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State v. Harris

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

July 31, 2018

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
JERMAINE HARRIS

          Argued March 15, 2018

         Procedural History

         Information charging the defendant with the crimes of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, felony murder, robbery in the first degree, carrying a pistol without a permit and criminal possession of a firearm, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Haven, where the charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, felony murder, robbery in the first degree and carrying a pistol without a permit were tried to the jury before Alander, J.; thereafter, the court declared a mistrial; subsequently, the charge of criminal possession of a firearm was tried to the court; judgment of guilty, from which the defendant appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Naomi T. Fetterman, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

          Timothy F. Costello, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Patrick J. Griffin, state's attorney, Stacey M. Miranda, senior assistant state's attorney, and Karen A. Roberg, assistant state's attor- ney, for the appellee (state).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Elgo and Beach, Js.

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM.

         The defendant, Jermaine Harris, was charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, felony murder, robbery in the first degree, carrying a pistol without a permit and criminal possession of a firearm. He elected a jury trial except as to the latter most charge, which was tried to the court. The jury was unable to reach a verdict.[1] The court, however, found the defendant guilty of criminal possession of a firearm in violation of General Statutes § 53a-217 (a) (1), and sentenced him to five years incarceration. He now appeals, [2] claiming that (1) the court's finding of guilt and its sentence deprived him of his constitutional rights under the sixth and fourteenth amendments to the United States constitution, and (2) there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction. We affirm the judgment of the court.

         I

         We first[3] address the defendant's claims that the court's finding of guilt and its sentence deprived him of his constitutional right to trial by jury as well as the due process rights to a fair trial and to the presumption of innocence. The defendant concedes that his constitutional claims are unpreserved and, therefore, requests review of them or reversal of the judgment pursuant to State v. Golding, 213 Conn. 233, 239-40, 567 A.2d 823 (1989), [4] or the plain error doctrine, [5] or our supervisory authority over the administration of justice.[6]

         The defendant's claims are premised on the notions that (1) ‘‘the trial court's [finding of guilt] on the criminal possession of afirearm charge was impermissibly based on its finding that [the defendant] had committed the underlying murder'' and (2) ‘‘[t]he sentence imposed . . . was predicated upon the court's determination that [the defendant] was in fact the shooter.''[7] We reject these arguments outright, and, therefore, decline to review the defendant's unpreserved claims.

         During trial on the charge before it, the trial court was entitled to consider all the evidence presented and to come to a conclusion different from that of the jury about what that evidence proved. That much is clear from State v. Knight, 266 Conn. 658, 663-74, 835 A.2d 47 (2003), wherein our Supreme Court held that (1) a trial court sitting as concurrent fact finder with a jury is not collaterally estopped from finding facts that conflict with factual findings of a jury; id., 663-66; and (2) a court's finding of guilt is not impermissibly inconsistent with a jury's verdict of not guilty where ‘‘there were multiple triers of fact deciding separate counts, and each fact finder was consistent with itself.'' Id., 672. The defendant here seeks to distinguish Knight on the grounds that the jury failed to reach a verdict and that ‘‘it is not that the trial court's [finding of guilt] is ‘inconsistent' with the jury's inability to reach a verdict but, rather, that the trial court's [finding of guilt] is premised upon a determination that the defendant has elected to be made by the jury, not the court. . . . The court cannot independently render a determination of guilt that conflicts with the jury's findings, here the failure of the jury to reach a verdict at all.'' (Citation omitted.)

         These are distinctions without a difference. First, despite the defendant's protestations to the contrary, the court did not convict the defendant of any crime other than criminal possession of a firearm. Rather, the court, in considering the charge before it, merely found facts that happened also to be relevant to the charges before the jury. Asking whether the court may do this is asking whether collateral estoppel applies. The answer is no. State v. Knight, supra, 266 Conn. 664 (‘‘the doctrine of collateral estoppel does not apply to the procedurally unique situation in which several criminal charges against the same defendant have been allocated between two triers for concurrent adjudication upon virtually identical evidence'' [internal quotation marks omitted]).

         Second, the finder of fact ‘‘is free to consider all of the evidence adduced at trial in evaluating the defendant's culpability, and presumably does so . . . .'' (Emphasis added; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v.Sabato, 321 Conn. 729, 742, 138 A.3d 895 (2005). Thus, we are unable to discern any error, constitutional or otherwise, with the court's consideration of, and conclusions about, the evidence presented: That some evidence may have been ...


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