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State v. Robert H.

Supreme Court of Connecticut

September 10, 2019

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
ROBERT H.[*]

          Argued May 2, 2018

         Procedural History

         Substitute information, in the first case, charging the defendant with three counts of the crime of risk of injury to a child and two counts of the crime of sexual assault in the first degree, and information, in the second case, charging the defendant with violation of probation, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford, where the first case was tried to the jury before Suarez, J.; verdict of guilty of two counts of risk of injury to a child; thereafter, the defendant was presented to the court in the second case on a plea of guilty; judgments in accordance with the verdict and the plea, from which the defendant appealed to the Appellate Court, Lavine and Sheldon, Js., with Flynn, J., dissenting, which affirmed the trial court's judgments, and the defendant, on the granting of certification, appealed to this court. Reversed; further proceedings.

          Glenn W. Falk, assigned counsel, with whom, on the brief, was Robert M. Black, for the appellant (defendant).

          Bruce R. Lockwood, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Gail P. Hardy, state's attorney, John F. Fahey, senior assistant state's attorney, and Lisa Herskowitz, former senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Palmer, McDonald, Robinson, D'Auria, Mullins, Kahn and Vertefeuille, Js. [**]

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM.

         The common-law corpus delicti rule ‘‘prohibits a prosecutor from proving the [fact of a transgression] based solely on a defendant's extrajudicial statements.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Leniart, 333 Conn. 88, 97, __A.3d__(2019). Following a jury trial, the defendant in the present case, Robert H., was convicted of two counts of risk of injury to a child, in violation of General Statutes § 53-21 (a) (1), arising from two alleged incidents of sexual misconduct.[1] On appeal, he argued before the Appellate Court that the only evidence that he committed the second alleged act of misconduct were statements he made to the police and, therefore, that his conviction on that count violated the corpus delicti rule. Because the defendant did not raise the corpus delicti issue or challenge the admissibility of his statements at trial, and because the Appellate Court was of the view that corpus delicti is merely an evidentiary rule that must be raised at trial to be reviewable on appeal, that court concluded that his claim was unreviewable.[2] State v. Robert H., 168 Conn.App. 419, 422, 146 A.3d 995 (2016). We granted certification, limited to the following question: ‘‘Did the Appellate Court properly conclude that the corpus delicti rule is merely a rule of admissibility, in determining that there was sufficient evidence to sustain the defendant's second conviction of risk of injury to a child in violation of . . . § 53-21 (a) (1)?'' State v. Robert H., 323 Conn. 940, 151 A.3d 845 (2016).

         Ina companion case that we decide today, we answer that question, concluding that our corpus delicti rule is a hybrid evidentiary-substantive rule that implicates a defendant's fundamental right not to be convicted in the absence of evidence sufficient to establish every essential element of the charged crime beyond a reasonable doubt, and, therefore, even unpreserved corpus delicti claims are reviewable on appeal. See State v. Leniart, supra, 333 Conn. 110. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court and remand the case to that court for full consideration of the merits of the defendant's corpus delicti claim.[3]

         The judgment of the Appellate Court is reversed and the case is remanded to that court for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.

---------

Notes:

[*] In accordance with our policy of protecting the privacy interests of the victims of the crime of risk of injury to a child, we decline to use the defendant's full name or to identify the victim or others through whom the victim's identity may be ascertained. See General Statutes § 54-86e.

[**] The listing of justices reflects their seniority status on this court as of the date of ...


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