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State v. Edwards

Appellate Court of Connecticut

June 23, 2015

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
MARCELLO ANTHONY EDWARDS

Argued, January 7, 2015

Substitute information charging the defendant with the crime of assault in the first degree, and information, charging the defendant with violation of probation, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford, where the cases were consolidated; thereafter, the first information was tried to the jury before Dewey, J.; verdict of guilty; subsequently, the second information was tried to the court; judgment of guilty and judgment revoking the defendant's probation, from which the defendant appealed to this court.

SYLLABUS

Convicted of the crime of assault in the first degree stemming from an incident in which he stabbed the victim as she was returning home with one of her children, the defendant appealed to this court. Prior to trial, the defendant was evaluated by a clinical team and, after a hearing, the trial court found him incompetent to stand trial and ordered him to undergo treatment. Thereafter, at a second hearing to reassess the defendant's competency, the trial court determined that he was competent to stand trial. Throughout his trial and sentencing, the defendant continued to behave in a disruptive manner, and the court ordered that he be removed from the courtroom on several occasions. The court determined that the defendant's conduct resulted not from mental incompetency, but from his deliberate choice to disrupt the proceedings. On appeal, the defendant claimed, inter alia, that the court improperly failed to inquire during trial as to his competency and to order sua sponte that his competency be reevaluated.

Held :

1. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by not ordering, during trial, further evaluation of the defendant's competency to stand trial: contrary to the defendant's claim that his underlying mental issues had become apparent as trial proceeded and that the court therefore should have ordered sua sponte that his competency be reevaluated, the court continuously observed the defendant at trial, repeatedly inquired about and commented as to his competency, and consistently concluded that his conduct, although disruptive and obstreperous, did not suggest incompetence; moreover, the court properly considered a prior evaluation of the defendant's competency, considered the possible implications of his behavior during trial relative to his competency, and relied on its own observations of him and input from defense counsel to validate its assessment that the defendant's behavior resulted from resistance to authority rather than from incompetency.

2. The defendant could not prevail on his unpreserved claim that he was denied his constitutional right to be present during all critical stages of his prosecution and that he was tried in abstentia, without the trial court advising him of his right to attend such proceedings or canvassing him as to whether he wanted to waive that right: the defendant waived his right to be present by deliberately absenting himself from the proceedings and by behaving in a disruptive manner when he was present so as to prevent the trial from proceeding in an orderly fashion; moreover, although the court had cautioned him that his disruptive behavior would result in his removal from the courtroom, the defendant, inter alia, attempted to discuss his case with a prospective juror during voir dire, absented himself from the courtroom during trial and chose to remain in the courthouse lockup instead, and was removed from the courtroom during sentencing after interrupting defense counsel and challenging the court's authority to act; furthermore, the court was not required to make further inquiries of the defendant to confirm that he had not wanted to be present at trial after he had refused to come up to the courtroom and had engaged in obstructionist tactics that led to his removal, the evidence having demonstrated the defendant's awareness of the constitutional principles that he advanced on appeal, and that he chose to protest the proceedings on the basis of what he perceived to be procedural deficiencies in his prosecution or as part of a strategy to prevent the prosecution from moving forward.

Owen Firestone, certified legal intern, and Alice Osedach, senior assistant public defender, for the appellant (defendant).

Laurie N. Feldman, special deputy assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and Thomas R. Garcia, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

Sheldon, Prescott and Flynn, Js.

OPINION

SHELDON, J.

[158 Conn.App. 121] The defendant, Marcello Anthony Edwards, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered against him after a jury trial, of assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-59 (a) (1) and the revocation of his probation for having violated General Statutes § 53a-32. On appeal, the defendant claims that his conviction should be reversed and that this case should be remanded for a new trial on grounds that the trial court violated his due process right to a fair trial by (1) failing to inquire, sua sponte, as to his continuing competency to stand trial despite his irrational behavior following an earlier determination of his competency; and (2) conducting critical stages of the proceedings against him in his absence, without either advising him of his right to attend such proceedings or canvassing him as to whether he wanted to waive that right. We reject both claims and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the court.

The following facts, which the jury reasonably could have found, and procedural history are relevant to the appeal. The victim, Vanessa Lindo, met the defendant when she was fifteen and he was twenty or twenty-one years old. They began dating at that time and eventually had two children together, Joshua and Sada. The defendant physically abused the victim during their relationship. On one occasion, the defendant attacked the victim while she was at work, forcing her to lock herself in the office of a coworker to escape physical harm. On another occasion, when the defendant and the victim argued, he punched her in the head, splitting her lip and rupturing her eardrum. In August, 2009, the relationship ended, and the defendant moved out of the victim's home.

