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State v. Mark T.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

November 27, 2018

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
MARK T. [*]

          Argued September 6, 2018

         Procedural History

         Substitute information charging the defendant with the crimes of risk of injury to a child and breach of the peace in the second degree, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New London, geographical area number ten, where the court, Jongbloed, J., granted in part the state's motion to preclude certain evidence and denied the defendant's motion to dismiss; thereafter, the matter was tried to the jury; verdict of guilty of risk of injury to a child; subsequently, the court rendered judgment in accordance with the verdict, from which the defendant appealed to this court.

          Robert L. O'Brien, assigned counsel, with whom, on the brief, was William A. Adsit, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

          Rita M. Shair, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom were Michael L. Regan, state's attorney, and, on the brief, Sarah E. Steere, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Keller, Bright and Pellegrino, Js.

          OPINION

          PELLEGRINO, J.

         The defendant, Mark T., appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of one count of risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes § 53-21 (a) (1). On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court abused its discretion by excluding relevant evidence, and thereby violated his constitutional right (1) to present a defense and (2) to testify in his own defense. We disagree and, therefore, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. The defendant, who was thirty-five years of age, had maintained custody of his biological daughter, the victim, for hardly three weeks at the time of the incident. The victim was thirteen, in the eighth grade, and enrolled in an intensive behavioral support class for children who were prone to disruptive behavior. At home, the defendant had significant difficulty maintaining control of the victim. He therefore arranged for the victim to participate in independent after-school counseling at a local mental health facility.

         On the morning of September 9, 2015, the defendant arrived at the victim's school to take her to her scheduled appointment at the mental health facility. The front office secretary contacted the victim's classroom to inform Monika Wilkos, the victim's special education teacher, that the defendant had arrived in the main office to pick up the victim. As the victim was gathering her belongings in the classroom, she protested in front of Wilkos, stating that she did not want to go with the defendant. Wilkos asked the victim to accompany her to the front office, and while en route, the defendant approached the victim and Wilkos in the hallway.

         After a number of unsuccessful attempts to persuade the victim to come with him, the defendant attempted to pick her up and carry her. When the victim resisted, a tussle ensued, and the defendant dragged the victim by one leg through the school corridors toward the exit. School personnel called the police. By the time police arrived, the defendant had dragged the victim through the front office and into the foyer. When he saw the police, the defendant released the victim. The police interviewed the defendant and school staff, but took no further actions.

         The following day, both the school psychologist and the school nurse spoke to the victim regarding the incident. During the interviews, they both noticed bruising on the victim's body and subsequently reported the incident to the Department of Children and Families (department). A police officer assigned to the school district investigated the incident and, thereafter, an arrest warrant was issued for the defendant. After learning of the arrest warrant, the defendant turned himself in to the police without incident.

         The operative information charged the defendant with one count of risk of injury to a child in violation of § 53-21 (a) (1) and one count of breach of the peace in the second degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-181 (a) (1). During multiple pretrial hearings, the defendant insisted on representing himself despite the court's many warnings about the dangers of self-representation.[1] The defendant refused court-appointed counsel, but the court ultimately assigned the defendant standby counsel in accordance with Practice Book § 44-4.

         Before trial, the state filed, among other things, a motion in limine requesting that the name, address, and any other identifying information pertaining to the victim be kept confidential pursuant to General Statutes § 54-86e. The victim's guardian ad litem also argued in favor of the motion, underscoring the harmful impact that disclosure of sensitive facts could have on the victim. The defendant objected, claiming that details of his relationship with the victim were necessary to demonstrate his urgent need to get help for the victim. The court granted the motion in part and ordered that only the victim's first initial be used in the record and at trial. The court also ordered that the defendant's pretrial motions containing the name of the victim and the name of the program that the defendant was planning to take her to be placed under seal for the purposes of the record. The court further ordered that it would rule on the admissibility of other facts as they arose at trial.

         On September 19, 2016, following a three day jury trial, the jury found the defendant guilty of risk of injury to a child, but not guilty of breach of the peace in the second degree. On April 4, 2017, the court imposed a total effective sentence of four years imprisonment, execution suspended, with three years of probation. This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         The defendant's appeal is predicated on his contention that the trial court deprived him of his constitutional right (1) to present a defense and (2) to testify in his own defense in violation of the fifth, sixth, and fourteenth amendments to the federal constitution.[2]Specifically, the defendant argues that the court erred when it excluded evidence relevant to his theory of defense of parental justification by limiting his inquiry with respect to the victim's violent behavior toward others at school. He further claims that when he testified in his own defense, the trial court unconstitutionally limited his testimony with respect to his struggles with the victim's behavior, and her history of extreme and physical opposition. He argues that because the jury did not hear this evidence, it was unable to fully understand the urgent need to get the victim mental health treatment. The state argues that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it limited certain aspects of the defendant's testimony. Specifically, the state argues that the trial court gave the defendant wide latitude with respect to his presentation of evidence and did not abuse its discretion when it excluded evidence that was beyond the scope of ...


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