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State v. Manuel T.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

November 13, 2018

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
MANUEL T.[*]

          Argued September 7, 2018

         Procedural History

         Substitute information charging the defendant with four counts of the crime of risk of injury to a child, three counts of the crime of sexual assault in the first degree, and two counts of the crime of sexual assault in the second degree, and with the crimes of sexual assault in the fourth degree and tampering with a witness, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford and tried to the jury before Bentivegna, J.; verdict and judgment of guilty of four counts of risk of injury to a child, three counts of sexual assault in the first degree, and two counts of sexual assault in the second degree, and of sexual assault in the fourth degree, from which the defendant appealed. Affirmed.

          Hubert J. Santos, with whom was Trent A. LaLima, for the appellant (defendant).

          Ronald G. Weller, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and Elizabeth Tanaka, assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Alvord, Bright and Bear, Js.

          OPINION

          BRIGHT, J.

         The defendant, Manuel T., appeals[1] from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of one count of sexual assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-70 (a) (2), four counts of risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes § 53-21 (a) (2), two counts of sexual assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-70 (a) (1), two counts of sexual assault in the second degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-71 (a) (1), and one count of sexual assault in the fourth degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-73a (a) (1) (E).[2] On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court improperly (1) admitted into evidence a video recording of the diagnostic interview between the minor victim and a clinical services coordinator, and (2) excluded from evidence two screenshots of text messages purportedly sent by the minor victim to her step cousin. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following undisputed facts and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this appeal. On March 28, 2014, the minor victim, age seventeen at the time, reported to her family and the police that she had been sexually abused by the defendant, her stepfather. In accordance with police protocol, the minor victim was referred to the Greater Hartford Children's Advocacy Center (advocacy center) at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center for a diagnostic interview. On April 1, 2014, the minor victim participated in a diagnostic interview conducted by Lisa Murphy-Cipolla, the clinical services coordinator at the advocacy center. Although Murphy-Cipolla interviewed the minor victim alone, their conversation was observed through a ‘‘one way mirror'' by Detective Claire Hearn and Audrey Courtney, a pediatric nurse practitioner at the advocacy center.[3] In conformance with the ordinary practice of the advocacy center, the interview was video recorded.

         During the interview, the minor victim disclosed, in precise detail, that the defendant sexually abused her over an approximate seven year period. The minor victim told Murphy-Cipolla, in relevant part, that beginning when she was eight or nine years old, until she was fifteen years old, the defendant, on numerous occasions, touched her inappropriately underneath her clothes. The minor victim also disclosed that, when she turned fifteen years old, the defendant ‘‘would force [her] to have sex with him.'' She further indicated that the defendant's actions would cause her to suffer physical pain, that she does not feel comfortable with her body, and that she regrets not disclosing the sexual abuse sooner. The defendant subsequently was arrested and charged with, inter alia, six counts of sexual assault and four counts of risk of injury to a child.

         On June 6, 2016, the court held a pretrial hearing to determine whether the video recording of the diagnostic interview would be admissible at trial. As an offer of proof, the state presented the testimony of Murphy-Cipolla and played a partially redacted version[4] of the video recording. Murphy-Cipolla testified regarding her background and the purposes and process of conducting diagnostic interviews, as well as the circumstances of her interview of the minor victim. The state argued that the video recording was admissible pursuant to the medical diagnosis and treatment exception to the hearsay rule, which is codified in § 8-3 (5) of the Connecticut Code of Evidence.[5] The defendant objected to the admission of the video recording on the ground that the minor victim's statements made during the interview constituted inadmissible hearsay because the minor victim was not seeking medical diagnosis or treatment.[6]

         At the conclusion of the hearing, the court, in an oral decision, overruled the defendant's objection and held that the video recording was admissible pursuant to the medical diagnosis and treatment exception to the hearsay rule. In particular, the court concluded that the hearsay exception applied because the minor victim's reports of ‘‘physical symptoms, '' ‘‘body image mental health issues, '' and ‘‘medical concerns'' were reasonably pertinent to obtaining medical diagnosis and treatment.

         Thereafter, the defendant's case proceeded to a jury trial, at which the state presented the testimony of several witnesses, including Murphy-Cipolla. During the state's direct examination of Murphy-Cipolla, the state requested that the video recording be admitted into evidence. Notwithstanding the defendant's renewed objection, the court admitted into evidence the video recording as a full exhibit, and the state proceeded to play the video recording for the jury.

         In the course of the defendant's rebuttal evidence at trial, the defendant sought to introduce two cell phone screenshots depicting text messages purportedly sent by the minor victim to her step cousin, R, who is the defendant's niece.[7] Accordingly, the court held a hearing outside the presence of the jury to determine the admissibility of these screenshots. As an offer of proof, the defendant conducted a direct examination of R and produced both screenshots. R testified that, inter alia, both screenshots depict text message responses that she received from the minor victim in February or March, 2014. Both screenshots appear to display the minor victim's first name as the sender; neither screens-hot, however, contains an indication as to the date or time that the messages were received. After conducting a cross-examination of R, the state objected to the admission of both screenshots arguing that they had not been authenticated properly because they were incomplete and devoid of necessary distinctive characteristics. The defendant countered that the screenshots were admissible because R sufficiently identified the messages as being authored by the minor victim.

         At the conclusion of the hearing, the court issued an oral decision sustaining the state's objection and deciding that both screenshots had not been authenticated sufficiently pursuant to § 9-1 (a) of the Connecticut Code of Evidence.[8] Specifically, the court determined that the defendant failed to make a prima facie case that the minor victim authored the text messages exhibited by the screenshots because, among other things, the messages were incomplete, lacking temporal indicators, and devoid of distinctive characteristics. Accordingly, the court excluded from evidence both screenshots.

         The jury subsequently found the defendant guilty of six counts of sexual assault and four counts of risk of injury to a child. The court rendered judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict and imposed a total effective sentence of forty years incarceration, execution suspended after thirty years, with thirty-five years probation and lifetime sex offender registration. This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         Before turning to the merits of the defendant's claims, we briefly set forth the applicable standard of review. ‘‘It is well settled that [w]e review the trial court's decision to admit [or exclude] evidence, if premised on a correct view of the law . . . for an abuse of discretion. . . . Under the abuse of discretion standard, [w]e [must] make every reasonable presumption in favor of upholding the trial court's ruling, and only upset it for a manifest abuse of discretion. . . . [Thus, our] review of such rulings is limited to the questions of whether the trial court correctly applied the law and reasonably could have reached the conclusion that it did.'' (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Filippelli v. Saint Mary's Hospital, 319 Conn. 113, 119, 124 A.3d 501 (2015).[9]

         I

         The defendant claims that the court improperly admitted into evidence a video recording of the diagnostic interview between the minor victim and Murphy-Cipolla. More specifically, the defendant argues that the court abused its discretion in determining that the video recording met the requirements of the medical diagnosis and treatment exception to the hearsay rule because ‘‘[t]he circumstances of this case make clear that criminal investigation and ...


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