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State v. Jordan

Supreme Court of Connecticut

June 19, 2018


          Argued January 18, 2018

          Daniel M. Erwin, with whom, on the brief, was Kevin M. Smith, for the appellant (defendant).

          Kathryn W. Bare, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Michael Dearington, former state's attorney, James Turcotte, supervisory assistant state's attorney, and James Dinnan and John Lion, senior assistant state's attorneys, for the appellee (state).

          Palmer, McDonald, Robinson, D'Auria, Mullins and Kahn, Js. [*]

         Procedural History

         Substitute information charging the defendant with the crime of assault in the second degree, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Haven, geographical area number seven, where the court, S. Moore, J., granted the state's motion to preclude certain evidence; thereafter, the case was tried to the jury before S. Moore, J.; verdict and judgment of guilty, from which the defendant appealed to the Appellate Court, Lavine, Beach and Pellegrino, Js., which affirmed the judgment of the trial court, and the defendant, on the granting of certification, appealed to this court. Affirmed.


          McDONALD, JUDGE

         The primary question we must answer in this certified appeal is whether a criminal defendant claiming self-defense is barred as a matter of law from introducing the victim's convictions for crimes of violence as evidence that the victim initiated the confrontation with the defendant when the conduct giving rise to the victim's convictions occurred subsequent to the charged incident. The defendant, Brian W. Jordan, appeals from the judgment of the Appellate Court, which affirmed his judgment of conviction of assault in the second degree. State v. Jordan, 166 Conn.App. 35, 48, 140 A.3d 421 (2016). We agree with the Appellate Court that, although the trial court improperly determined that such evidence is inadmissible as a matter of law, the defendant has failed to prove that such error ultimately was harmful.

         The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. On the evening of August 19, 2011, the defendant was socializing with a neighbor, David Gorski. After consuming several beers at the defendant's residence, they went to Jake's Martini Bar in Wallingford (Jake's). Once there, they ordered drinks from the bar, which was located in the front room, and then went into a separate room in the rear of the establishment to listen to a band.

         While the defendant and Gorski were in the back room, the victim, Erdan Sejdic, and his then girlfriend, Brianna White, arrived at Jake's, where they intended to enjoy a nightcap in celebration of the victim's birthday. After they ordered drinks from the bar, they sat down at a high top table with two chairs a few feet away from the bar. A short time later, the victim returned to the bar to order a second round of drinks while White remained seated at the table.

         While the victim was at the bar, the defendant and Gorski reentered the front room. They noticed White sitting alone and approached her. The defendant sat down in the chair that the victim had recently vacated while Gorski stood nearby. The defendant attempted to strike up a conversation with White. White interpreted the defendant's conduct as unsolicited flirtation, and told him that she was at the bar with someone.

         During this exchange, the victim looked up from the bar and saw the defendant speaking with White. White made eye contact with the victim and made a facial expression she intended to convey, and the victim understood to mean, that she wanted him to intervene. The victim began to walk toward the table but, before he could reach it, Gorski intervened, having surmised from the victim's close proximity to White that he might be her date. Gorski asked the victim if White was his girlfriend, which the victim confirmed. Gorski told the victim that he would take care of his friend. The victim returned to the bar to wait for his drinks while Gorski returned to the table. Gorski told the defendant that White was the victim's girlfriend and that they should go somewhere else. The defendant snickered, stayed in his seat, and continued speaking to White.

         Observing that White was still distressed, the victim approached the table, standing in front of his former seat where the defendant was seated. He calmly introduced himself to the defendant and told the defendant that he and White were at the bar to celebrate his birthday and that White was his girlfriend. He further expressed that he did not want any trouble. The defendant did not respond, but Gorski stated that he would take care of it. Believing that Gorski would get the defendant to leave the table, the victim again returned to the bar to wait for his drinks.

         Moments later, when the defendant still had not left the table, the victim returned to the table and stood in front of where the defendant was seated. He reiterated that he was out with White to celebrate and did not want any trouble, and told the defendant that he was in his seat and that he should move. The victim and White then heard the defendant state, ‘‘I'm going to hit him.'' White saw the defendant get red in the face and stand up. Simultaneously, Gorski put his arm across the victim, which prompted the victim to turn toward Gorski. While the victim was looking away from the defendant, the defendant smashed a glass[1] across the victim's head. The victim's head started bleeding profusely, the gash later requiring twenty stitches to close. The bartender, John Heffernan, who was behind the bar and saw the defendant strike the victim, promptly escorted the defendant out of the establishment.

         A crowd of people, including White, followed the defendant out of Jake's. The crowd continued to follow the defendant around the corner toward a parking lot in the rear of the building, yelling at him. After using his shirt to stanch the bleeding, the victim heard White yelling outside and left Jake's to find her. The victim noticed the crowd around the corner of the building and went toward it. The victim saw the defendant backing away from the crowd and ran up to him to stop him from leaving before the police arrived. As soon as he approached the defendant, the defendant threw a punch at the victim, which the victim dodged. The victim then punched the defendant in the forehead, causing the defendant to fall to the ground. While the defendant was still on the ground, the victim kicked him twice. The crowd then began kicking the defendant, which prompted the victim to back away. Almost immediately thereafter, the police arrived and took statements from the defendant and the victim. An angry exchange ensued between the two, in which the victim yelled profanities at the defendant.[2]

         The defendant was arrested at the scene.[3] In a substitute long form information, the defendant was charged with assault in the second degree, by means of a dangerous instrument, in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 2011) § 53a-60 (a) (2).

         Prior to trial, the state filed a motion in limine requesting, inter alia, that the trial court preclude evidence of the victim's criminal convictions, which the state anticipated the defendant would attempt to submit in support of his claim of self-defense. The state asserted that the defendant would not be able to lay an adequate foundation of self-defense. It further asserted that the convictions were inadmissible because they occurred subsequent to the 2011 charged conduct, in June, 2012, and March, 2013, and that the convictions were not sufficiently similar to the charged conduct in that they were domestic in nature. The defendant argued that evidence of the subsequent convictions should be admitted, citing the similarity in motive for the conduct, namely, jealousy of White and other men. The trial court granted the state's motion in limine. The court concluded that, even if the defendant were to lay an ...

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