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State v. Santos

Supreme Court of Connecticut

August 25, 2015

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
RICHARD SANTOS, JR

Argued January 9, 2015.

Page 698

Substitute information charging the defendant with the crimes of assault in the first degree, unlawful restraint in the first degree and carrying a dangerous instrument, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Haven and tried to the jury before Holden, J.; verdict and judgment of guilty, from which the defendant appealed to the Appellate Court, Gruendel, Beach and Borden, Js., which affirmed the judgment of the trial court, and the defendant, on the granting of certification, appealed to this court.

Affirmed.

SYLLABUS

Convicted, after a jury trial, of the crimes of assault in the first degree, unlawful restraint in the first degree, and carrying a dangerous instrument in connection with his stabbing of the victim, the defendant appealed to the Appellate Court, claiming, inter alia, that his constitutional right to confront E, an eyewitness and an accessory to the stabbing, was compromised by the trial court's limitations on the disclosure and use of E's psychiatric records. The trial court had granted the defendant's motion for an in camera review of E's psychiatric records and, following the direct examination of E by the state, the court released four of the approximately 350 pages of E's psychiatric records to defense counsel. Defense counsel then sought a continuance to review the disclosed records and sought permission to show the records to a mental health expert to assist her in understanding the material contained in the records in order to prepare for cross-examination. The trial court denied defense counsel's motion for a continuance and her request to disclose E's records to an expert, and, following an offer of proof by defense counsel, limited the extent of defense counsel's cross-examination of E. On cross-examination, E testified that although he suffered from schizoaffective and bipolar disorders for which he took prescribed medications he did not suffer from those disorders or take any medications on the day of the victim's stabbing. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment of conviction, concluding that the defendant's constitutional rights under the confrontation clause had not been violated, and, on the granting of certification, the defendant appealed to this court. Held that the defendant could not prevail on his claim of a constitutional violation, this court having concluded that, even if the defendant's constitutional rights to confrontation, to present a defense and to due process were violated when the trial court disclosed only four pages of E's psychiatric records and prohibited the defendant from consulting with an expert as to those pages, any error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, the state having presented a strong case, and, even without E's testimony, there was sufficient evidence to convict the defendant, including sufficient evidence to overcome the defendant's defense that his intoxication as a result of being high on crack cocaine at the time of the incident prevented him from forming the specific intent for the offenses: there were several witnesses whose testimony corroborated E's testimony that the defendant had stabbed the victim and that the defendant earlier had threatened to harm the victim, and the defendant's own testimony and several letters he wrote to friends referencing events surrounding the stabbing that were admitted into evidence supported the jury's verdict; furthermore, the jury had ample evidence from which it could evaluate E's testimony, the defendant having been able to cross-examine E to some extent about his mental health, including that he suffered from certain disorders and was prescribed medications for those disorders, and the defendant having been able to further impeach E's credibility by eliciting evidence from him regarding, inter alia, his conviction for his role in the stabbing, his prior significant criminal history and his history of substance abuse.

James B. Streeto, assistant public defender, with whom, on the brief, was Ross W. Hakala, law student intern, for the appellant (defendant).

Timothy F. Costello, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Michael Dearington, state's attorney, and Stacey M. Miranda, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Zarella, Eveleigh, Espinosa and Robinson, Js. ESPINOSA, J. In this opinion the other justices concurred.

OPINION

Page 699

[318 Conn. 414] ESPINOSA, J.

