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State v. Roman

Supreme Court of Connecticut

February 9, 2016

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
RUBEN ROMAN

         Argued October 16, 2015

          Substitute information charging the defendant with one count each of the crimes of murder, assault in the first degree, criminal possession of a pistol and risk of injury to a child, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford and tried to the jury before Wollenberg, J.; verdict and judgment of guilty, from which the defendant appealed to the Appellate Court, Foti and Flynn, Js., with Shea, J., dissenting in part, which affirmed the trial court's judgment, and the defendant, on the granting of certification, appealed to this court, which reversed in part the Appellate Court's judgment and remanded the case with direction to remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings; thereafter, the court, Dewey, J., conducted an inquiry into the issue of juror misconduct and denied the defendant's request to vacate the judgment of conviction and to declare a mistrial, and the defendant appealed to this court.

          Affirmed.

          SYLLABUS

         The defendant, after a jury found him guilty of the crimes of murder, assault in the first degree, criminal possession of a pistol and risk of injury to a child, had informed the trial court at his sentencing hearing of potential juror misconduct and sought a continuance to allow him to present evidence of the alleged misconduct. The trial court denied the continuance without conducting an inquiry into the defendant's allegations and rendered judgment of guilty in accordance with the verdict. On appeal to the Appellate Court, the defendant claimed, among other things, that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to conduct an inquiry into his allegations of juror misconduct. The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court's judgment, and the defendant appealed to this court, which reversed in part the judgment of the Appellate Court and remanded the case with instruction to the trial court to conduct an inquiry into the juror's misconduct allegations. Following a ten year delay in scheduling the inquiry, the trial court conducted a hearing into the allegations of juror misconduct. The defendant presented the testimony of E that she overheard several conversations while riding on a public bus that she thought may have involved a juror discussing the defendant's case at approximately the time of the trial. E mentioned these conversations to her boyfriend, R, who was friends with the defendant. R thereafter informed the defendant of this information. The entire regular jury from the defendant's original criminal trial and the two surviving alternate jurors also testified at the hearing. All of the regular jurors testified that they did not discuss any aspects of the trial outside of the courtroom and that they did not use the public bus system during the trial or at any other time. The defendant also elicited testimony from M, one of the alternate jurors, that he exchanged comments and nonverbal communications with P, another alternate juror, during the trial, including rolling his eyes and exchanging skeptical glances with P. The trial court denied the defendant's request for a new trial, finding that the evidence did not support the defendant's allegations of juror misconduct. The court concluded that there was nothing to indicate that the conversations that E overheard referenced any information relayed by deliberating jurors as opposed to information that could have been obtained from media coverage, that the credible and cumulative testimony of all the regular jurors established that none of them participated in juror misconduct, and that neither M nor P discussed the substance of the case prior to their dismissal before jury deliberations began. On appeal to this court, the defendant claimed that the trial court erroneously concluded that there was no evidence to support a finding of juror misconduct and that, pursuant to the four factors set forth in Barker v. Wingo (407 U.S. 514, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 33 L.Ed.2d 101), the delay in scheduling the post-remand hearing violated his right to due process and a fair trial.

         Held :

         1. There was no merit to the defendant's claim that prejudicial juror misconduct tainted his right to a fair trial, this court having concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the defendant's request for a new trial on the basis of E's testimony or the exchanges between the two alternate jurors: the only conclusion that could be definitively drawn from E's testimony was that she overheard the defendant's name in another person's conversation on a public bus, that testimony did not conclusively establish that a juror was on the bus or that a juror related any information about the trial to a passenger, and there was nothing to indicate that the passengers' information did not come from a benign source, such as media coverage of the trial; furthermore, the verbal and nonverbal communications of M and P did not constitute juror misconduct because neither M nor P discussed the substance of the case prior to their dismissal before deliberations began, and there was no evidence to support the defendant's claim that the actions of those alternate jurors influenced the regular jurors while deliberating, the only regular juror who was directly questioned at the hearing about the actions of other jurors having testified that he was unaware of any such conduct occurring in the jury box.

         2. The ten year delay in scheduling the post-remand inquiry did not adversely affect the defendant's ability to present fully his juror misconduct claims and therefore did not infringe his due process rights: although the length of the delay was unusually long and warranted consideration of the remaining Barker factors, this court noted that much of the delay was susceptible to reasonable explanation, the defendant's failure to assert his right to a hearing exacerbated the delay and weighed heavily against his claim, and the defendant was not prejudiced by the delay because although the criminal trial judge had died, the trial judge who presided over the post-remand hearing was able to observe and hear firsthand the testimony of all the jurors and witnesses from the criminal trial and, most importantly, the defendant was able to call the witnesses crucial to his juror misconduct claim, all of whom testified credibly and without any serious lapses in memory.

         Ilana R. N. Ofgang, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

         Nancy L. Walker, deputy assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and Robin D. Krawczyk, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

         Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Zarella, Eveleigh, McDonald, Espinosa and Robinson, Js.

          OPINION

          [320 Conn. 403] ESPINOSA, J.

