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State v. Daniels

Appellate Court of Connecticut

July 2, 2019

STATE of Connecticut
v.
Patricia DANIELS

         Argued March 4, 2019

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         Appeal from the Superior Court in the judicial district of Fairfield, geographical area number two, and tried to the jury before Kavanewsky, J.

          Laila M. G. Haswell, senior assistant public defender, for the appellant (defendant).

         Denise B. Smoker, senior assistant state’s attorney, with whom, on the brief, were John C. Smriga, state’s attorney, and Marc R. Durso, senior assistant state’s attorney, for the appellee (state).

         Lavine, Bright and Bear, Js.

          OPINION

         BRIGHT, J.

         [191 Conn.App. 35] The defendant, Patricia Daniels, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered by the trial court following a jury trial, of manslaughter in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-55 (a) (3) (reckless manslaughter) and misconduct with a motor vehicle in violation of General Statutes § 53a-57 (a) (criminally negligent operation).[1] The defendant also [191 Conn.App. 36] had been convicted of manslaughter in the first degree in violation of § 53a-55 (a) (1) (intentional manslaughter), but at sentencing the trial court vacated her conviction of that charge. On appeal, the defendant claims that (1) the jury’s verdict was legally inconsistent because each of these crimes requires a mutually exclusive mental state, and (2) the court erred in failing to exclude testimonial hearsay. We agree that the verdict is legally inconsistent, and, therefore, we reverse in part the judgment of the trial court.

          The following facts, as reasonably could have been found by the jury, are relevant to this appeal. The victim, Evelyn Agyei, left her Bridgeport home at approximately 6 a.m. on December 4, 2014. Her eleven year old son accompanied her. Agyei and her son got into her Subaru Outback (Subaru), Agyei driving and her son in the back seat on the passenger’s side. After traversing some back roads, they took Bond Street and arrived at the intersection of Bond Street and Boston Avenue. Agyei stopped at the red light and then proceeded to make a right turn onto Boston

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Avenue, staying in the right lane. As she was making the right turn, her son looked to the left and saw a white BMW sport utility vehicle (BMW) approximately two streets down, traveling at a high rate of speed in the left lane.

          After Agyei got onto Boston Avenue, the driver of the BMW pulled alongside Agyei’s vehicle. Agyei’s son saw the BMW logo on the hood; however, he could not see the driver or the license plate. The driver of the BMW then moved into the right lane, hitting Agyei’s Subaru once on the driver’s side and causing her to begin to lose control of the vehicle. The driver of the BMW then moved behind the Subaru and ran into it from behind, causing the vehicle to cross the median, proceed under a fence, and hit a tree. Tragically, Agyei died from her injuries, and her son, who also was [191 Conn.App. 37] injured, continues to have vision problems as a result of the injuries he sustained.

         After an investigation, which included obtaining a video of the incident from a nearby high school that had surveillance cameras in the area, the police, having concluded that the defendant was the driver of the BMW that hit the Subaru, causing Agyei’s death and the injuries to Agyei’s son, arrested the defendant.[2] Ultimately, she was charged, in a long form information, with, inter alia, intentional manslaughter, reckless manslaughter, and criminally negligent operation of a motor vehicle; the jury found her guilty of these charges, among others. See footnote 1 of this opinion. The court accepted the jury’s verdicts and rendered judgment accordingly. On the date of sentencing, upon the request of the state,[3] the court vacated the

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defendant’s conviction of intentional manslaughter, and it, thereafter, sentenced the defendant to twenty years incarceration, [191 Conn.App. 38] execution suspended after sixteen years, with five years of probation.[4] The defendant raises two claims on appeal— (1) the jury’s verdicts of guilty on the crimes of intentional and reckless manslaughter and criminally negligent operation were legally inconsistent because each of these crimes requires a mutually exclusive mental state, and (2) the court erred in failing to exclude testimonial hearsay— and requests that we reverse the judgment of the trial court and order a new trial on all charges and, alternatively, on the charges of intentional manslaughter, reckless manslaughter, and criminally negligent operation. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

