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State v. Porfil

Appellate Court of Connecticut

July 30, 2019

STATE of Connecticut
v.
Javier Valentin PORFIL

         Argued January 9, 2019

         Appeal from Superior Court, Judicial District of Waterbury, Harmon, J.

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          James B. Streeto, senior assistant public defender, with whom, on the brief, was, Samantha L. Oden, former certified legal intern, for the appellant (defendant).

         Laurie N. Feldman, special deputy assistant state’s attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Maureen Platt, state’s attorney, and David A. Gulick, senior assistant state’s attorney, for the appellee (state).

         Prescott, Elgo and Harper, Js.

          OPINION

         HARPER, J.

         [191 Conn.App. 497] The defendant, Javier Valentin Porfil, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered after [191 Conn.App. 498] a jury trial, of possession of narcotics with intent to sell by a person who is not drug-dependent in violation of General Statutes § 21a-278 (b), sale of narcotics within 1500 feet of a school in violation of General Statutes § 21a-278a (b), possession of drug paraphernalia in violation of General Statutes § 21a-267, and possession of narcotics in violation of

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General Statutes § 21a-279 (a).[1] The defendant claims on appeal that (1) the evidence was insufficient to establish that he was in constructive possession of narcotics,[2] (2) the trial court deprived him of his constitutional right to present a defense by improperly excluding certain photographic evidence and (3) the trial court deprived him of his constitutional right to present a misidentification defense by preventing him from displaying a scar to the jury. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

          The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. On August 14, 2015, the Waterbury Police Department received an anonymous telephone call, stating that the defendant, whom the caller identified by first and last name, "had warrants" and was selling narcotics from the porch of 126-128 Walnut Street in Waterbury. Located at this address is a three-story multifamily house with an open front porch. The house has two front doors; the door on the left opens to a staircase leading to the second floor landing, and the door on the right opens to a first floor apartment. The house also has a back door that leads to the back door of the first floor apartment and a back staircase to the second [191 Conn.App. 499] floor. The defendant did not live at this address, but he was there often to visit family members. After verifying that the defendant did indeed have active warrants, Officer Scott Phelan obtained a photograph of the defendant and headed to the house in an undercover vehicle. Meanwhile, several other uniformed officers waited in unmarked vehicles in the vicinity of the house, ready to "move in" on the defendant on Phelan’s word.

          Phelan proceeded to drive past the house where he observed the defendant sitting alone on the porch wearing shorts, a blue tank top, and a baseball hat. Phelan then sought out a location from which he could best observe the defendant. He eventually took up a position across the street in the area of the intersection of Walnut Street and Cossett Street, approximately 150 or 175 feet southwest of the porch. From this position, Phelan had a clear view of the porch through his binoculars and was able to observe that the left front door was open, revealing a "little bit" of the staircase. He did not observe anyone in the stairway. After watching the defendant for a time, Phelan observed a man approach the house and engage in a brief conversation with the defendant at the bottom of the porch stairs. The defendant then walked through the open doorway, reappeared after a time, descended the porch stairs, and "exchange[d] ... an item for an item" with the man. The man then left.

         A few minutes later, Phelan saw a vehicle pull up and park on the corner of Catherine Avenue and Walnut Street and observed a man exit the vehicle, approach the house, and engage in a brief conversation with the defendant.[3] The defendant again walked into the house through the open doorway, reappeared a few seconds later, and engaged in another item-for-item exchange. The man then walked back

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to his car and drove away. No one else was seen with the defendant throughout [191 Conn.App. 500] this transaction other than the person with whom he had made the exchange.

          During this time, Phelan was in constant radio communication with the other officers positioned nearby and relayed to them that he had observed the defendant engage in two hand-to-hand exchanges. Meanwhile, the other officers waited to receive notification from Phelan that the defendant had stepped far enough away from the house to give the officers a good chance of apprehending him in case he tried to run back inside. After receiving such notification, Officer Jerome Touponse and two other officers ran to the front porch, and two officers went to the back of the house to secure the rear door.

         Upon approaching the front of the house, Touponse and the other officers found the defendant alone on the porch, dressed in a blue tank top, shorts, and a baseball cap, with the left front door to the house open. The defendant then turned around and ran through the open left front doorway up the staircase and entered the second floor apartment.[4] The officers gave chase. There was no one else in the stairwell as they pursued the defendant. The officers eventually made their way inside the second floor apartment, where the occupants pointed the police to the back door of the apartment. Touponse went to the back door, but the defendant was nowhere to be seen.

