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State v. Ramos

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

December 5, 2017

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
JOSE E. RAMOS

          Argued September 15, 2017

          Jeremiah Donovan, for the appellant (defendant).

          Lawrence J. Tytla, supervisory assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, was Michael L. Regan, state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          OPINION

          PELLEGRINO, J.

         The defendant, Jose E. Ramos, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered following a jury trial, of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a. On appeal, the defendant claims that (1) there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction, (2) the court erred in failing to suppress evidence of his post-Miranda[1] silence, (3) the court committed plain error by admitting prior misconduct evidence, and (4) he was deprived of his due process rights as a result of prosecutorial impropriety. We are not persuaded by the defendant's claims on appeal and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. On the evening of October 10, 2008, the victim, Tynel Hardwick, and his fiancee, Lenore Robinson, were at Rumors Bar on Boswell Avenue in Norwich (Rumors). At that time, the defendant was also at Rumors with his friends Lattoya Small and Dishon Morgan. Small observed the defendant and the victim engaged in a verbal dispute. Thereafter, the defendant asked Small to drive him to the apartment of his sister, Shavanha Kincade (Shavanha), and her husband, James Kincade (James), a few miles away, and Morgan joined them. The defendant had left a rifle at the apartment in late summer, 2008, while he was staying with them. When the defendant arrived at the apartment, Shavanha and James were away for the evening and James' mother was caring for their young child. The defendant went into the apartment and retrieved the rifle. The defendant, Small, and Morgan returned to Boswell Avenue across from Rumors. The defendant got out of the car at a distance away from Rumors and positioned himself in a grassy area in sight of the bar. When the victim came out of the bar, the defendant shot and killed him with a single gunshot wound to the head. The defendant then returned to Small's car and Small, accompanied by Morgan, drove the defendant to Hartford.

         During their investigation in October, 2008, the police discovered .22 caliber rounds, a burnt cigar, earplugs, and footprints in the grass across the street from Rumors, but they were unable to identify any suspects. The defendant was implicated as the shooter in 2012 as part of a cold case investigation led by Detective Corey Poore of the Norwich Police Department. On September 25, 2012, while the defendant was living in New York City, Norwich detectives located him in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn detectives arrested him as a fugitive from justice, and the Norwich detectives subsequently extradited him to Connecticut. He then was charged with murder in violation of § 53a-54a. Following the presentation of evidence, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. Thereafter, the court sentenced the defendant to a total effective sentence of sixty years imprisonment. This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         I

         The defendant claims that the evidence is insufficient to support his murder conviction. He argues that the numerous inconsistencies in testimony, combined with the psychological problems and motivations of the witnesses, were so significant that no reasonable juror could have accepted their testimony as credible and returned a guilty verdict. We address the defendant's sufficiency of the evidence claim before we address any other claims because if a defendant prevails on such a claim, the proper remedy is to direct a judgment of acquittal. See State v. Raynor, 175 Conn.App. 409, 419 n.8, A.3d (2017); State v. Holley, 160 Conn.App. 578, 589 n.3, 127 A.3d 221, cert. granted on other grounds, 320 Conn. 906, 127 A.3d 1000 (2015).

         The two part test this court applies in reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence supporting a criminal conviction is well established. ‘‘First, we construe the evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the verdict. Second, we determine whether upon the facts so construed and the inferences reasonably drawn therefrom the jury reasonably could have concluded that the cumulative force of the evidence established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Lewis, 303 Conn. 760, 767, 36 A.3d 670 (2012).

         ‘‘In evaluating evidence, the trier of fact is not required to accept as dispositive those inferences that are consistent with the defendant's innocence.'' State v. Delgado, 247 Conn. 616, 620, 725 A.2d 306 (1999). ‘‘[I]n viewing evidence which could yield contrary inferences, the jury is not barred from drawing those inferences consistent with guilt and is not required to draw only those inferences consistent with innocence. The rule is that the jury's function is to draw whatever inferences from the evidence or facts established by the evidence it deems to be reasonable and logical.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Grant, 219 Conn. 596, 604, 594 A.2d 459 (1991). As we have observed, ‘‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean proof beyond all possible doubt . . . . On appeal, we do not ask whether there is a reasonable view of the evidence that would support a reasonable hypothesis of innocence. We ask, instead, whether there is a reasonable view of the evidence that supports the jury's verdict of guilty.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Aloi, 280 Conn. 824, 842, 911 A.2d 1086 (2007).

