Judicial District of New Haven


      Criminal; Whether Jury Properly Instructed on Reasonable Doubt; Whether Trial Courts Should Generally be Required to Use Jury Instructions Approved by the Judicial Branch.  The defendant was convicted of arson in the second degree, conspiracy to commit criminal mischief in the first degree and conspiracy to commit burglary in the first degree for hiring two individuals to set fire to a residential structure and an automobile.  The defendant appeals, claiming that the trial court improperly diluted the state’s burden of proof and denied him of his right to due process when it instructed the jury that proof beyond a reasonable doubt requires that the jury be "firmly convinced" of the defendant's guilt.  The defendant asks that, even if the Supreme Court approves of the instruction given here, it exercise its supervisory authority to require trial judges to use the jury instructions approved by the Judicial Branch or provide a rationale for departing from the approved instructions.  The defendant also argues that the trial court improperly diluted the state’s burden of proof by permitting the state to repeatedly tell jurors during voir dire that reasonable doubt was something less than one hundred percent certainty and by using that percentage analysis itself in its discussions with the selected jurors.  The defendant further argues that the trial court improperly vouched for the testimony of eyewitnesses when it told the jurors that in order to be one hundred percent certain, they would have to be eyewitnesses themselves.  Finally, the defendant claims that the trial court improperly limited his cross-examination of two state’s witnesses about their interest in the outcome of his trial and their motivation to exaggerate or fabricate their testimony.  The witnesses had entered into agreements with the state to testify against the defendant in exchange for a promise that they would be sentenced for their part in the crimes to time already served as a result of their guilty pleas to federal charges against them arising out of the same incidents.