          This direct appeal, following an inquiry into allegations of juror misconduct, comes to us almost sixteen years after the defendant, Ruben Roman, was convicted of murder in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 1997) § 53a-54a, assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-59 (a) (1), criminal possession of a pistol in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 1997) § 53a-217c (a) (1), and risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 1997) § 53-21. The defendant claims that the trial court improperly rejected his claim of alleged juror misconduct and his related claim that the unusually extended delay in scheduling a post-remand inquiry into the alleged misconduct violated his constitutional right to due process and a fair trial. In the defendant's first appeal to this court, we reversed in part the judgment of the Appellate Court, which had rejected the defendant's claim that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to conduct an inquiry into the defendant's juror misconduct allegations. State v. Roman, 262 Conn. 718, 729, 817 A.2d 100 (2003). We remanded the case with instruction to the trial court to conduct an inquiry into the defendant's claim. Id. In 2013--following a decade long delay--the trial court held the mandated inquiry, found no evidence of juror misconduct, and denied the defendant's [320 Conn. 404] request to vacate his conviction and for a mistrial. We conclude that the trial court properly found no evidence of juror misconduct and the delay on remand did not violate the defendant's right to due process. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts are relevant to the defendant's claims before this court. On the evening of December 24, 1997, the defendant and his girlfriend, Maria Torres-Arroyo, hosted a holiday gathering at their home in East Hartford. Id., 721. Throughout the night, the defendant consumed cocaine and a number of alcoholic beverages. Id. At approximately 3 a.m. on December 25, 1997, the defendant returned home after driving several family members back to their respective residences. Id. Upon entering the house, the defendant encountered Torres-Arroyo sitting at a table with her brother-in-law from a prior marriage, Israel Arroyo, and her minor son and her nephew. Id. The defendant and Torres-Arroyo began to have a heated argument that rapidly escalated and culminated in the defendant firing a .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol at both Torres-Arroyo and Arroyo. Id. Although Torres-Arroyo survived, Arroyo subsequently died from his wounds while being transported to the hospital. Id.

         On January 19, 2000, the jury found the defendant guilty of all charges. Id. Judge Wollenberg held a sentencing hearing on March 13, 2000. Id. At the sentencing hearing, the defendant informed the court of a potential instance of juror misconduct, but did not provide any evidence as he had been unable to reach an attorney he had recently retained who allegedly had evidence of the misconduct. Id., 722-23. The defendant sought a continuance to allow him to present evidence of the alleged misconduct, but the court denied the continuance without conducting an inquiry into the defendant's allegations and rendered judgment of guilty in accordance with the verdict. Id. The defendant appealed to [320 Conn. 405] the Appellate Court, which affirmed the trial court's decision; State v. Roman, 67 Conn.App. 194, 197, 786 A.2d 1147 (2001); and then appealed to this court, which reversed in part the judgment of the Appellate Court and remanded the case to the Appellate Court with direction to remand the case to the trial court with direction to conduct an inquiry into the defendant's juror misconduct claim. State v. Roman, supra, 262 Conn. 720.

         Following a ten year delay in scheduling the inquiry, the facts of which are relevant to the defendant's due process claim and are set forth in part II of this opinion, the defendant's post-remand hearing before Judge Dewey began on February 6, 2013. At the hearing, the defendant presented the testimony of Mary Eason, who claimed to have overheard juror misconduct on a public bus and mentioned it to her boyfriend, Hiram Rodriguez. Additionally, the defendant was able to summon the entire jury from his original criminal trial, as well as two of the three alternate jurors, the third having died prior to the hearing.

         At the hearing, the defendant presented evidence of two different allegations of juror misconduct, namely that (1) a juror had potentially discussed the case with members of the public, and (2) two alternate jurors exchanged communications during trial. The defendant's first and main allegation was grounded in Eason's testimony. Eason testified that on several days in 2000 between 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. she heard a group of individuals discussing the defendant's case on a public bus that travels from Hartford to East Hartford. Although Eason was not personally acquainted with the defendant, she recognized his name and the details of his case from conversations with Rodriguez, who was a friend of the defendant. Although Eason only heard snippets of the conversations, she testified that the participants mentioned that one of the jurors was speaking [320 Conn. 406] with them, but it was Eason's belief that the juror was not on the bus.[1] After overhearing the conversations on the bus, Eason mentioned them to Rodriguez. Rodriguez then visited the defendant in jail prior to the sentencing hearing and informed him of Eason's observations. Apart from that, Eason did not recall much of what the passengers actually said.

         All twelve regular jurors and two of the alternate jurors from the defendant's original criminal trial also testified at the hearing. All regular members of the jury testified that they did not discuss any aspects of the trial outside of the courtroom, nor did they use the public bus system during the trial or at any other time. One juror, N.M.,[2] testified that she knew some people who used public transportation, but none who would have been on the same bus as Eason. One of the alternate jurors, P.M., testified that although he had several coworkers that used public buses, he never discussed any aspects of the trial with them nor did he think they would have been on Eason's bus. The other alternate juror, M.M., testified that several of the employees at his company used the public bus system, but stated that he never discussed the defendant's case with any of his employees. M.M. acknowledged that he did discuss the case with his wife during the trial, but testified that his wife would have had no opportunities to mention these discussions with any of M.M.'s employees or anyone else that rode the bus.

         The defendant's second allegation of juror misconduct was that two of the alternate jurors communicated [320 Conn. 407] with each other during the trial. M.M. testified that he exchanged " little comments" as well as nonverbal communications with P.M.--who sat next to him in the jury box--during the course of the defendant's trial. M.M. testified that prior to his and P.M.'s dismissal as alternates, he would roll his eyes and exchange looks with P.M. whenever the defense presented a line of argument he did not find compelling. The exchanges only passed between M.M. and P.M. and did not involve any other members of the jury. One of the regular jurors, D.C., testified that while seated in the jury box he was unaware of any exchanges occurring between other jurors.

         In May, 2013, both parties submitted briefs to the trial court based on the evidence adduced at the hearing. In his brief, the defendant argued for a new trial on the basis of the alleged juror misconduct. In her September 13, 2013 memorandum of decision, Judge Dewey denied the defendant's request for a new trial. Judge Dewey found that the evidence did not support the defendant's allegations, as there was nothing to indicate that the conversations that Eason overheard referenced any information relayed by deliberating jurors, as opposed to information obtained from media coverage. Judge Dewey also found that the credible and cumulative ...


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