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State v. Hall

Supreme Court of Connecticut

January 30, 1990

STATE of Connecticut
v.
Thomas HALL.

Argued Nov. 8, 1989.

Mary H. Lesser, Deputy Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, were John M. Bailey, State's Atty., and Dennis O'Connor,

Page 535

Asst. State's Atty., for appellant (state).

Sydney T. Schulman, Hartford, with whom, on the brief, was Otto Witt, Bloomfield, for appellee (defendant).

Before PETERS, C.J., and ARTHUR H. HEALEY, GLASS, COVELLO and HULL, JJ.

[213 Conn. 580] HULL, Associate Justice.

The defendant, Thomas Hall, was charged with murder; General Statutes § 53a-54a; [1] in connection with the shooting of James "Bro" Robinson. Following a jury trial, he was convicted of the lesser included offense of manslaughter in the first degree, in violation of General Statutes § 53a-55(a)(1), [2] and [213 Conn. 581] was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than ten nor more than twenty years. On the defendant's appeal from the judgment of conviction, the Appellate Court determined that the trial court had committed reversible error in two respects: (1) in refusing to instruct the jury that the defense of self-defense was applicable to the lesser included offense of manslaughter in the second degree; and (2) in refusing to instruct the jury on the lesser included offense of criminally negligent homicide. State v. Hall, 17 Conn.App. 502, 554 A.2d 746 (1989). The state, after this court had granted certification, [3] appealed from the Appellate Court's judgment reversing the judgment of the trial court. We conclude that the trial court did err in refusing to instruct the jury that the defense of self-defense was applicable to the lesser included offense of manslaughter in the second degree, but we determine that this error was harmless in nature. We also conclude that the trial court did not err in refusing to instruct the jury on the lesser included offense of criminally negligent homicide. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court and remand the case to that court with direction to reinstate the judgment of the trial court.

[213 Conn. 582] Although the facts that the jury could reasonably have found are set forth in State v. Hall, supra, we summarize those pertinent to the issues in this appeal. On January 27, 1981, at approximately 10 p.m., the defendant entered the VIP Lounge on Albany Avenue in Hartford. Soon thereafter he engaged in an argument with another patron in the bar, James Robinson. The argument escalated into a physical confrontation and eventually moved from inside the bar to the sidewalk in front of the bar. Almost immediately after the fight had moved outside, the defendant fired six rapid-fire gunshots into Robinson. No evidence was presented as to which of the shots were the fatal ones.

The defendant testified in his defense and narrated his version of the events that had occurred Before , during, and after the shooting. He admitted that he had shot the victim several times from a distance of two to three feet, but claimed that he had done so in self-defense. According to the defendant, he and Robinson had been at an illegal gambling game across the street from the VIP Lounge prior to the shooting incident. The defendant had won money at the game, but Robinson had lost, prompting

Page 536

Robinson to ask the defendant for a loan. The defendant did not comply with Robinson's request, and, consequently, when the two men were later at the VIP Lounge, Robinson provoked an argument. The argument escalated into a physical confrontation when Robinson jumped on the defendant and cut him with a knife. The two men then fought their way to the exterior doors of the bar through which Robinson exited. The defendant followed Robinson outside and immediately realized that Robinson was pointing a gun at him. The defendant, having witnessed Robinson's violent tendencies on a prior occasion, testified that he was fearful for his life. Thus, in an effort to protect himself, he quickly pulled out his gun and started firing.

[213 Conn. 583] I

The first issue presented by this appeal is whether the Appellate Court erred in concluding that the trial court's refusal to instruct the jury that self-defense was an applicable defense to manslaughter in the second degree; General Statutes § 53a-56; [4] constituted reversible error. The trial court instructed the jury on the charged offense of murder and on the lesser included offenses of manslaughter in the first degree and manslaughter in the second degree. The trial court also charged the jury on the law of self-defense; General Statutes § 53a-19; [5] but specifically instructed, contrary [213 Conn. 584] to the defendant's timely request to charge, that self-defense was applicable only to murder and manslaughter in the first degree and was not to be considered with respect to manslaughter in the second degree. The Appellate Court determined that the trial court's instruction constituted reversible error. Id., at 510-15, 554 A.2d 746. The state argues that the holding of the Appellate Court is erroneous in that: (1) the definitions of self-defense and manslaughter in the second degree are mutually incompatible, thus the trial court's instruction was not error; or in the alternative that (2) even if the instruction was error, it was harmless in nature. We are persuaded by the latter argument.

A

The state first claims error in the Appellate Court's conclusion that the defendant was entitled to a jury instruction on self-defense with respect to the lesser included offense of manslaughter in the second degree. The state bases its claim on the contention that the definitions of self-defense and manslaughter in the second degree are mutually incompatible, i.e.,

Page 537

if the state proves the elements of manslaughter in the second degree beyond a reasonable doubt, it will necessarily have negated the defense of self-defense. Accordingly, the state argues, a trial court need only instruct the jury as to the elements of manslaughter in the second degree and may omit any specific reference to the theory of self-defense. We do not agree.

The Appellate Court focused on the "difficulty a jury has in weighing the justifiability of risk and action inherent in the crime of manslaughter in the second degree and the concept of self-defense" in resolving [213 Conn. 585] the claim now Before us: "[I]n matters involving such esoteric concepts, the jury should have the benefit of as much information and instruction as will aid them in arriving at a just verdict.... We conclude, therefore, that the trial court should have instructed the jury ...


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