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State v. Benedict

Appellate Court of Connecticut

July 21, 2015

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
ADAM BENEDICT

Argued March 10, 2015

Page 1246

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1247

Substitute information charging the defendant with three counts of the crime of sexual assault in the fourth degree, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Litchfield, geographical area number eighteen, where the court, Ginocchio, J., denied the defendant's motion for a continuance; thereafter, the matter was tried to the jury; verdict and judgment of guilty of one count of sexual assault in the fourth degree, from which the defendant appealed to this court, which reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case for a new trial; subsequently, the state, on the granting of certification, appealed to our Supreme Court, which reversed this court's judgment and remanded the case to this court for consideration of the defendant's remaining claims on appeal.

SYLLABUS

Convicted, after a jury trial, of the crime of sexual assault in the fourth degree, the defendant appealed to this court, claiming that the trial court had deprived him of his constitutional right to confrontation when it restricted his recross-examination of the complainant, violated his constitutional right to a fair trial by denying his challenge for cause to a venireperson and his request for a continuance to investigate and potentially to challenge the jury array, and abused its discretion by admitting into evidence his social media website login identification. This court determined that the defendant's confrontation claim was dispositive of his appeal, and reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case for a new trial. This court also considered the defendant's evidentiary claim that was deemed likely to arise on remand, and concluded that the trial court improperly admitted the defendant's login identification. Thereafter, on the granting of certification, the state appealed to our Supreme Court, which reversed this court's judgment and remanded the matter to this court for consideration of the defendant's remaining claims on appeal. The Supreme Court also directed this court to make a determination as to whether the trial court's evidentiary error regarding the defendant's login identification was harmful.

Held :

1. The defendant could not prevail on his claim that the trial court abused its discretion and violated his constitutional right to a fair trial by denying his challenge for cause to a venireperson, J, who was a Southbury police officer working under the state police, which had investigated the defendant's criminal conduct in this case, the defendant having failed to sustain his burden of establishing that J had a sufficiently close connection with the state police to support his principal challenge to J; this court could not conclude that the trial court committed clear error by not finding that a master-servant relationship existed between J and the state police, given the few details elicited during J's voir dire regarding the nature and scope of the relationship between the state police and officers of the Southbury Police Department.

2. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the defendant's request for a continuance to investigate and potentially challenge whether a disproportionate number of the members of the jury array had connections to law enforcement agencies; although the defendant raised his concern regarding the array in a timely manner, he did not specify the length of the continuance he sought, and there was nothing to indicate any type of systematic selection of law enforcement personnel or individuals related thereto with regard to three of the six potential jurors upon whom the defendant based his contention.

3. The defendant could not prevail on his claim that he suffered harm as a result of the trial court's erroneous admission into evidence of his social media website login identification, the defendant having failed to show that the jury was substantially swayed as a result of the evidentiary ruling; the login identification evidence was not a significant part of the state's case, the prosecutor only briefly questioned the defendant and three witnesses concerning the login identification, and he made no reference to it during his closing argument to the jury.

William J. Ward, with whom, on the brief, was William F. Gallagher, for the appellant (defendant).

Harry Weller, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were David S. Shepack, state's attorney, and David R. Shannon, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

Sheldon, Mullins and Schaller, Js. SCHALLER, J. In this opinion the other judges concurred.

OPINION

 SCHALLER, J.

Page 1248

[158 Conn.App. 601] This case returns to this court following a remand from our Supreme Court. The defendant, Adam Benedict, was convicted of one count of sexual assault in the fourth degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-73a (a) (6).[1] In State v. Benedict, 136 Conn.App. 36, 50, 43 A.3d 772 (2012), rev'd, 313 Conn. 494, 98 A.3d 42 (2014), we reversed the judgment of conviction and remanded the case for a new trial as a result of our conclusion that the trial court had " deprived the defendant of any meaningful opportunity to gain the benefit of an inference adverse to the complainant's credibility based on the pendency of her criminal charge." [2] We further concluded that the state had failed to establish that this error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Id., 51. Finally, we determined, in anticipation of the same issue again arising on retrial, that the court had abused its discretion in admitting into evidence the defendant's login identification for a social media website (login identification). Id., 54.

Our Supreme Court reversed our determination that the defendant's right to confrontation had been violated. State v. Benedict, 313 Conn. 494, 510, 98 A.3d 42 [158 Conn.App. 602] (2014). It remanded the case back to this court with instruction to consider the defendant's other claims on appeal, including whether the defendant had established harm as a result of the erroneous admission of the login identification.[3] Id., 515.

In this appeal, the defendant claims that (1) the trial court violated his state and federal constitutional rights to a fair trial by denying his challenge for cause to a venireperson and his request for a continuance to investigate and potentially to challenge the jury array, and (2) he suffered harm as a result of the court's erroneous ruling regarding the login identification. We are not persuaded by the defendant's claims and, therefore, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Our Supreme Court set forth the following facts in its opinion. " At all relevant times, the complainant was a seventeen year old senior at Litchfield High School, and the defendant was a substitute teacher and athletic coach at that school. The defendant first contacted the complainant outside of school in January or February, 2007. A week or two later, the defendant called the complainant while she was visiting a friend's residence and offered to pick her up. The complainant agreed. When the defendant and his friend arrived at the . . . residence [where the complainant was visiting], the defendant appeared to be intoxicated. After the defendant's friend

Page 1249

drove the defendant and the complainant to the defendant's residence, the friend departed. Upon entering the defendant's residence, the complainant followed him into his bedroom, where he kissed her, took off her shirt, kissed her chest and sucked on her breasts. Then the defendant, still clothed, rubbed his genital region against the complainant's leg and requested that [158 Conn.App. 603] she allow him to ejaculate on her breasts or face. Thereafter, the defendant exposed his penis and requested that the complainant perform fellatio on him. When the complainant refused, the defendant returned his penis to his pants and continued rubbing his genital region against her leg until he ejaculated. After changing his clothing, the defendant lay down on the bed with the complainant, kissed her, squeezed her breasts and fell asleep. The complainant remained at the defendant's residence until the following morning.

" After her graduation from high school, in June or July, 2007, the complainant, accompanied by her boyfriend and another female complainant, went to the state police barracks in Litchfield to file a complaint against the defendant. On the basis of that complaint, the defendant was later arrested and charged with three counts of sexual assault in the fourth degree in violation of § 53a-73a (a) (6).[4] Two counts related to separate alleged incidents involving sexual contact between the defendant and the complainant, and one count related to a third alleged incident involving sexual contact between the defendant and the other female complainant." (Footnote added; internal quotation marks omitted.) Id. 497-98. Following his conviction, the trial court sentenced the defendant to ...


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