On November 16, 2011, the defendant took Sada to McDonald's after school and later brought her back [158 Conn.App. 122] to his mother's house, where he then lived. Shortly thereafter, the victim arrived to pick up Sada and take her home. Upon returning home, the victim called Joshua, who was home alone, and asked him to unlock the door to let them in the house. As the victim approached the house, however, the defendant accosted her and stabbed her repeatedly in the head, chest, arm, and thigh. When the victim cried out for help, the defendant fled. Joshua ran to the entry of the house, where he saw the victim, lying on the ground, bleeding. He dragged his mother into the house and called 911. After the victim was taken to a hospital, Joshua texted the defendant, " You're not gonna get away with it. You're going to jail." The defendant responded by text, " Fuck you."

Thereafter, the defendant was arrested and charged with assault in the first degree and violation of probation. The defendant pleaded not guilty to both charges and elected a jury trial on the assault charge. On May 30, 2012, the date on which the defendant's jury selection was scheduled to begin, the court, Randolph, J., ordered that the defendant undergo a competency evaluation pursuant to General Statutes § 54-56d.[1] Under [158 Conn.App. 123] the court's order, the defendant was evaluated by a [158 Conn.App. 124] clinical team at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution, which prepared and submitted a report stating its findings. At a subsequent hearing on the defendant's competency, held on August 1, 2012, the court, Vitale, J., heard testimony from Jane St. Laurent, a member of the clinical team, who summarized the report as follows. The defendant was " unable to discuss [his] case in a rational manner." Whereas a typical interview lasts for at least one hour to one and one-half hours, and includes a discussion of the examinee's background, a mental status examination and a review of the pending criminal charges, the defendant " talked over" the evaluators, could not be interrupted, and walked out of the interview after approximately twenty minutes.[2] On the basis of its observations, the team determined that the defendant did " not have the ability to develop a productive or collaborative relationship with an attorney." The team thus concluded that the defendant was " not able to understand the proceedings [158 Conn.App. 125] against him and . . . not able to assist in his defense." The team further concluded, however, that there was a substantial probability that the defendant could be restored to competency with psychiatric evaluation and treatment. It therefore recommended that he be committed for that purpose for a period of sixty days.

The court adopted the team's findings by a preponderance of the evidence, and thus found the defendant incompetent to stand trial. Consistent with the team's recommendations, the court ordered the defendant to participate in an inpatient treatment program at the Whiting Forensic Division of the Connecticut Valley Hospital (Whiting), and continued his case for sixty days for further proceedings with respect to his competency.

On September 26, 2012, after the sixty day period had ended, the court, Dewey, J., convened a hearing for the purpose of reassessing the defendant's competency. At the commencement of the hearing, the court noted that it had received a new competency evaluation report, dated September 18, 2012, which had been authored by Harry Hernandez, a competency monitor at Whiting who had served as a member of the clinical team that had evaluated the defendant.

Hernandez testified at the hearing in a manner consistent with his report. He stated that the defendant initially was cooperative during treatment and was described by his attending physicians as " calm . . . and articulate with no sign of major mood disorder or psychotic disorder." Accordingly, the defendant's attending psychiatrist did not make any specific diagnosis of him, and no medications were administered to him during his hospitalization. Hernandez further reported, however, that the defendant later " exhibited a significant change in his motivation to attain competency. At the beginning of his hospital stay, he demonstrated [158 Conn.App. 126] factual knowledge of the judicial processes, including roles and functions of court personnel and court proceedings, as well as the importance of working with his attorney. After several weeks his motivation decreased and he began claiming that he was not competent as he did not know roles of courtroom personnel or court proceedings. The treatment team assessed this as not credible and inconsistent with the way in which one's memory functions and as a sign of his poor motivation to obtain competence." The team thus unanimously concluded that the defendant had the capacity to assist in his defense and was competent to stand trial.

The defendant shouted out during Hernandez' testimony, stating, " [Y]ou're lying, okay, I can't work with no attorney, you know that, okay. I can't work with no attorney, okay." The defendant, after being warned by the court that his behavior would necessitate his removal, continued to interject. As a result, he was ...


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