone.  At trial, he moved to suppress the narcotics that had been seized from the closet.  The trial court denied the motion, finding that, although the search was conducted without a warrant, it was permissible as a search incident to a lawful arrest.  It opined that it was reasonable for the police to search the closet for weapons because the arrest warrants were for violent felonies and because the officers were aware that the defendant previously had been convicted of manslaughter.  The court further rejected the defendant’s claim that, because he had been handcuffed on the floor prior to the search, the closet was not within his “wingspan” or “grab area,” and, therefore, he could not have gained access to the contents of the closet.  It reasoned that even a handcuffed defendant can reach a weapon or destroy evidence that is located nearby, and it pointed out that the closet was very close to where the defendant had been handcuffed.  The prosecutor subsequently presented his case-in-chief, after which the defendant filed a motion for a judgment of acquittal, arguing that because he did not own or lease the premises where the narcotics were found, he could not be convicted of possession of narcotics that were discovered in the property owner’s closet.  The trial court denied the motion, finding that the evidence was sufficient to establish that the defendant constructively possessed the narcotics found in the closet where he had been hiding.  Thereafter, during closing arguments, the prosecutor contended that the defendant had essentially claimed that the police officers were “all liars” and that such claim was “outrageous.”  He also argued that the officers would not “risk their careers for the likes of” the defendant and that the state’s case was a “slam dunk.”  The defendant was ultimately convicted as charged.  In this appeal, he argues that there was no evidence that he exercised dominion and control over the drugs found in the closet.  He also maintains that the warrantless search of the closet was not a valid search incident to a lawful arrest.  Finally, the defendant claims that the prosecutor’s statements during closing arguments constituted prosecutorial impropriety.