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State v. Gould

Supreme Court of Connecticut

August 16, 2016

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
JEFFREY P. GOULD

          Argued May 3, 2016

          Glenn W. Falk, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

          Bruce R. Lockwood, senior assistant state’s attorney, with whom, on the brief, was Brian Preleski, state’s attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Pamela S. Nagy, assistant public defender, and Jasmine Gonzales Rose filed a brief as amicus curiae.

          Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Zarella, McDonald, Espinosa, Robinson and Vertefeuille, Js. [*]

          OPINION

          McDONALD, J.

         The dispositive issue in this certified appeal is whether a trial court’s purportedly improper exclusion of a prospective juror for cause on the ground that he was ‘‘not able to speak and understand the English language’’ within the meaning of General Statutes § 51-217 (a) (3) constitutes per se reversible error. The defendant, Jeffrey P. Gould, appeals from the judgment of the Appellate Court affirming the trial court’s judgment of conviction, in light of its conclusion that the trial court’s improper exclusion of a venireperson on this basis was not prejudicial. The defendant contends that, because the assessment of the English language skills and accents of nonnative speakers may reflect implicit or unconscious bias relating to ancestry or national origin, the improper exclusion of a prospective juror on the basis of such factors should be deemed commensurate with the improper exclusion of a prospective juror on the basis of a suspect classification, which is subject to automatic reversal. We conclude that the Appellate Court properly determined that the trial court’s excusal of the prospective juror for cause under § 51-217 (a) (3) was subject to reversal only upon a showing of prejudice.

         The record reveals the following undisputed facts. The defendant was brought to trial on a charge of sexual assault in the first degree. During voir dire, an issue arose regarding the English proficiency of venireperson E, [1] whose juror application revealed a Hispanic surname and listed his ethnicity as Puerto Rican.[2] After E answered several preliminary questions, which revealed, among other things, that he had attended college before being employed as a machinist, the following colloquy ensued:

‘‘[The Prosecutor]: Have you or anyone close to you ever been a victim of a crime?
‘‘[E]: Yes.
‘‘[The Prosecutor]: And are you comfortable telling me a little bit about that?
‘‘[E]: Well, kind of-do you want to hear?
‘‘[The Prosecutor]: If you’re comfortable telling me, yeah, sure.
‘‘[E]: Oh well, one time we are stopped by the police and they confused me by another person, and they like put something on me.
‘‘[The Prosecutor]: A guy came and pulled something on you?
‘‘[E]: Yes, kind of like that.
‘‘[The Prosecutor]: Okay, and what did he pullon you?
‘‘[E]: I think it was-there was after him one person and because he cannot get to that person, so he get close to me and reached to my pocket without me knowing because I was sitting down. So, when the police came, that guy told me, hey this guy put something on you. That’s it.
‘‘[The Prosecutor]: Okay.
‘‘The Court: If I can just interrupt for a moment? [Sir], English is not your first language is it?
‘‘[E]: No.
‘‘The Court: Do you have any difficulty ...

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