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State v. Baltas

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

November 1, 2016

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
JOE BALTAS

          Argued September 13, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of New Haven, geographical area number seven, Klatt, J.

          Cameron R.Dorman, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

          Kathryn W. Bare, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Michael Dearington, former state's attorney, and Robert F. Mullins, Sr., assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Lavine, Mullins and Bishop, Js.

          OPINION

          LAVINE, J.

         The defendant, Joe Baltas, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of one count of assault in the second degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-60 (a) (2) and one count of possession of a dangerous instrument in a correctional institution in violation of General Statutes § 53a-174a. The defendant claims that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion to suppress an incriminating statement he made to a correction officer because he allegedly was subjected to a custodial interrogation without the benefit of having been advised of his constitutional rights pursuant to Miranda.[1] We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. The defendant was an inmate at the Cheshire Correctional Institution in the north block five housing unit (unit). The cells in the unit surround a recreation day room. A set of stairs in the recreation room leads up to a second tier of cells. Tables line the opposite ends of the room, leaving an open center aisle in the middle. Surveillance cameras in the unit can zoom in if there is a disturbance in the room.

         On January 7, 2014, Correction Officer Richie Johnson was on duty in the recreational room, where he was assigned to sit at the desk in ‘‘the bubble, '' an observational area from which a guard controls the operation of cell and shower doors. The bubble is some forty feet from the bottom of the stairwell. At approximately 11:07 a.m., Joseph Murphy, an inmate, began to berate the defendant. Johnson and his partner told the defendant and Murphy to stop arguing, and Murphy stopped yelling at the defendant. At approximately 11:18 a.m., Murphy was talking to another inmate at the bottom of the stairwell when the defendant approached him. The defendant and Murphy ‘‘exchanged words, '' and the defendant grabbed a shank, a sharp piece of metal, from his waistband. He stabbed Murphy with the shank three times. The two then engaged in a physical altercation and rolled across the floor to the opposite end of the room. The defendant dropped the shank in the middle of the recreation room.

         As soon as Johnson saw the defendant pull the shank from his waistband, Johnson announced a code blue, which is a warning to the other staff members that there is an inmate-on-inmate altercation. Johnson stated that a weapon had been used. As Johnson waited for additional correction personnel to arrive, he remained at the bubble and directed the other inmates to secure themselves in their cells. Most of the inmates complied, but a few remained in the recreation room. Only one other inmate other than the defendant and Murphy approached the center aisle where Johnson saw the shank.

         Approximately seven seconds after the defendant stabbed Murphy, correction officers arrived and restrained Murphy on the left side of the room and the defendant on the right side of the room. After the defendant and Murphy were separated, Johnson indicated with a beam of light from a flashlight where the shank was located on the floor. Correction Officer Brian Avery picked up the shank and put it in a bag.

         Lieutenant Felipe Lugo responded to the scene as soon as Johnson announced the code blue. When he arrived, Murphy and the defendant were restrained at opposite sides of the room. Lugo observed Mace on the defendant, which is normally sprayed on an inmate if he is involved in a physical altercation. Soon thereafter, Murphy was taken to the restrictive housing unit, where Lugo observed wounds on him five to ten minutes after the altercation occurred. A nurse treated Murphy for the wounds with a tetanus shot.

         Lugo and other staff members escorted the defendant to the restrictive housing unit where he was decontaminated to remove the Mace. While he was in hand restraints, the defendant was strip-searched, evaluated by medical personnel, and put in a cell separate from the other inmates. Once the defendant was put in a cell, Lugo gave him the opportunity to make a written statement about the incident. The defendant declined to give a written statement or to press charges against Murphy. Lugo then asked the defendant whether he owned the shank, and the defendant admitted that he did.

         The defendant was arrested and charged with one count of assault in the second degree and one count of possession of a dangerous instrument in a correctional institution. On August 25, 2014, the defendant filed a motion to suppress the incriminating statement he made to Lugo, claiming that he was subjected to a custodial interrogation without being read his Miranda rights. The trial court denied the motion. On October 24, 2014, ...


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