Judicial District of Fairfield


      Criminal; Appellate Procedure; Whether a Claim that the Defendant was Wrongly Compelled to Appear Before the Jury in Prison Garb is Subject to Harmless Error Analysis. The defendant was charged with assault of public safety personnel when, while incarcerated as a pretrial detainee unable to post bond, he spit in the face of an employee of the department of correction.  Following his conviction of that offense, the defendant appealed, claiming that the trial court denied him his right to a fair trial by compelling him to wear prison clothes during trial.  The Appellate Court (112 Conn. App. 324) agreed, reversing the defendant's conviction and ordering a new trial.  The court rejected the state's claim that harmless error analysis should apply when a court has improperly compelled a defendant to appear before a jury in prison garb, finding such analysis improper where, as here, the defendant clearly objected at trial and where the trial court made no finding that an essential state policy was furthered by requiring the defendant to wear prison clothes.  The Appellate Court also observed that, even assuming harmless error analysis was appropriate, the state had not proven harmlessness beyond a reasonable doubt.  The court noted that the defendant was compelled to wear prison garb during jury selection and throughout the trial; that the jurors were instructed only once, prior to their individual voir dire and selection, that they should not consider the defendant's attire; and that they received no instruction discouraging them from assuming that the defendant had been convicted of some prior crime.  Finally, the court noted that the evidence of the defendant's intent was not so overwhelming that there was no reasonable possibility that his appearance in prison clothes might have contributed to his conviction.  The Supreme Court will now decide whether the Appellate Court properly determined that harmless error analysis does not apply where the trial court has compelled the defendant to appear before the jury in prison garb and, if not, whether any error in this case was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.