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State v. Smith

Supreme Court of Connecticut

May 10, 2016

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
DANTE SMITH

Argued December 16, 2015

Raymond L. Durelli, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

Laurie N. Feldman, special deputy assistant state’s attorney, with whom were Russell C. Zentner, senior assistant state’s attorney, and, on the brief, Peter A. McShane, state’s attorney, for the appellee (state).

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

OPINION

ROGERS, C. J.

This certified appeal requires us to construe the scope of the public safety exception to Miranda[1] as articulated in New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649, 657, 104 S.Ct. 2626, 81 L.Ed.2d 550 (1984). The defendant, Dante Smith, appeals from the judgment of the Appellate Court affirming the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of two counts of assault in the second degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-60 (a) (1). See State v. Smith, 149 Conn.App. 149, 160, 86 A.3d 524 (2014). The defendant claims that the trial court improperly denied his motion to suppress his statements made (1) at the crime scene and (2) later at the police station during his booking. Because we conclude that the public safety exception applied, we affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court.

The following facts, which the jury reasonably could have found, and procedural background are relevant to the defendant’s claim. ‘‘On the night of March 9, 2010, the victim, Justin Molinaro, was driving his Audi [A6] in the vicinity of Maplewood Terrace, a public housing complex in Middletown known to be a high crime area. As he drove past the complex, two unidentified men flagged him down and informed him that his cousin, the defendant, wanted to speak with him. The victim drove his car into a parking lot at Maplewood Terrace, where he saw the defendant get into the backseat of another car. The victim exited his Audi and asked the defendant what he wanted. While the victim was waiting for the defendant, he saw Tykeem Privott, who was also in the car with the defendant. The victim noticed that Privott had a supply of marijuana on his lap and began to chastise Privott for his drug use. As the victim talked to Privott, the defendant got out of the car wielding a Louisville Slugger aluminum baseball bat, which he used to strike the victim on the head. The blow knocked the victim to the ground, and the victim asked the defendant, ‘[W]hat the hell is going on?’ The other occupants of the vehicle then exited the car and began to kick and punch the victim as he lay on the ground.

‘‘Privott picked up the Louisville Slugger and swung it at the victim, striking him on the back of his neck. The defendant choked the victim and told him to ‘go to sleep, motherfucker.’ The defendant ordered his accomplices to go through the victim’s pockets, which they did, taking his cell phone, wallet, and the keys to the Audi.

‘‘As the assailants left, the victim stumbled to his feet. He found his car keys in a patch of grass near the parking lot. The defendant, however, reappeared and said, ‘What, you didn’t have enough yet?’ and pointed a black handgun in the victim’s face. The defendant took the keys to the Audi and said, ‘This shit is mine.’

The victim then saw Privott, who was now also holding a handgun. Privott asked the defendant, ‘Do you want me to pop this motherfucker?’ The defendant then turned and left in the Audi.

‘‘The victim walked to a nearby house and called 911. He reported to the dispatcher the details of the assault and carjacking. While on the telephone with the dispatcher, the victim saw the Audi double back, headed in the direction of Maplewood Terrace. He told the dispatcher that six people were returning in his car with guns, and he asked the dispatcher to send help.

‘‘The police arrived on the scene, and police officers attended to the victim [who flagged them down]. One police officer later stated that the victim looked ‘like an alien’ because the area around his left eye was bloodied, swollen, and disfigured. The swelling around the victim’s eyes rendered him nearly blind. The victim was gasping for breath and making statements to the effect of, ‘I don’t want to die.’ When asked what happened, the victim responded, ‘Dante Smith and Tykeem Privott did this. Dante had a bat and Tykeem had a gun.’ The victim faded in and out of consciousness and his respiration was irregular. Emergency workers arrived and transported him to the hospital.

‘‘After treating the victim, the police processed the crime scene and secured the area surrounding Maple-wood Terrace, where a crowd had gathered. Approximately forty minutes after the assault took place, a black male calmly approached [Detectives] Dan Smith and Nicholas Puorro [of the Middletown Police Department]. As he drew near, he stated, ‘I am Dante Smith, my grandmother said the police were looking for me.’

‘‘On the basis of the information provided by the victim, the police had reason to believe that the defendant was involved in an assault that involved both firearms and a baseball bat. The police informed the defendant that they had to place him in handcuffs for safety reasons, and that they had an obligation to protect both themselves and the surrounding crowd. The defendant stated that he understood, and that he also understood that he was not under arrest.

‘‘The police asked the defendant whether he had any weapons; he replied that he did not. The police frisked the defendant, but found no weapons. The defendant was asked whether he knew where the weapons were, to which he responded, ‘What weapons?’ When asked about Privott, the defendant denied knowing him. The defendant was then asked what happened that evening. The defendant stated that he had been involved in a fight with the victim, and that he and the victim were cousins. He told the police that the victim had called him and wanted to go for a ride. The defendant stated that once he was in the car with the victim, the victim wanted to go and buy drugs. The defendant stated that he did not want to buy drugs and wanted to get out of the car. When the victim did not stop the vehicle, the defendant stated that he punched the victim in the face several times.

‘‘Upon hearing the defendant’s narrative, the police informed him that it appeared as if the victim had been struck with a baseball bat, and that the injuries occurred to the left side of his face, which was inconsistent with the defendant’s story that the victim was driving. The defendant grew frantic and stopped cooperating with the police, stating, ‘Do what you got to do, arrest me, arrest me.’ The defendant was placed under arrest and transported to police headquarters.’’ Id., 151–53. At ...


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