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State v. Holmes

Supreme Court of Connecticut

December 24, 2019


          Argued January 18, 2019

         Procedural History

         Substitute information charging the defendant with the crimes of murder, felony murder, home invasion, conspiracy to commit home invasion, burglary in the first degree and criminal possession of a firearm, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New London, where the first five counts were tried to the jury before Jongbloed, J.; verdict of guilty of the lesser included offense of manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm, felony murder, home invasion, conspiracy to commit home invasion, and burglary in the first degree; thereafter, the charge of criminal possession of a firearm was tried to the court; judgment of guilty; subsequently, the court vacated the verdict as to the lesser included offense of manslaughter in the first degree with a firearm and burglary in the first degree, and rendered judgment of guilty of felony murder, home invasion, conspiracy to commit home invasion, and criminal possession of a firearm, from which the defendant appealed to this court; thereafter, the appeal was transferred to the Appellate Court, Prescott and Beach, Js., with Lavine, J., concurring, which affirmed the trial court's judgment, and the defendant, on the granting of certification, appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Alan Jay Black, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

          Timothy J. Sugrue, assistant state's attorney, with whom were Paul J. Narducci, senior assistant state's attorney, and, on the brief, Michael L. Regan, state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

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


          ROBINSON, C. J.

         From its inception, the United States Supreme Court's landmark decision in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986), has been roundly criticized as ineffectual in addressing the discriminatory use of peremptory challenges during jury selection, largely because it fails to address the effect of implicit bias or lines of voir dire questioning with a disparate impact on minority jurors.[1]Consistent with these long-standing criticisms of Batson, the defendant, Evan Jaron Holmes, asks us in this certified appeal[2] to overrule the line of cases in which this court held that a prospective juror's negative views about the police and the fairness of the criminal justice system constitute a race neutral reason for the use of a peremptory challenge to strike that juror. See, e.g., State v. King, 249 Conn. 645, 664-67, 735 A.2d 267 (1999). We conclude that the challenged line of cases, on which the Appellate Court relied in upholding the defendant's conviction of felony murder on the basis of its rejection of his Batson claim arising from the prosecutor's use of a peremptory challenge during jury selection; see State v. Holmes, 176 Conn.App. 156, 175-77, 169 A.3d 264 (2017); remains consistent with the federal constitutional case law that provides the sole basis for the Batson claim. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court in this case but refer the systemic concerns about Batson's failure to address the effects of implicit bias and disparate impact to a Jury Selection Task Force, appointed by the Chief Justice, to consider measures intended to promote the selection of diverse jury panels in our state's courthouses.

         The record and the Appellate Court's opinion reveal the following relevant facts and procedural history. In connection with a shooting at an apartment in New London, [3] the state charged the defendant with numerous offenses, including felony murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54c, and the defendant elected a jury trial.[4] ‘‘On the first day of jury selection, defense counsel noted that the entire venire panel appeared to be ‘white Caucasian' and that every prospective juror who had completed a jury questionnaire had indicated that they were either white or Caucasian, or had not indicated a race or ethnicity.[5]

         ‘‘On the second day of jury selection, only one prospective juror had indicated on the questionnaire that he or she was African-American. During the voir dire examination of one venireperson, W.T., [6] he stated to defense counsel that he was African-American. W.T. indicated that he had obtained a master's degree in social work from the University of Connecticut and currently was employed by the state . . . as a supervisory social worker with the Department of Children and Families.

         ‘‘He also disclosed that he performed volunteer work for the Department of Correction and had worked directly with inmates. When asked by defense counsel whether that work might affect him as a juror, W.T. responded: ‘Because I work with, like I say, inmates, and also my work, I do-I mean, you see a lot of different things and you see a lot of sad situations. I'm sure as a professional and because I work with people who've been through a lot of stuff, you know, I'm sure I have an understanding of what they're doing. And also, just-just in the criminal justice system in general, I know how sometimes people are not, you know, given a fair trial or they [maybe] disproportionately have to go to jail and different things of that nature. So, part of my whole experience is as an African-American, as an American and also studying these situations, I know that there's a lot of issues [going] on in various systems. The criminal justice system, the educational system and various systems, but people are not fairly treated, so I know that much. But I don't use that, you know, I can-I could make a professional-and I think keep my composure and do my job just like-as a professional, as I work-even as I do volunteer work, but you have to know the reality in life as well, though.' In response to a subsequent question by defense counsel regarding whether, in light of his life experiences, he could be fair to both sides in the case, W.T. stated that he could.

