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State v. Spring

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

November 20, 2018


          Argued September 6, 2018

         Procedural History

         Substitute information charging the defendant with the crimes of burglary in the first degree, kidnapping in the second degree, strangulation in the second degree, and assault in the third degree, 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 strangulation in the second degree and assault in the third degree, from which the defendant appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Timothy H. Everett, with whom were Michael Edelson, certified legal intern, and, on the brief, Andrew Ammirati, certified legal intern, and Shaun D. Loughlin, certified legal intern, for the appellant (defendant).

          Matthew A. Weiner, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, and Richard J. Rubino, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Prescott, Bright and Flynn, Js.


          BRIGHT, J.

         The primary issue in this appeal involves the admissibility at trial of the defendant's written statement, which was made during an unrecorded custodial interrogation at the Enfield police station. The defendant, Christopher M. Spring, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of strangulation in the second degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-64bb (a) and assault in the third degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-61 (a) (1).[1] On appeal, the defendant claims that (1) the court erred when it granted the state's motion to admit his statement, which was taken in violation of General Statutes § 54-1o, [2] during an unrecorded custodial interrogation, because the state failed to prove that the statement was both voluntarily given and reliable under the totality of the circumstances, as required by § 54-1o (h), (2) the court abused its discretion when it overruled an objection made by the defendant regarding an inaccurate argument made by the state about the defendant's statement, and (3) this court should exercise its supervisory authority over the administration of justice by ordering a new trial in this case and by requiring the judges of our Superior Court to instruct juries in a particular manner when faced with statements or confessions obtained during unrecorded custodial interrogations that violate § 54-1o. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The jury reasonably could have found the following facts, which are necessary to our review of the defendant's claims. The Enfield police arrested the defendant on May 3, 2015, at approximately 5:30 a.m., on multiple charges, including class A or B felonies, following a physical altercation between the defendant and the victim. Enfield Police Officer Mark Critz read the defendant his Miranda[3] rights at the time he was arrested and, again, when he was brought to the police station, where he signed a notice of rights form at approximately 7:23 a.m. He then was taken to lock up. Several hours later, at approximately 1:10 p.m., the defendant was interrogated by Detective Martin Merritt of the Enfield Police Department. The interrogation took place at Merritt's desk, which is in a large room with cubicles that had walls about five feet tall, and was not video recorded. Merritt did not readvise the defendant of his Miranda rights because Critz had informed him that the defendant had been provided such warnings twice already. In addition, the defendant confirmed to Merritt that he had been advised of his rights. Merritt asked the defendant to explain what had happened the night before and took notes as the defendant recounted the events leading up to his arrest.


         In the statement, the defendant acknowledged, by initialing specific sentences, that he had been advised of his rights, understood those rights, was making the statement of his own free will, without any threats or promises having been made, and that he was giving the statement voluntarily. Also in the written statement, the defendant acknowledged, in relevant part, the following events: The defendant and others were watching ‘‘the fight'' on television, during a party. Later, wanting to talk to the victim, the defendant went to her residence.[4]After the defendant knocked on a window to the apartment, the victim opened the door. Shortly thereafter, the defendant took the victim for a ride in his vehicle, where they immediately started to argue. The defendant pulled over the vehicle, choked the victim with his hands, punched her, and slapped her repeatedly. The victim tore off the defendant's necklace, and she punched him in the face, causing his gums to bleed. After the fight, both the victim and the defendant had a lot of blood on them. The defendant drove to someone's apartment, where both he and victim cleaned up. Someone then telephoned the police. Soon thereafter, the defendant went for a walk. The police then arrested him. After making whatever changes to the written statement that he thought were necessary, the defendant initialed each change, and he signed each page of the statement.

         On April 27, 2016, shortly before the defendant's trial began, the state, pursuant to § 54-1o, filed a motion seeking permission to introduce the defendant's signed statement into evidence during its case-in-chief.[5] In its motion, the state requested an evidentiary hearing wherein it could establish an exception to the custodial interrogation recording requirement under subsections (e) and (h) of § 54-1o. See footnote 2 of this opinion. The court held the hearing on May 2, 2016.

         During the hearing, Critz testified that he read the defendant his Miranda rights when he arrested him in an outdoor area at approximately 5:30 a.m. on May 3, 2015, as he had been directed to do by his detective sergeant, who, at that time, was talking to the victim. Critz observed that the defendant was bleeding from his mouth at that time. Critz also acknowledged that the defendant told him that he had been at a party, watching the ‘‘Pacquiano'' fight. Critz further stated that he again read the defendant his rights after he was transported to the police station, and the defendant signed a notice of rights form at approximately 7:23 a.m.

         The state also called Merritt, the lead detective in the defendant's case, as a witness at the hearing. Merritt testified that, at approximately 1:10 p.m., he spoke with the defendant at the police station in an interview that lasted approximately one hour, and that the defendant told him what had happened. Thereafter, Merritt hand-wrote the defendant's statement, which the defendant then reviewed, and, after making several changes to the statement, the defendant initialed the changes, and signed each of the three pages of the document. Merritt denied that the defendant smelled of alcohol or had slurred speech, stating that ‘‘[h]e seemed fine to me . . . .'' When asked why he did not record electronically his interview of the defendant, Merritt explained that they had been having difficulties with their recording system, and he believed that it had not been working properly at that time, but he was not positive. He also stated that it could have been possible that the defendant requested that the interview not be recorded, but he had no specific recollection and did not write down any reason for not recording the interview. Defense counsel asked Merritt whether he had a cell phone with recording capabilities and whether there was recording equipment in the holding cells. Merritt responded affirmatively to both questions. The state also called Detective Sergeant Daniel Casale to testify. Casale stated that he oversaw the process of the defendant's interrogation, standing by to ensure that no issues developed. He explained that his office was a mere twenty feet away from Merritt's cubicle, which he could see from his office, and that he ‘‘was bouncing back and forth between . . . Merritt's desk and [his] office doing paperwork . . . .'' Casale admitted to knowing that the police had an ‘‘obligation'' to make a video recording of the defendant's interview and statement, and he acknowledged that he had no explanation as to why this interview was not recorded.

