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State v. Connor

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

February 7, 2017

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
JEFFREY T. CONNOR

          Argued October 17, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Hartford, McMahon, J. [competency determination]; Miano, J. [competency determination; motion to proceed by self-representation]; Espinosa, J. [judgment]; Schuman, J. [remand hearing].)

          Mary Boehlert, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

          Matthew A. Weiner, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy and Anne Mahoney, state's attorneys, and Denise B. Smoker, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Sheldon, Mullins and Bear, Js.

          OPINION

          MULLINS, J.

         This case returns to us following a remand by our Supreme Court. On remand, our Supreme Court has directed us to consider whether the trial court improperly determined that the defendant, Jeffrey T. Connor, was competent to represent himself at his criminal trial. State v. Connor, 321 Conn. 350, 375, 138 A.3d 265 (2016).[1] Having considered that question, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the defendant was competent to represent himself. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The complicated and lengthy procedural history of this case previously was set forth by our Supreme Court in Connor II. ‘‘The defendant was charged with a number of crimes[2] in connection with the abduction of his former wife. . . . The extensive pretrial proceedings reflected repeated attempts by the trial court to ascertain the defendant's competency both to stand trial and to discharge his court-appointed counsel and represent himself.[3] . . . The defendant's competency had been called into doubt due to the fact that he had suffered a debilitating stroke and exhibited signs of mental illness. . . . The efficacy of these proceedings was complicated by the defendant's refusal to cooperate with the medical professionals tasked with evaluating him and his intermittent unresponsiveness in court. . . . In reliance on the opinion of several medical professionals, the trial court, McMahon, J., concluded that the defendant's refusal to cooperate was volitional . . . and the trial court, Miano, J., thereafter concluded that the defendant was malingering, and found him competent to stand trial. . . .

         ‘‘The defendant's case proceeded to trial before Judge Espinosa, [4] who concluded that the defendant's unre-sponsiveness during jury selection reflected his continued malingering . . . [and] that the defendant was competent to represent himself. . . . Judge Espinosa therefore permitted the defendant to represent himself, but appointed his defense counsel as standby counsel. . . . A jury [found] the defendant [guilty] on all but one of the charges against him.'' (Citations omitted; footnotes added; internal quotation marks omitted.) Connor II, supra, 321 Conn. 354-56.

         The defendant directly appealed from the judgment of conviction to our Supreme Court, claiming that Judge Espinosa improperly determined that he was competent to represent himself. See State v. Connor, 292 Conn. 483, 973 A.2d 627 (2009). At the time of the defendant's trial, our law dictated that a defendant who had been found competent to stand trial necessarily also was competent to represent himself. See State v. Day, 233 Conn. 813, 825, 661 A.2d 539 (1995) (‘‘a defendant who has been found competent to stand trial as a matter of state law also is competent to waive the right to counsel''), overruled in part by Connor I, supra, 292 Conn. 528 n.29. Thus, as our Supreme Court observed in Connor I, given that the defendant had been found competent to stand trial, Judge Espinosa ‘‘had no alternative'' but to permit the defendant to represent himself. Connor I, supra, 528.

         While the defendant's direct appeal to our Supreme Court was pending, however, the United States Supreme Court clarified in Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164, 177-78, 128 S.Ct. 2379, 171 L.Ed.2d 345 (2008), that a defendant who is competent to stand trial nevertheless may lack the competency to represent himself. Connor I, supra, 292 Conn. 525. Therefore, pursuant to Edwards, a state may ‘‘insist [on] representation by counsel for those competent enough to stand trial . . . but who still suffer from severe mental illness to the point where they are not competent to conduct trial proceedings by themselves.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id.

         In light of Edwards, our Supreme Court exercised its supervisory authority in Connor I to announce the following rule: ‘‘[W]hen a trial court is presented with a mentally ill or mentally incapacitated defendant who, having been found competent to stand trial, elects to represent himself, the trial court also must ascertain whether the defendant is, in fact, competent to conduct the trial proceedings without the assistance of counsel.'' Id., 527-28. After so ruling, our Supreme Court remanded the defendant's case specifically to Judge Espinosa so that she could determine, in accordance with Edwards and Connor I, ‘‘whether the defendant then was competent, notwithstanding any mental disability, to conduct the trial proceedings by himself.'' Id., 528.

         The remand proceedings began before Judge Espinosa in early 2010. Shortly thereafter, and before the proceedings concluded, Judge Espinosa was elevated to the Appellate Court. As a result, Judge Schu-man assumed control of the proceedings. On May 25, 2012, Judge Schuman held an evidentiary hearing, and, on June 6, 2012, he issued a written memorandum of decision wherein he determined that the defendant had been competent to represent himself at his criminal trial.

         The defendant appealed from Judge Schuman's competency determination, claiming that Judge Schuman abused his discretion in concluding that the defendant had been competent to represent himself during his criminal trial. See State v. Connor, 152 Conn.App. 780, 100 A.3d 877 (2014), rev'd, 321 Conn. 350, 138 A.3d 265 (2016). This court reversed the trial court's judgment on the ground that the remand hearing held by Judge Schuman was procedurally flawed. Id., 810. This court then directed the trial court to grant the defendant a new criminal trial. Id., 817.

         The state then filed a petition for certification to appeal this court's decision. After granting certification to appeal, our Supreme Court concluded that this court erred in reversing the judgment rendered by Judge Schuman and in ordering a new trial because this court had raised, sua sponte, a ground not argued by the parties, namely, the procedural inadequacy of the remand hearing. Connor II, supra, 321 Conn. 354. Accordingly, our Supreme Court remanded the case back to this court with direction to consider the defendant's claim that ‘‘the trial court abused its discretion when it erroneously concluded that the [defendant] was ...


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