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Cruz v. Superior Court

Appellate Court of Connecticut

March 1, 2016

ANTHONY CRUZ
v.
SUPERIOR COURT, JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF DANBURY

         Argued December 7, 2015

          Writ of error from the judgment of the Superior Court in the judicial district of Danbury, Pavia, J., finding the plaintiff in error in criminal contempt of court, brought to the Supreme Court, which transferred the matter to this court.

          SYLLABUS

         The plaintiff in error, who had been a codefendant in a burglary case and thereafter pleaded guilty in that case, brought a writ of error from the judgment of the trial court summarily finding him in criminal contempt for having refused to testify as a witness for the state during the trial of his codefendant. The plaintiff in error had invoked his fifth amendment privilege against self-incrimination despite having been granted statutory (§ 54-47a) transactional immunity by the court. He claimed, inter alia, that the grant of transactional immunity would not protect him adequately from self-incrimination because it exposed him to the risk of impeachment at the pending trial on his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Held that the trial court properly found the plaintiff in error in contempt because the grant of transactional immunity to him was coextensive with and, thus, removed his fifth amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination, and thereby rendered his refusal to testify an affront to the dignity and authority of the court and legally susceptible of constituting contempt.

         Jennifer B. Smith, with whom, on the brief, was Walter C. Bansley IV, for the plaintiff in error.

         James A. Killen, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, was Stephen J. Sedensky III, state's attorney, for the defendant in error.

         DiPentima, C. J., and Mullins and Norcott, Js. NORCOTT, J. In this opinion the other judges concurred.

          OPINION

          [163 Conn.App. 484] NORCOTT, J.

          The primary issue raised in this writ of error is whether the trial court erred by holding the plaintiff in error (plaintiff) in criminal contempt of court for invoking his fifth amendment privilege against self-incrimination and refusing to testify despite a grant of transactional immunity under General Statutes § 54-47a.[1]

          [163 Conn.App. 485] The plaintiff was convicted of criminal contempt in violation of General Statutes § 51-33a and sentenced to six months imprisonment, to be served consecutively to a sentence of seven years and five months imprisonment, followed by five years of special parole, that he already was serving after having pleaded guilty to other charges. The plaintiff's principal claim on appeal is that his conviction for criminal contempt violated his fifth amendment privilege against self-incrimination because the transactional immunity granted to him under § 54-47a would not protect him from impeachment through his trial testimony at any subsequent trial on his petition for a writ of habeas corpus.[2] The plaintiff further claims that the court erred by finding him in criminal contempt because his conduct was not directed against the dignity and authority of the court, and it did not obstruct the [163 Conn.App. 486] orderly administration of justice. We disagree and, accordingly, dismiss the writ of error.

         The following facts, either found by the court or undisputed in the record, are relevant to our disposition of the plaintiff's claim. The plaintiff originally was charged along with a codefendant in connection with plans to commit a burglary. The plaintiff subsequently pleaded guilty to those charges and was serving his sentence when called as a witness for the state during the trial of his codefendant.[3] The plaintiff informed his attorney at the courthouse that he would not testify. The court ordered the plaintiff to testify following a grant of statutory transactional immunity. After having been canvassed by the court and advised by his attorney of the potential consequences of continuing to refuse to testify, he nevertheless refused to answer all questions asked of him by the state. All of these events occurred in the court's presence, while it was in session. The court found that the plaintiff's behavior " affected the administration of justice with regard to the court proceeding and the trial that [was] at hand . . . ." Accordingly, the court found the plaintiff in criminal contempt of court and sentenced him to six months imprisonment, to be served consecutively to the sentence he was serving for the charges to which he had pleaded guilty. When the court asked the plaintiff's counsel to explain why the plaintiff should not be held in contempt, the plaintiff's counsel argued unsuccessfully that the immunity granted the plaintiff did not protect him adequately from self-incrimination because it exposed him to the risk of impeachment at the pending trial on his [163 Conn.App. 487] habeas corpus petition. The plaintiff brought this writ of error from the court's judgment of criminal contempt.

          " Criminal contempt is conduct which is directed against the dignity and authority of the court. . . . Sanctions [for criminal contempt] are imposed in order to vindicate that authority. . . . The inherent power of the court to punish as a criminal contempt conduct that constitutes an affront to the court's dignity and authority is expressly recognized in our statutes; see General Statutes § 51-33a (a); and in our rules of practice. See Practice Book § 1-14." (Citations omitted; footnote omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Hardy v. Superior Court, 305 Conn. 824, 834-35, 48 A.3d 50 (2012).

          Section 51-33a (a) provides that " [a]ny person who violates the dignity and authority of any court, in its presence or so near thereto as to obstruct the administration of justice, or any officer of any court who misbehaves in the conduct of his official duties shall be guilty of contempt and shall be fined not more than five hundred dollars or imprisoned not more than six months or both."

         The present case involves a review of a summary criminal contempt proceeding that comes before us on a writ of error, which is the sole method of review of such proceedings. See Martin v. Flanagan, 259 Conn. 487, 494, 789 A.2d 979 (2002). " The scope of our review reaches only those matters appearing as of record." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id. Our review of a judgment of criminal contempt customarily considers " three questions, namely, (1) whether the designated conduct is legally susceptible of constituting a contempt . . . (2) whether the punishment imposed was authorized by law . . . and (3) ...


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