         Following the close of testimony, the defendant argued that the state had failed to establish an exception to § 54-1o, under either subsection (e) or (h), and that the court, therefore, should deny the state's motion to admit the defendant's statement, which was taken in violation of the statute. The court, ruling from the bench, stated in relevant part: ‘‘[T]he defendant was . . . under formal arrest. There was a postbooking statement. The defendant was subjected to police interrogation. This was a custodial interrogation at a police station. No electronic recording was made. The written statement [was taken from a] person under investigation or accused of a . . . class A or B felony . . . . [T]he court finds by the preponderance of the evidence that there was no compliance with the electronic recording requirement, and . . . based on that, the statement is presumed to be inadmissible as evidence . . . .''

         The court then considered the claimed exceptions to the statute that had been argued by the state, particularly subsections (e) (2) and (h) of the statute. The court found that subsection (e), and, in particular, subsection (e) (2), did not apply because, although there was testimony regarding a possible problem with the electronic recording equipment in the area where the defendant had been interrogated, there were other recording alternatives available. The court then analyzed the exception in subsection (h), which it referred to as a ‘‘catchall exception, '' examining multiple factors in its consideration of the totality of the circumstances. Thereafter, the court found, on the basis of its assessment of the totality of the circumstances, ‘‘that the [defendant's] statement was pursuant to a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of the defendant's Miranda rights, and that the statement was voluntarily given, and that the statement was reliable.'' The court further found that there was no evidence of any coercion. On the basis of these findings, along with the ‘‘fact that the defendant was able to read the statement and he made corrections to the statement, and he signed the statement, '' the court granted the state's motion to introduce the statement during its case-in-chief.

         The defendant proceeded to trial on the amended charges of burglary in the first degree, kidnapping in the second degree, strangulation in the second degree, and assault in the third degree. During the state's casein-chief, it offered the defendant's statement into evidence through Merritt's testimony. The defendant raised no objections to the offer ‘‘other than those previously noted.'' The court admitted the statement into evidence.

         The defendant's statement was addressed by both defense counsel and the prosecutor during closing arguments. Defense counsel argued forcefully that the jury should disregard the statement in its entirety given the circumstances under which it was made and ‘‘most importantly of all'' because it was not videotaped as required by law. In rebuttal, the prosecutor argued that the jury should reject defense counsel's suggestion that they ignore the statement because ‘‘it came in without objection, and . . . is a full exhibit.'' Defense counsel immediately responded by interjecting, ‘‘[t]hat's not true, judge.'' The court responded by overruling the defendant's objection. Thereafter, the jury found the defendant guilty of strangulation in the second degree and assault in the third degree. It found him not guilty on the remaining two charges. This appeal followed.

         While this appeal was pending, the defendant filed a motion for articulation and a motion for further articulation, requesting in each that the trial court further explain its decision to grant the state's motion to admit into evidence the defendant's statement. The trial court granted the defendant's motions, further explained its decision, and answered the specific requests for articulation raised by the defendant. Specifically, the court articulated: (1) Merritt's failure to record his interrogation of the defendant was not done in bad faith, intentionally, recklessly, or negligently; (2) Merritt's testimony was credible, and his testimony regarding the malfunctioning of the recording system around the time that the defendant was arrested was not implausible; (3) there was no evidence that the defendant actually waived his Miranda rights prior to his interview with Merritt, only that he was advised of those rights; (4) Merritt did not advise the defendant of his rights for a third time because the defendant already had been advised twice of those rights, and the defendant willingly spoke to Merritt, waiving his Miranda rights at that time; and (5) the defendant's statement was voluntary and reliable as evidenced by the defendant's review of the statement and the multiple changes that he made to the statement, initialing each change, and then signing each page of the statement. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.


         The defendant claims that the court erred in granting the state's motion to admit his statement into evidence because it was taken in violation of § 54-1o (b) and the state failed to prove that the statement was both voluntarily given and reliable under the totality of the circumstances, as required by the exception found in subsection (h) of the statute. He contends that the court conflated the requirements of voluntariness and reliability under § 54-1o (h), thereafter finding that the state had met its burden. The defendant also alleges, although he has made no claim that his statement was taken in violation of Miranda, [6] that the trial court's decision to admit the statement has both federal and state constitutional implications. The state argues that this is a purely evidentiary matter involving a state statute and that the court properly concluded that the statement was both voluntarily given and reliable in accordance with § 54-1o (h). We agree with the state.

         Before setting forth our standard of review, we first consider whether the defendant's claim is one of constitutional magnitude. Our law is quite clear. Neither federal nor state constitutional law, nor the supervisory authority of our Supreme Court, requires the recording of custodial interrogations and the statements made as a result thereof. State v. Edwards, 299 Conn. 419, 444, 11 A.3d 116 (2011); State v. Lockhart, 298 Conn. 537, 542-77, 4 A.3d 1176 (2010); see also State v. James, 237 Conn. 390, 429, 678 A.2d 1338 (1996) (‘‘article first, § 8 [of Connecticut constitution] does not require electronic recording in order for a confession to be admissible at trial''). Instead, our Supreme Court in Edwards specifically deferred ...

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