In this certified appeal, the defendant, Richard Santos, Jr., claims that his constitutional rights to confrontation, to present a defense and to due process[1] were violated when the trial court disclosed only four pages of the psychiatric records of a state's witness, [318 Conn. 415] E.P.,[2] and prohibited the defendant from consulting with an expert witness as to those four disclosed pages. The defendant was convicted, following a jury trial, of assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-59 (a) (1), unlawful restraint in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-95 (a), and carrying a dangerous instrument in violation of General Statutes § 53-206 (a). The defendant appealed to the Appellate Court, claiming, inter alia, that his right to confront E.P. was compromised by the trial court's limitations on the disclosure and use of E.P.'s psychiatric records. State v. Santos, 146 Conn.App. 537, 544, 78 A.3d 230 (2013). The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment of conviction; id., 539; and we granted the defendant's petition for certification to appeal limited to the following issue: " Did the Appellate Court properly conclude that the defendant's rights under the confrontation clause were not violated by virtue of the trial court's refusal to require disclosure of certain psychiatric records of the eyewitness E.P.?" State v. Santos, 311 Conn. 927, 86 A.3d 1056 (2014). We conclude that any error the trial court committed in releasing only four pages of E.P.'s psychiatric records and in limiting the defendant's ability to consult with an expert as to the disclosed pages was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court.

The opinion of the Appellate Court sets forth the following facts, which the jury reasonably could have found, describing the incident which led to this appeal. " In the early morning hours of February 3, 2007, a stabbing occurred at 79 Foster Street, a red brick crack house in Meriden [house]. The house was being rented to E.P., the so-called 'landlord' of the premises, who had resided there for seven years. The defendant had [318 Conn. 416] been staying in a room on the second floor for about six weeks. Drug addicts and dealers were frequent visitors to [the house]. The dealers would give E.P. crack cocaine in exchange for access to his chemically dependent houseguests. As the defendant described the scene: it was '[a] house where you can go get high and stay over

Page 700

the night; if you had drugs, the door was going to open.'

" During the winter of 2007, E.P. was 'extremely dependent' on crack. On the day the stabbing occurred, he had been getting high for about twenty-four hours straight, taking breaks only to sleep. The defendant, likewise, had been smoking crack for several days straight and, consequently, was '[t]ired, exhausted, paranoid, [and] cracked out.'

" Kewon Potts [the victim] had been hanging out at [the house] on the afternoon of February 2, 2007, and had had an argument with the defendant over what the defendant perceived to be a low offer by [the victim] to buy a large crack rock. The defendant apparently also had taken issue with [the victim's] poor treatment of [the victim's] girlfriend, who spent time at [the house]. After the argument, [the victim] left. Later that day, the defendant said of [the victim] that, if he returned, 'there might be trouble.'

" At about 1 a.m., [on February 3, 2007, the victim] was walking home from a friend's house on the corner of Foster and Lincoln Streets when he passed [the house]. E.P. and the defendant, who were on the porch, called out to [the victim] to come inside. [The victim] was led into the house; E.P. immediately barricaded the door. The defendant pulled a folding knife that he frequently carried and began attacking [the victim], ultimately stabbing him in the head, left arm and chest. The struggle moved from the living room into the kitchen. Once there, E.P. blocked the back door, [318 Conn. 417] wielding a large rock as a weapon. The two men then attempted to force [the victim] into the basement. At this point, [the victim's] girlfriend burst into the kitchen and pleaded with E.P. and the defendant to stop.

" The other persons present at [the house] became aware of the violent altercation and panicked; many fled the scene. In the midst of this chaos, E.P. and the defendant were distracted, and [the victim] was able to escape out the back door. He made his way to the driveway and then collapsed.

" The defendant and E.P. left quickly thereafter. E.P. went to his mother's home in New Haven. The defendant went to Alberta Borelli's house, where his [friend], Mala Meekins, was staying. While there, the defendant made several telephone calls in which he stated that he had stabbed someone. E.P. and the defendant spoke by telephone from their respective locations after seeing local news reports of [the victim's] stabbing. The defendant was nervous because he thought he may have killed [the victim]. E.P. informed the defendant that [the victim] was alive, but in critical condition. The defendant later traveled to Michigan, where he discarded the knife.

" The defendant was arrested and charged, by way of substitute information, with three counts: assault in the first degree, unlawful restraint in the first degree and possession of a dangerous instrument." (Footnote ...


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