Judicial District of Fairfield


†††† †Criminal; Whether Appellate Court Properly Reversed Convictions Under Plain Error Doctrine due to Trial Courtís Failure to Instruct Jury on Credibility of Accomplice Witness.In 1995, eight police officers executed a search warrant on an apartment that was occupied by the defendantís girlfriend, Maria Caban.† Prior to entering the apartment, several officers apprehended the defendant on the stairs leading up to the front entrance.† A subsequent search of the apartment produced an explosive device with pennies glued to its exterior.† The defendant was arrested and charged with manufacturing a bomb and possession of an explosive device.† During the defendantís criminal trial, Caban testified that she had purchased the explosive device and that she and the defendant had glued pennies onto the device. †The jury found the defendant guilty of the bomb offenses.† On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court improperly failed to give an accomplice credibility instruction regarding Cabanís testimony.† He sought review of his unpreserved claim under the plain error doctrine, an extraordinary remedy used by appellate courts to rectify errors committed at trial that would result in manifest injustice and that is reserved for situations in which the existence of the error is so obvious that it affects the fairness of and public confidence in the judicial proceedings.† The Appellate Court (152 Conn. App. 753) agreed that the courtís failure to provide an accomplice credibility instruction constituted plain error.† It first noted that, when warranted by the evidence, it is the trial courtís duty to instruct the jury to carefully scrutinize the testimony of a witness who intentionally assisted the defendant in committing the charged offense. †It then determined that, because Caban testified that she had purchased the explosive device and had glued pennies onto the device with the defendant, the trial court committed a patent and readily discernible error when it failed to provide an instruction regarding her credibility as an accomplice.† It next concluded that the courtís error was so clear and harmful that a failure to reverse it would result in manifest injustice.† It determined that its conclusion was supported by the following factors: (1) Cabanís testimony was the sole evidence presented that linked the defendant to the explosive device; (2) Caban provided inconsistent testimony about whether the defendant owned a gun that was found in her apartment; and (3) the court failed to give any instruction to the jury that suggested that Caban might have had an interest in coloring her testimony.† Based on the foregoing, the Appellate Court reversed the defendantís convictions of manufacturing a bomb and possession of an explosive device and remanded for a new trial on those charges.† In this appeal, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court properly reversed the defendantís convictions under the plain error doctrine due to the trial courtís failure to give an accomplice credibility instruction. ††