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State v. Jacques

Supreme Court of Connecticut

July 16, 2019

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
JEAN JACQUES

          Argued October 17, 2018

         Procedural History

         Substitute information charging the defendant with the crime of murder, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New London, where the court, Jongbloed, J., denied the defendant's motion to suppress certain evidence; thereafter, the case was tried to the jury before Jongbloed, J.; verdict and judgment of guilty, from which the defendant appealed to this court. Reversed; new trial.

          S. Max Simmons, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

          David J. Smith, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, was Michael L. Regan, state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Robinson, C. J., and Palmer, McDonald, D'Auria, Mullins, Kahn and Ecker, Js.

          OPINION

          MULLINS, J.

         After a jury trial, the trial court convicted the defendant, Jean Jacques, of murdering the victim, Casey Chadwick, in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a. The defendant now appeals from that conviction. The subject of this appeal is the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress incriminating evidence linking him to the murder, which the police obtained from a search of his apartment without a warrant. The defendant had a month-to-month lease for the apartment and had paid only the first month's rent. Five days into that lease, the defendant was arrested for certain drug offenses and, shortly thereafter, the murder of the victim. The defendant never posted bond or made any arrangements to pay for a second month of rent.

         Five days after his rent was due for a second month, the police searched his apartment without a warrant and discovered the victim's cell phone hidden in a bathroom wall. The defendant moved to suppress that evidence on the ground that the search violated his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the fourth amendment to the United States constitution.[1] In denying his motion to suppress, the trial court explained that the defendant had failed to ‘‘maintain the apartment as his own'' because the lease had expired, the defendant had not made any further rent payments, and the defendant did not make arrangements to secure his belongings in the apartment. Thus, the court concluded that the defendant did not have a subjective expectation of privacy in the apartment at the time of the search.

         The question before us is whether the trial court properly denied the defendant's motion to suppress on the ground that he did not have a subjective expectation of privacy in the apartment at the time of the search. We conclude that, under the specific facts of this case, the defendant established that the apartment was his home and that neither his incarceration nor his failure to pay rent five days after it was due divested him of his subjective expectation of privacy in his apartment. Therefore, we further conclude that the trial court improperly denied the defendant's motion to suppress and, accordingly, reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         The following undisputed facts and procedural history are relevant to our analysis. On January 16, 2015, the defendant was released from incarceration to supervised parole.[2] Upon being released, he lived with a friend until June 10, 2015. On that date, the defendant secured his own apartment in Norwich. He entered into a month-to-month tenancy and paid the landlord $450 for the first month of rent, which ran from June 10 to July 10, 2015. After securing the apartment, the defendant moved all of his belongings into the apartment and began living there.

         On June 15, 2015, the defendant was arrested on drug charges unrelated to this case. At the time of his arrest, the police noticed blood on his sneakers. That same day, police officers discovered the body of the victim stuffed into a closet in her apartment. She had been stabbed multiple times. Subsequent forensic testing indicated that some of the blood on the defendant's shoes had come from the victim.[3]

         The following day, on June 16, 2015, the police, accompanied by the defendant's parole officer, searched the defendant's apartment. Inside, they discovered blood on the walls and a mattress. Forensic testing indicated that this blood came from the defendant, who had various cuts on his hands. The defendant was subsequently arrested for the murder of the victim while he was incarcerated on the drug charges.

         While the defendant was in jail on the pending drug and murder charges, the police received a tip from a confidential informant that the defendant had hidden the victim's cell phone and some drugs in a hole in the wall of the bathroom of his apartment. As a result, on July 15, 2015, police officers conducted a second search of the defendant's apartment in order to investigate whether there was a hole in the bathroom wall. This time, the officers were not accompanied by the defendant's parole officer. Instead, the officers went to the apartment alone and without a warrant. They obtained written consent from the landlord to search the apartment. After obtaining that consent, the officers entered the defendant's apartment and confirmed the presence of a hole in the bathroom wall with a bag inside of it. Inside the bag, the officers found the victim's cell phone and some drugs.[4]

         Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress the victim's cell phone and the drugs, asserting that this evidence was inadmissible under the exclusionary rule as the fruit of prior police illegality. An evidentiary hearing on the motion was held during which both parties presented evidence related to the defendant's lease of the apartment and the contested search.

