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State v. Lester

Supreme Court of Connecticut

January 17, 2017

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
EDWARD LESTER

          Argued November 9, 2016

          Michael S. Taylor, assigned counsel, with whom were Matthew C. Eagan, assigned counsel, and, on the brief, James P. Sexton, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

          Sarah Hanna, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Matthew C. Gedansky, state's attorney, and Elizabeth C. Leaming, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Eveleigh, McDonald, Espinosa and Robinson, Js.

          OPINION

          ROGERS, C. J.

         In this case, we are asked to decide whether the trial court improperly excluded evidence of the victim's[1] prior sexual assault allegation and the subsequent investigation when it was offered by the defendant, Edward Lester, to show the victim's lack of credibility and an alternative source of the victim's advanced sexual knowledge. The defendant was charged with two counts of sexual assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-70 (a) (2), three counts of sexual assault in the fourth degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-73a (a) (1) (a), and one count of risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes § 53-21 (a) (2), based on allegations that on multiple occasions he sexually assaulted his girlfriend's daughter, who was eight years old at the time of the alleged conduct. During the course of the trial, the trial court granted the state's motion in limine to exclude evidence of the victim's prior sexual conduct, including a prior allegation of sexual abuse made by the victim, when she was five years old, against her father's then wife. The jury found the defendant guilty on all counts and the trial court thereafter rendered judgment in accordance with the verdict. See footnote 3 of this opinion. The defendant appeals to this court, claiming that the trial court improperly excluded evidence of the prior allegation and subsequent investigation. We dismiss the defendant's appeal as moot because the defendant has not challenged all of the trial court's bases for its evidentiary ruling.

         The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. During the victim's third grade school year, the victim lived with her father, stepmother, stepbrother and stepsister. The victim would visit with her mother on the weekends and on days when she was not in school. At that time, the victim's mother was living in an apartment with the defendant, who was her boyfriend. On six occasions when the victim was visiting her mother, while her mother was in the shower or otherwise not present, the defendant sexually assaulted the victim.

         The following additional facts and procedural history, found in the record, are relevant to this appeal. Prior to trial, the state filed a motion in limine to exclude evidence of any alleged sexual abuse of the victim by third parties pursuant to General Statutes (Rev. to 2011) § 54-86f (4)[2] (rape shield statute). The state filed this motion because the defendant's investigator had authored reports indicating that the victim may have been sexually assaulted by individuals other than the defendant.

         At trial, the defendant's theory of the case was that the victim had made a false allegation against him because she was unhappy that her mother was pregnant with the defendant's child and the victim disliked the defendant because he was black. In furtherance of this theory, the defendant sought to elicit testimony that when the victim was five years old, she had made a false allegation of inappropriate touching against her father's then wife. The defendant claimed that this false allegation was relevant to the victim's credibility. He further claimed that the investigation of the previous false allegation was an independent source of advanced sexual knowledge for the victim.

         The state opposed admission of the evidence on the grounds that: (1) the defendant had not established that the prior allegation was false in order to allow the evidence to be admitted under the rape shield statute; (2) the evidence was inadmissible under § 6-6 (b) (2) of the Connecticut Code of Evidence, which prohibits the use of extrinsic evidence to attack a witness' credibility; (3) the prior allegation was too remote in time; and (4) it would create a collateral issue because the evidence of the prior allegation was too tenuous.

         After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court orally granted the state's motion in limine to exclude evidence of the victim's prior sexual conduct stating: ‘‘I'm going to grant the state's motion [in limine], and I'm going to tell you why. There is a strange tension between the fourth subsection of the rape shield [statute] and the [Connecticut Code of Evidence] as well as the common law of evidence. It is almost ironic that the rape shield [statute] is cited in an attempt to get in evidence that is otherwise inadmissible . . . . Now, among the court's reasons for granting the state's motion in limine are, number one, the defense has not provided, was unable to provide credible evidence that [the victim's] complaint about her [father's former wife] was not true. . . . The complaint was remote-five years ago . . . and that five years, by the way, is one-half of her total life. . . . [T]here is a particular difference with a child. We assume that adult sexual assault victims have certain knowledge that we assume that five year olds don't have.

         ‘‘Now, some of the cases rely on previous assaults on children to establish their basis of knowledge. Here what [the victim] complained of was simply bad touch against [her father's former wife]. . . . That knowledge is really very, very basic and would not have given [the victim] a clue really as to the acts allegedly perpetrated on her by the defendant, which were of a different degree, a different degree of severity, a different degree of penetration, different body parts used by the defendant that's alleged, and would not have provided- whether it happened or [the victim] was merely reciting something that schoolchildren are taught about good touch/bad touch, what makes you feel sad, pales in significance with what the defendant has alleged to have done here, and would not have provided an adequate basis of knowledge for [the victim] at age eight to make these very detailed claims.

         ‘‘And finally, should the court allow this evidence in, there would be an opportunity for confusion of the jury, and there would be most likely a minimum of eight witnesses, which would be not only a trial within a trial, it would be a second trial. . . . [T]herefore, for all the aforementioned reasons, the state's motion is granted.'' (Citation omitted.)

         The jury found the defendant guilty on all counts.[3]Subsequently, the trial court sentenced the defendant to a total effective sentence of forty-five years of incarceration followed by five years of special ...


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