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State v. Benedict

Supreme Court of Connecticut

December 6, 2016


          Argued September 14, 2016

          William J. Ward, for the appellant (defendant).

          Harry Weller, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were David S. Shepack, state's attorney, and David R. Shannon, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

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


          ROGERS, C. J.

         The sole issue in this certified appeal is whether the trial court deprived the defendant, Adam Benedict, of his right to a fair trial by denying his request to strike a juror for cause when the defendant had shown that the juror was a police officer with possible ties to the agency investigating the defendant's case.[1]In his second trial, the jury, including the challenged juror, found the defendant guilty of one count of sexual assault in the fourth degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-73a (a) (6), and not guilty of two additional counts under the same statute. The defendant appeals from the judgment of the Appellate Court affirming the trial court's judgment after concluding that the trial court properly had denied his challenge of the juror for cause. State v. Benedict, 158 Conn.App. 599, 620, 119 A.3d 1245 (2015). The defendant claims that the challenged juror's bias should have been conclusively presumed because the juror was a Southbury police officer who reported to a Connecticut state trooper and other Connecticut state troopers who investigated the defendant's criminal charges. We disagree and affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court.

         The record reveals the following facts and procedural history which are relevant to this appeal. The victim[2]made a report to the Connecticut state police in Litchfield alleging that when she was seventeen years old and a high school senior, the defendant, a substitute teacher and coach at her high school, invited her to his residence and, after she arrived, engaged in sexual conduct with her. Samantha McCord, a Connecticut state trooper assigned to Troop L in Litchfield, investigated the complaint.

         The defendant was tried before a jury in January, 2010, on an amended information charging him with three counts of sexual assault in the fourth degree in violation of § 53a-73a (a) (6), and one count of harassment in violation of General Statutes § 53a-183. McCord was a key witness for the state. The jury acquitted the defendant of harassment, but could not reach a verdict on the sexual assault counts. Consequently, the trial court declared a mistrial on those counts, and the case was rescheduled for a second jury trial.

         During the first day of jury selection for the second trial, the defendant exhausted his peremptory challenges. Later that day, a venireperson, identified as J.J., [3]was individually questioned. As an initial inquiry, the trial court asked what J.J. did for work, and he responded that he was a police officer for the town of Southbury. J.J. later stated that ‘‘in Southbury, my boss . . . is a state police sergeant, '' and also that he ‘‘work[ed] under the state police.'' When questioned whether he knew any of the specific state troopers who were going to testify at the defendant's trial, J.J. stated that he did not know any of the names that defense counsel had provided to him.

         Upon questioning by the trial court and the parties, J.J. stated that he would not consider a witness more credible because of his or her role as a police officer, and he agreed that ‘‘[j]ust because somebody's a police officer and comes in here and testifies, that [does not] mean that [they are] telling the truth . . . .'' He also stated that the defendant would not be ‘‘sitting at any disadvantage at all'' due to the fact that J.J. worked under the state police and it was the state police that had arrested the defendant.

         The defendant challenged J.J. for cause on the ground that J.J. ‘‘works for the very people who are going to be testifying.'' The state disagreed that J.J. worked for the investigating agency, instead describing the South-bury police as ‘‘a police department unto themselves with the exception [being] they have a sergeant from the state police who is on loan to them . . . .'' The state noted that J.J.'s employer was the town of Southbury. Furthermore, according to the state, the trooper assigned to Southbury ‘‘doesn't even work for Troop L. That's a different troop. That's a Southbury troop. That's not even Troop L.'' In response to the defendant's challenge to J.J. for cause, the trial court seemed to address both actual and implied bias challenges for cause, stating that ‘‘[u]nless you have a case which tells me that a police officer is per se ineligible to serve on a jury in a criminal case, I have found nothing in the answers from this juror that would indicate that he couldn't be a fair and impartial juror.'' The court then denied the defendant's challenge for cause, observing that J.J. ‘‘does not know any of the officers involved in the case, not even remotely.''

         The next morning, before continuing with voir dire, the defendant renewed his challenge to J.J. for cause, specifically claiming implied bias due to an ‘‘on-going employment relationship with a prosecutorial arm of the case . . . .'' In advocating for J.J. to be removed due to implied bias, defense counsel alleged that ‘‘[J.J.] essentially works under the department that arrested [the defendant]. He's testified to that. He works for the state trooper down there in Southbury. Also, Trooper McCord said that she'd been transferred. The likelihood [of] [J.J.] running into Trooper McCord or one of the other officers during the course of his career is very likely. He works with the prosecutorial arm.'' In response, the state asserted that J.J. was ‘‘not employed by the Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice. He's not even employed by the state police. He's employed by the town of Southbury. So, it's a totally different situation.”

         The trial court responded to the defendant's renewed challenge to remove J.J. for cause as follows: ‘‘I had a juror here who happened to be a police officer, a prospective juror, who answered the questions to the court's satisfaction that he would be fair and impartial. He had the educational background. [J.J.] was on the force for about four years. He's a relatively new police officer. My recollection of his testimony was he does not do any type of investigations regarding sexual assault cases. And I think another issue that would probably be raised in future proceeding[s], is the nature of this trial. I mean, I believe the trial will boil down to the credibility of two witnesses against [the defendant]. And I know that from the last trial that there was [an] investigation done by an officer and she was one of the key witnesses; I will give you that much, that she was a key witness involved in the investigation. [J.J.] doesn't know that person and I could not-to start speculating as to whether or not he would be embarrassed to go back to his police department because of something that he heard at this trial regarding the testimony of an investigating officer, is so speculative and so tenuous, I'd-I would have to-if I removed him [for] cause it would basically be because per se, he was a police officer. And I am not going to do that. So, I am not going to excuse him for cause. So, your renewed challenge to remove [J.J.] for cause is denied.''

         The second jury trial was conducted in April, 2010. After two days of deliberation, the jury, which included J.J., found the defendant guilty of one count of sexual assault in the fourth degree and not guilty of the remaining two counts. Subsequently, the trial court sentenced the defendant to one year of incarceration, ...

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