         Meanwhile, the two officers tasked with covering the back of the house, Rose[5] and David Shaban, positioned themselves on the back porch near the exterior rear door; Shaban stood directly in front of the door, with Rose a few steps behind him. After a short time, Shaban [191 Conn.App. 501] observed the defendant, who was wearing a blue shirt and a baseball cap, begin to exit through the door, but, upon seeing the officers, he retreated back into the house and shut the door. When the officers were eventually able to get through the door, they found the back door to the first floor apartment was open. The front door to the apartment was also open, which indicated to Shaban that the defendant had run right through the apartment.

          The police subsequently searched the entire house, but the defendant could not be located. In searching the house, however, they found a brown paper bag in plain view in the hallway extending to the right of the entrance to the second floor apartment. See footnote 4 of this opinion. The bag contained a digital scale, rubber bands, and 171 bags of heroin, packaged in bundles of ten glassine packets, tied with rubber bands, and packed in rice. The total street value of the heroin was between approximately $1000 and $1150.

         Officer Phelan arrested the defendant several months later, in February, 2016. After Phelan explained to him that he was being arrested in connection with the events of August 14, 2015, the defendant stated that he was "sorry for running." The defendant subsequently was charged with, inter alia, possession of narcotics with intent to sell by a person who is not drug-dependent in violation of § 21a-278 (b), sale of narcotics within 1500 feet of a school in violation of § 21a-278a (b), possession of drug paraphernalia in violation of § 21a-267, and possession of narcotics in violation of § 21a-279 (a). A jury trial was

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held beginning on October 11, 2016, at which the defendant testified in his own defense.[6] On October 13, 2016, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts, and the defendant was sentenced [191 Conn.App. 502] on January 20, 2017.[7] This appeal followed. Additional facts and procedural history will be set forth as necessary.

          I

          The defendant first claims that the evidence adduced at trial was insufficient to support his conviction because the state did not produce sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he had constructive possession of the narcotics recovered by the police from 126-128 Walnut Street. We disagree.

         "In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction we apply a two-part test. First, we construe the evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the verdict. Second, we determine whether upon the facts so construed and the inferences reasonably drawn therefrom the [finder of fact] reasonably could have concluded that the cumulative force of the evidence established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt....

          "We note that the jury must find every element proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order to find the defendant guilty of the charged offense, [but] each of the basic and inferred facts underlying those conclusions need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.... If it is reasonable and logical for the jury to conclude that a basic fact or an inferred fact is true, the jury is permitted to consider the fact proven and may consider it in combination with other proven facts in determining whether the cumulative effect of all the evidence proves the defendant guilty of all the elements of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt....

          "Moreover, it does not diminish the probative force of the evidence that it consists, in whole or in part, of evidence that is circumstantial rather than direct.... [191 Conn.App. 503] It is not one fact, but the cumulative impact of a multitude of facts which establishes guilt in a case involving substantial circumstantial evidence.... In evaluating evidence, the [finder] of fact is not required to accept as dispositive those inferences that are consistent with the defendant’s innocence.... The [finder of fact] may draw whatever inferences from the evidence or facts established by the evidence it deems to be reasonable and logical....

          "Finally, [a]s we have often noted, proof beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean proof beyond all possible doubt ... nor does proof beyond a reasonable doubt require acceptance of every hypothesis of innocence posed by the defendant that, had it been found credible by the [finder of fact], would have resulted in an acquittal.... On appeal, we do not ask whether there is a reasonable view of the evidence that would support a reasonable hypothesis of innocence. We ask, instead, whether there is a reasonable view of the evidence that supports the [finder of fact’s] verdict of guilty." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Griffin, 184 Conn.App. 595, 613-14, 195 A.3d 723, cert. denied, 330 Conn. 941, 195 A.3d 692 (2018)

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and cert. denied, 330 Conn. 941, 195 A.3d 693 (2018).

          "[T]o prove illegal possession of a narcotic substance, it is necessary to establish that the defendant knew the character of the substance, knew of its presence and exercised dominion and control over it.... Where ... the [narcotics were] not found on the defendant’s person, the state must proceed on the theory of constructive possession, that is, possession without direct physical contact.... One factor that may be considered in determining whether a defendant is in constructive possession of narcotics is whether he is in possession of the premises where the narcotics are found.... Where the defendant is not in exclusive possession of the premises where the narcotics are found, it may [191 Conn.App. 504] not be inferred that [the defendant] knew of the presence of the narcotics and had control of them, unless there are other incriminating statements or circumstances tending to buttress such an inference.... While mere presence is not enough to support an inference of dominion or control, where there are other pieces of evidence tying the defendant to dominion and control, the [finder of fact is] entitled to consider the fact of [the defendant’s] ...


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