          I

          INCONSISTENT VERDICTS

         The defendant first claims that the jury’s verdicts on the counts of intentional manslaughter, reckless manslaughter, and criminally negligent operation were legally inconsistent because they each require a mutually exclusive mental state.[5] She argues that it was logically impossible for the defendant to have possessed [191 Conn.App. 39] three forms of intent, simultaneously, for a single act, involving a single victim. The defendant explains that, at trial, the state’s theory of the case was that her action in twice hitting Agyei’s vehicle was one single act, which caused Agyei’s death. She argues that the state tried the case under the theory that each of the three relevant counts of the information were charged in the alternative, one being intentional, one reckless, and one negligent. She contends that the fact that the jury found her guilty of all three charges, each requiring a different mental state, and that the state, thereafter, requested that the court vacate the intentional manslaughter conviction, demonstrates that the verdicts were legally inconsistent. After setting forth our standard of review and the general legal principles involved, we will consider the relevant mental element of each of these crimes in order to ascertain whether convictions of all three crimes would be legally inconsistent.

          "It is well established that factually inconsistent verdicts are permissible. [When] the verdict could have been the result of compromise or mistake, we will not probe into the logic or reasoning of the jury’s deliberations or open the door to interminable speculation.... Thus, claims of legal inconsistency between a conviction and an acquittal are not reviewable [on appeal].... We employ a less limited approach, however, when we are confronted with an argument that [two or more convictions] are inconsistent as a matter of law or when the [convictions] are based on a legal impossibility.... A claim of legally inconsistent convictions, also referred to as mutually exclusive convictions, arises when a conviction of one offense requires a finding that negates an essential element of

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another [191 Conn.App. 40] offense of which the defendant also has been convicted.... In response to such a claim, we look carefully to determine whether the existence of the essential elements for one offense negates the existence of [one or more] essential elements for another offense of which the defendant also stands convicted. If that is the case, the [convictions] are legally inconsistent and cannot withstand challenge.... Whether two convictions are mutually exclusive presents a question of law, over which our review is plenary." (Citations omitted; emphasis in original; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Nash, 316 Conn. 651, 659, 114 A.3d 128 (2015).

         "[C]ourts reviewing a claim of legal inconsistency must closely examine the record to determine whether there is any plausible theory under which the jury reasonably could have found the defendant guilty of [more than one offense]." Id., at 663, 114 A.3d 128. Nevertheless, the state is bound by the theory it presented to the jury. See State v. Chyung, 325 Conn. 236, 255-56, 157 A.3d 628 (2017) (where state argued defendant engaged in only one act, rather than two, principles of due process prohibited state from relying on different theory on appeal).

          A

          Intentional Manslaughter and Reckless Manslaughter

          We first consider whether the charges of intentional manslaughter and reckless manslaughter were legally inconsistent under the facts of this case and in view of the state’s theory.[6] We conclude that they were not [191 Conn.App. 41] legally inconsistent because the mental state element for each of these crimes related to different results.

          The following additional facts and procedural history inform our review. As set forth previously in this opinion, the state charged the defendant with, inter alia, intentional manslaughter and reckless manslaughter. As to intentional manslaughter, the state charged in relevant part that, "on or about the 4th day of December, 2014, at approximately 6:30 a.m., at or near Boston Avenue within [Bridgeport] ... PATRICIA DANIELS, with the intent to cause serious physical injury to another person, caused the death of EVELYN AGYEI, in violation of [§ ] 53a-55 (a) (1) ...."

          As to reckless manslaughter, the state charged in relevant part that, "on or about the 4th day of December, 2014, at approximately 6:30 a.m., at or near Boston Avenue within [Bridgeport] ... PATRICIA DANIELS, under circumstances evincing an extreme indifference to human life, recklessly engaged in conduct which created a grave risk of death to one EVELYN ...


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