         In its memorandum of decision on that motion, the trial court made the following explicit findings of fact. The defendant had entered into a month-to-month lease for the apartment and paid rent for the first month. Five days into his lease, on June 15, 2015, he was arrested on the drug charges. His bond was set at $100, 000, which he was not able to post. While incarcerated on the drug charges, he was arrested for the murder of the victim, and his bond was increased to $1 million. He did not post that bond either. Thus, the defendant was incarcerated and never returned to the apartment following his arrest on June 15, 2015. The defendant did not make any further rent payments for any period beyond the first month. Nor did the defendant contact the landlord or attempt to have his lease extended. Despite having the ability to do so, the defendant also did not contact his friends or family to ask them to pay his rent. The trial court also found that the search at issue occurred on July 15, 2015, five days after the date of expiration of the lease term. Despite not receiving rent for a second month, the landlord did not initiate eviction proceedings. In fact, the court credited the landlord's testimony that, if the defendant had been released from jail in July and had the money to pay his rent, the landlord would have permitted him to continue to stay in the apartment.

         On the basis of these findings, the court determined that the defendant did not show an interest in the apartment and, thus, did not meet his burden of demonstrating a subjective expectation of privacy in it at the time of the second search. In making that determination, the court considered that the lease had expired five days before the second search occurred, the defendant neither made any further rent payment nor any arrangements to have his rent paid, and the defendant made no effort to ‘‘maintain the apartment as his own.'' The trial court further explained that, even though the defendant had been incarcerated, he could have exhibited some interest in the apartment by asking his family or friends to maintain the apartment or the personal belongings within it. The court acknowledged the defendant's testimony that he would have gone back to the apartment if he had been released from jail. It determined, however, that his expressing this view many months later did not rise to the level of exhibiting an actual subjective expectation of privacy in the apartment.

         The trial court denied the defendant's motion to suppress, and, following a nine day trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on the charge of murder. The trial court subsequently rendered judgment in accordance with that verdict and sentenced the defendant to sixty years incarceration. This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth below as necessary.

         On appeal, the defendant asserts that the trial court improperly denied his motion to suppress the evidence obtained during the second search of his apartment, which occurred on July 15, 2015.[5] Specifically, he claims that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the apartment because it was his home and he had never been evicted from it or otherwise abandoned it. We agree with the defendant.

         We begin by setting forth the relevant principles of law and the standard of review governing the defendant's claim. ‘‘The fourth amendment to the United States constitution . . . provides that [t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures . . . .'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Saturno, 322 Conn. 80, 88, 139 A.3d 629 (2016). ‘‘The capacity to claim the protection of the fourth amendment does not depend upon a property interest, permanency of residence, or payment of rent but upon whether the person who claims fourth amendment protection has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the invaded area.'' State v. Reddick, 207 Conn. 323, 330, 541 A.2d 1209 (1988); see id., 329 (‘‘[a] person is entitled to fourth amendment protection anywhere he resides where he has a reasonable expectation of privacy''); see also Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 143, 99 S.Ct. 421, 58 L.Ed.2d 387 (1978); Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 361, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967) (Harlan, J., concurring).

