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State v. Anderson

Appellate Court of Connecticut

March 15, 2016

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
STEPHANIE ANDERSON

         Argued January 4, 2016.

          Two part substitute information charging the defendant, in the first part, with the crimes of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license, and, in the second part, with having previously been convicted of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford, geographical area number fourteen, where the first part of the information was tried to the jury before McWeeny, J.; verdict of guilty; thereafter, the defendant was presented to the court on a plea of guilty to the second part of the information; judgment of guilty in accordance with the verdict and plea; subsequently, the sentence was stayed; thereafter, the stay of sentence was lifted and the court, Bentivegna, J., denied the defendant's motion for a mistrial, and the defendant appealed to this court.

          SYLLABUS

         Convicted of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and operating a motor vehicle while her operator's license was under suspension, the defendant appealed to this court. She claimed that the trial court improperly denied her motion for a mistrial on her claim of juror misconduct and held her to an improper burden of proof on her motion. During a lunch recess at trial, the defendant's daughter, who had been an observer in the courtroom, approached a juror and asked to borrow the juror's cell phone so she could make a call. In a hearing after the trial on the motion for a mistrial, both the daughter and the juror testified that their interaction had been brief, and that they had not talked about the case during the interaction. The juror also testified that at the time of the interaction, she had not known the daughter's relationship to the defendant. Held that the trial court properly denied the defendant's motion for a mistrial, that court's factual findings having established that the defendant failed to carry her burden of proving that the contact between her daughter and the juror made it probable that the juror became biased against the defendant: contrary to the defendant's claim, the trial court did not require her to prove that the juror actually was biased against her, and the defendant was not entitled to a prima facie presumption of prejudice, as she did not demonstrate that the trial court had been directly involved in the contact between the daughter and the juror, or that the contact related directly to the matter being tried; moreover, the trial court did not find that the juror had violated any of her obligations as a juror and, although it was unclear from the court's oral decision whether it had held the defendant to the proper burden of proof, to the extent that it appeared that the trial court had impermissibly considered whether the alleged juror misconduct had any effect on the juror's deliberation process or ability to be impartial, this court did not consider such impropriety to warrant reversal of the defendant's conviction, as the defendant was unable to prevail under the correct burden of proof.

         Gwendolyn S. Bishop, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

         Lisa A. Riggione, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and Robert Diaz, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

         DiPentima, C. J., and Gruendel and Keller, Js. KELLER, J. In this opinion the other judges concurred.

          OPINION

          [163 Conn.App. 785] KELLER, J.

          The defendant, Stephanie Anderson, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered following a jury trial, of one count of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a (1), and one count of operating a motor vehicle while her operator's license was under suspension in violation of General Statutes § 14-215 (c). Additionally, the defendant pleaded guilty under a part B information to being a third time offender pursuant to General Statutes § 14-227a (g) (3). On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court, Bentivegna, J., erred when it denied her motion for a mistrial, which was based on a communication that occurred during the trial between the defendant's daughter and a juror. We affirm the judgment of conviction.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. On March 13, 2012, a Hartford police officer arrested the defendant, who was charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol and operating a motor vehicle while her license was under suspension. The defendant pleaded not guilty and elected to be tried by a jury. The defendant was tried by a jury before the court, McWeeny, J., on April 25, 2013. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on both counts. Also, the defendant pleaded guilty, under a part B information, to being a third time offender under § 14-227a (g) (3) .

         On June 10, 2013, Judge McWeeny sentenced the defendant and, at the time of sentencing, delayed execution of the sentence. On July 29, 2013, Judge Bentivegna[1] [163 Conn.App. 786] lifted the stay and clarified the sentence imposed. The defendant was sentenced to a total effective term of three years incarceration, suspended after one year of mandatory incarceration, followed by three years of probation.

         The defendant filed a motion for a mistrial on July 26, 2013. In the motion, the defendant represented that she was deprived of a fair trial because one of the jurors had interacted with her daughter during a lunch recess at trial. Specifically, the defendant alleged that she had been deprived of a fair trial because that interaction made it probable that the juror became biased, given that the juror knew who her daughter was, her daughter smelled of alcohol, and one of the charges against her pertained to her alleged intoxication by means of alcohol.

         On August 19, 2013, Judge Bentivegna held an evidentiary hearing on the defendant's motion. At the hearing, the defendant presented the testimony of her daughter, her son, and D,[2] the juror with whom the defendant's daughter allegedly had interacted during the trial. The state did not call any witnesses at the hearing, but both the state and the defendant presented oral arguments. According to the testimony of the defendant's three witnesses at the hearing, the defendant's daughter--who was an observer in the courtroom at the trial and who was eighteen years of age at the time--approached D during the lunch recess while she was standing with another juror outside of the courthouse. The witnesses testified that the defendant's daughter asked D if she could borrow her cell phone and D allowed her to do so. According to the witnesses' testimony, after the defendant's daughter completed her phone call, she [163 Conn.App. 787] thanked D and gave her the phone.[3] The defendant's son testified that he and the defendant were able to observe the defendant's daughter interacting with D outside of the courthouse and that the defendant became " mad" because she knew that D was a juror. The defendant's daughter testified that although she knew at the time of the interaction that D was a juror in her mother's trial, she did not talk about the case at all with D. D also testified that she did not talk about the case with anyone, including the defendant's daughter, during the recess.

         According to the testimony of the defendant's daughter and the defendant's son, the defendant's daughter had been drinking alcohol on the night before her interaction with D. The defendant's daughter also testified that she " probably" smelled of alcohol " a little bit" when she interacted with D, but that although, in her own estimate, she had been close enough to D so that she could have smelled alcohol, the entire encounter was " really fast" and D had not made any comments about her smelling of alcohol. D testified that the defendant's daughter neither seemed intoxicated nor smelled of alcohol during their interaction. She also testified that she did not notice that the defendant's daughter had been sitting in the courtroom during the course of the trial, but only had observed her in the courtroom after the conclusion of the trial. Furthermore, when asked if she knew that the young woman who had asked her ...


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