         The defendant claims that a reasonable jury could not find the witnesses credible; however, ‘‘[i]t is well established that a reviewing court is not in the position to make credibility determinations. . . . This court does not retry the case or evaluate the credibility of the witnesses. . . . Rather, we must defer to the [trier of fact's] assessment of the credibility of the witnesses based on its firsthand observation of their conduct, demeanor and attitude.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Lewis v. Commissioner of Correction, 117 Conn.App. 120, 125-26, 977 A.2d 772, cert. denied, 294 Conn. 904, 982 A.2d 647 (2009). Therefore, we decline to assess the credibility of the witnesses on appeal.

         Furthermore, the state's evidence against the defendant, including his multiple confessions, was strong. The defendant confessed that he shot the victim to his sister Shavanha, his brother-in-law James, and his friend Small. He also confessed to shooting the victim to members of the Norwich Police Department, providing details such as the nature of the dispute in the bar and the .22 caliber rifle he used. The jury also heard testimony from the defendant's good friend Morgan, who testified that he was like a ‘‘blood brother'' to the defendant. Morgan testified that he was present at the time of the murder and saw the defendant shoot the victim. The defendant also gave a videotaped confession to the Norwich Police and confessed in handwritten letters of apology to his family and members of the victim's family. Construing the evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining a verdict, a jury reasonably could have found the defendant guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt on the basis of this evidence. Accordingly, we conclude that the jury's verdict finding the defendant guilty of murder is supported by sufficient evidence.

         II

         The defendant next claims that the court erred in failing to suppress evidence of his post-Miranda warning silence. He contends that his fifth and fourteenth amendment rights against self-incrimination were violated when the jury heard evidence that the defendant did not deny the murder when Poore accused him of killing the victim. As a corollary to the privilege against self-incrimination, the United States Supreme Court held in Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U.S. 610, 617-18, 96 S.Ct. 2240, 49 L.Ed.2d 91 (1976), that a state may not use a defendant's post-Miranda silence to imply that he is guilty of the crime charged. The defendant argues that the state violated Doyle by using his post-Miranda silence to imply that he had killed the victim. We do not agree.

         The following additional facts and procedural history are relevant to this claim. On September 25, 2012, Poore interviewed the defendant after his arrest in New York City. The defendant was then presented before a New York judge on the extradition warrant and released into the custody of the Norwich detectives on the same day. As the Norwich detectives drove him to Connecticut, the defendant confessed to shooting the victim. The next day, the defendant confessed to the shooting in a videotaped interview at the Norwich Police Department.

         Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress all of his postarrest statements to members of the Norwich Police Department, including written, spoken, and video statements. The court denied his motion to suppress, but deferred ruling on the issue of the defendant's post-Miranda silence.[2] The defendant then filed a written motion to preclude evidence of his post-Miranda silence at trial.

         At trial, the state presented evidence of the defendant's post-Miranda silence through Poore's testimony as evidence of his guilt.[3] The defendant did not object to Poore's testimony. Poore testified that he interviewed the defendant after he was arrested in New York City on September 25, 2012. Poore verbally advised the defendant of his Miranda rights, the defendant then read each sentence out loud, and subsequently initialed by each sentence to indicate that he understood those rights. After the defendant signed the waiver form, Poore told him that they were there to discuss the shooting of the victim outside Rumors in October, 2008. When Poore accused the defendant of the murder, the defendant did not respond to the accusation. Poore then changed the subject and the two conversed about other topics, such as the defendant's family, the Norwich area in which they lived, and the defendant's life in New York City.

         The defendant claims that the state improperly used his post-Miranda silence to imply his guilt in violation of his constitutional rights and that this constitutional violation was harmful. The state contends, however, that the defendant did not invoke his right to remain silent, and thus that no Doyle violation occurred. Moreover, the state argues, even if such an impropriety occurred, it was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

         ‘‘[T]here is a distinction between a defendant who remains silent after he is arrested and advised of his rights, and a defendant who, after being given Miranda warnings, chooses to forgo such rights.'' State v.Holmes, 176 Conn.App. 156, 190-91, 167 A.3d 987 (2017). In the absence of an objection at trial, the defendant argues that he is entitled to review of his Doyle claim on appeal pursuant to State v.Golding, 213 Conn. 233, 567 A.2d 823 (1989), as modified by In re Yasiel R., 317 Conn. 773, 781, 120 A.3d 1188 (2015). ‘‘[A] defendant can prevail on a claim of constitutional error not preserved at trial only if all of the following conditions are met: (1) the record is adequate to review the alleged claim of error; (2) the claim is of constitutional magnitude alleging the violation of a fundamental right; (3) the alleged constitutional violation . . . exists and . . . deprived the defendant of a fair trial; and (4) if subject to harmless error analysis, the state has failed to demonstrate harmlessness of the alleged constitutional violation beyond a reasonable doubt.'' ...


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