         ‘‘To receive fourth amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, a defendant must have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the [subject of the search]. . . . Absent such an expectation, the subsequent police action has no constitutional ramifications.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Pink, 274 Conn. 241, 258, 875 A.2d 447 (2005). To determine whether a defendant has a reasonable expectation of privacy in an invaded place, we follow the test laid out by the United States Supreme Court in Katz v. United States, supra, 389 U.S. 347. ‘‘The Katz test has both a subjective and an objective prong: (1) whether the [person contesting the search] manifested a subjective expectation of privacy with respect to [the invaded premises or seized property]; and (2) whether that expectation [is] one that society would consider reasonable. . . . This determination is made on a case-by-case basis. . . . The burden of proving the existence of a reasonable expectation of privacy rests [with] the defendant.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Houghtaling, 326 Conn. 330, 341, 163 A.3d 563 (2017), cert. denied, U.S., 138 S.Ct. 1593, 200 L.Ed.2d 776 (2018).

         It is well settled that ‘‘[w]hen reviewing a trial court's denial of a motion to suppress, [a] finding of fact will not be disturbed unless it is clearly erroneous in view of the evidence and pleadings in the whole record . . . . [W]hen a question of fact is essential to the outcome of a particular legal determination that implicates a defendant's constitutional rights . . . and the credibility of witnesses is not the primary issue, our customary deference to the trial court's factual findings is tempered by a scrupulous examination of the record to ascertain that the trial court's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence. . . . [When] the legal conclusions of the court are challenged, [our review is plenary, and] we must determine whether they are legally and logically correct and whether they find support in the facts set out in the [trial court's] memorandum of decision . . . .'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 339-40.

         ‘‘Notwithstanding our responsibility to examine the record scrupulously, it is well established that we may not substitute our judgment for that of the trial court when it comes to evaluating the credibility of a witness. . . . We must defer to the trier of fact's assessment of the credibility of the witnesses that is made on the basis of its firsthand observation of their conduct, demeanor and attitude.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. DeMarco, 311 Conn. 510, 519-20, 88 A.3d 491 (2014).

         In the present case, the trial court's factual finding that the defendant had no subjective expectation of privacy in the apartment at the time of the search implicates the defendant's constitutional rights. Thus, we undertake a scrupulous review of the record to determine whether the trial court's finding is supported by substantial evidence in the record. See, e.g., id.

         A review of the record reveals the following. At the suppression hearing, the defendant testified that the apartment was his ‘‘home.''[6] He explained that, after verbally entering into a lease and paying his first month of rent on June 10, 2015, he moved all of his personal belongings into the apartment and began living there. He was living there when he was arrested and incarcerated five days later. When he missed his rent payment for the next month, he did not make arrangements to have his belongings removed from the apartment because he did not think that his landlord would kick him out for not paying rent.

         He also expressed his uncertainty as to whether his lease had expired at the time of the search on July 15, 2015.[7] In the five days preceding the search in which the defendant's rent payment was overdue, the landlord neither contacted him nor gave him any reason to believe that he had to vacate the apartment. The defendant testified that, if his landlord had told him that he needed to leave the apartment, he would have contacted a friend to remove his belongings from the premises, but the landlord never did so. He stated that it was his intention to stay in the apartment for a long time. He also stated that he had a key to the apartment and did not give permission for anyone, including the landlord, to enter.

         While the defendant acknowledged that he knew he might be incarcerated for a long time and made no attempt to contact his landlord when rent became due for a second month, he testified that he thought he could easily talk to the landlord and get his apartment when he got out of jail. When testifying about his expectations with regard to the apartment in the event that he was released from jail, the defendant stated that ‘‘I . . . think about when I get out, this is where I'm going . . . where I'm going [to] go.''[8]

         The landlord also testified at the suppression hearing, and his testimony supported the defendant's contention that he had a subjective expectation of privacy in the apartment. The landlord testified that he never communicated to the defendant in any way that he had to leave the apartment. He made no attempt to get the keys back from the defendant prior to the time of the search. Nor did he commence eviction proceedings. Although he never notified the defendant, prior to the search, the landlord took it upon himself to put all of the defendant's personal belongings in bags and remove them from the apartment.

         We are aware that the first prong of Katz focuses on the defendant's actions and beliefs as opposed to those of the landlord. Nevertheless, we find it significant that the landlord's conduct supports the defendant's testimony that he actually believed he had a privacy right in the apartment at the time of the search. The defendant heard nothing from the landlord suggesting that he was in danger of losing the apartment or his possessions therein.[9] Cf. United States v. Miller, 387 Fed.Appx. 949, 951-52 (11th Cir. 2010) (concluding that defendant could not have subjective expectation of privacy where defendant knew property manager would give him only three weeks to remove belongings if he failed to pay rent, and search occurred after three week period elapsed).

         A scrupulous examination of the record reveals that the trial court's determination that the defendant did not have a subjective expectation of privacy in his apartment at the time of the search is not supported by substantial evidence. Instead, the evidence demonstrates that the apartment was the defendant's home and that he, therefore, had an expectation of privacy in the apartment. The record shows that, the defendant entered into a month-to-month lease and paid for the first month. He was given the keys to the apartment, moved all of his possession into the place, and testified that he never gave anyone, including the landlord, permission to enter. See, e.g., State v. Reddick, supra, 207 Conn. 331-32 (holding that defendant had legitimate expectation of privacy in mother's apartment when defendant had key). He also expressly testified that the apartment was his home, and the landlord's behavior was consistent with that belief. Even though the defendant was five days late on his second rent payment in this month-to-month lease, the landlord did not initiate any eviction proceedings.

         Neither the fact that the defendant was overdue on his rent nor the fact that he was incarcerated during his tenancy is sufficient, without more, for the defendant to have lost his subjective expectation of privacy in his apartment. Indeed, the failure to pay rent, on its own, does not result in the loss of one's expectation of privacy. See United States v. Robinson, 430 F.2d 1141, 1143-44 (6th Cir. 1970); Browning v. State, 176 Ga.App. 420, 422, 336 S.E.2d 41 (1985); State v. Hodges, 287 N.W.2d 413, 415 (Minn. 1979); State v. Clark, 105 N.M. 10, 13, 727 P.2d 949 (App.), cert. denied, 104 N.M. 702, 726 P.2d 856 (1986). Similarly, the defendant's incarceration and subsequent absence from the apartment did not, without more, result in the loss of his expectation of privacy. See United States v. Robinson, supra, 1143; Browning v. State, supra, 422; State v. Hodges, supra, 415; State v. Clark, supra, 952.

         The trial court faulted the defendant for not exhibiting any interest in the apartment and for failing to ‘‘maintain the apartment as his own.'' We construe this as an abandonment analysis. In such an analysis, however, the burden of proof is not placed on the defendant to show that he maintained his privacy interest but, rather, on the state to show ‘‘an element of conduct manifesting [an] intent to relinquish an expectation of privacy in the [item or area searched].'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Jackson, 304 Conn. 383, 396, 40 A.3d 290 (2012); see also United States v. Brazel, 102 F.3d 1120, 1147-48 (11th Cir.) (explaining that defendant bears burden of proving legitimate expectation of privacy in area searched, and government has burden of proving abandonment), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 822, 118 S.Ct. 79, 139 L.Ed.2d 37 (1997).

         Moreover, abandonment ‘‘must be established by clear and unequivocal evidence.'' United States v.Harrison, 689 F.3d 301, 307 (3d Cir. 2012), cert. denied, 568 U.S. 1242, 133 S.Ct. 1616, 185 L.Ed.2d 602 (2013). To show that the defendant abandoned his expectation of privacy in his apartment, the law generally requires affirmative conduct on the part of the defendant. See, e.g., United States v.Stevenson, 396 F.3d 546, 544 (4th Cir.) (defendant showed intent to relinquish his privacy interest in apartment while he was incarcerated by writing letter to his girlfriend in which he gave her all of his personal belongings and referred to himself as ‘‘former renter''), cert. denied, 544 U.S. 1067, 125 S.Ct. 2534, 161 L.Ed.2d 1122 (2005); ...


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