‘‘During the state's voir dire examination of W.T., the following exchange occurred:
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Now, you've obviously had a little more dealing with the court systems than most-most people that we see in through here. Have you formulated any opinions about the criminal justice system based on your experiences? Is it too lenient, too stringent, it works, it doesn't work; any feeling about that?
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: And like I said, probably already share[d] too much stuff about-that talk about in terms of I have seen people, have had family members [who] went to prison before.
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Right.
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: And I just think-I think that's why I became a social worker, because I wanted to make a difference, and that's why I have been doing mentoring programs-
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Yep.
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: -try[ing] to help young people so they won't get into trouble. So, I meant the system, all various systems, there's a lot of discrimination [that] still goes out. Even today, ladies are still not getting equal pay. So, it's a lot. We've come a long way, but we have a long way to go.
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Right.
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: But I think I can make-I could keep the facts and be able to look at the facts of the case and judge by the facts.
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: . . . We need to know how you're feeling, so we can make the appropriate assessment and you can make the appropriate assessment. . . . I think that it's not a perfect system, but it's improving every day, and [there are] not as many systems that I can think of that are, any-come anywhere close. One of the concerns that people may have is, jurors who are in the-using their time as a juror to try to fix the system. You indicated, and I think you said, that you would listen to the evidence and decide it on the evidence and you wouldn't let any concerns that you had filter in.
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: That's correct.
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Fair to say?
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: That's correct.
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Okay. And so . . . you would sit and listen to what all the evidence is and make a decision based on the evidence?
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: That's correct. . . .
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Okay. With respect to that, as much as you know about those situations, were you satisfied with the way the police reacted to your family . . . or friend being the victim of a crime?
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: Sometimes and sometimes not.
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Okay.
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: So-so.
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Fair to say that it's an individual situation and that the police have been-have acted in a way that was satisfactory toward your family members or friends, and in other situations they weren't satisfied with what the police did?
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: That's correct.
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Okay. Had you had any interactions with the police in any respect in which you developed an-either a strong, favorable impression or an unfavorable impression about the police and the way they treated you in any situation, speeding tickets, calling up to complain about [a] noisy neighbor, something with work?
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: I'm, like-just growing up in this society, I fear, you know, I fear [for] my life. I got a new car, I feared that, you know, I might get stopped, you know, for being black, you know. So, you know, that's concerning and sometimes I get afraid-even me, you know, I-when I see the police in back of me, I wonder, you know, if I'm going to be stopped.
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Okay. Now with-with respect to that, there will probably be police officers who will be testifying here, and the judge will tell you that [you] can't give a police officer more credibility merely because [he or she is] a police officer. Conversely, though, they don't get less credibility merely [because] they are police officers. They are to be treated like anybody else. Would you have any difficulty following the judge's instructions concerning that?
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: No, I wouldn't.
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Okay. And I can appreciate what you're saying. Obviously, I haven't been in that-in your shoes. I haven't been in your situation, nor do we ask the jury to put themselves in the shoes of either the police or a particular defendant. We can't ask you to do that. But having now life's experience, is that something that you think you can put aside and decide the evidence based on everything that's presented to you, or is there some concern that you might have that you might not be able to do that?
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: No, I will be able to because another thing, too, is, I know good police officers who are-who are good people, nice people, mentors who work in the community. So-so, yes, I'd be able to.
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Okay. Okay. And have you had . . . positive experiences with the police as well?
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: Yes.
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Okay. So, I guess like anybody else, there are bad lawyers and there are good lawyers. There are bad social workers, there are good social workers. . . . But what I'm driving at is, we make an individual assessment based on what we hear and what we see and what we listen to. And that is what we're going to ask you to do if you're a juror.
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: Yes.
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: We want to make sure you don't carry in any preconceived notions one way or the other.
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: Yes.
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: No problems with that?
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: No problem.
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Okay. We can count on your word on that, then?
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: That's right.
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Okay. I asked about being the victim of a crime and your family member. The flip side to that, have you, any member of your family or any close personal friends ever been either accused or ever convicted of crimes?
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: Yes. I have family members who've been in-who served time in jail.
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Okay. This obviously is a crime of violence. Any-any family members who have been convicted of crimes of violence?
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: No. . . .
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: You mentioned that your family members have-have served time. With respect to that, were-did you develop any feelings about the way the police had treated your family members in those situations?
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: Well, I think the-like I told you earlier, my life experiences living in this world-
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Right.
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: -you see that things are not fair. And then you-I mean, you-you experience things, you know, and you see things happen. And some things are not fair, some things not-not all people are the same, all police are not bad or, like, you know, just like you said everybody, but when you see firsthand your own family members, then you experience something a little bit different.
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Of course.
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: Other people who, you know, so-
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Of course. And I guess it's kind of tough, because I-you know, I could ask you questions all day long and I'm not going to get to know you as well [as] you know yourself. But there's a difference, I think, between I'm upset that my family member had to go through this versus I'm upset that the police treated my family member in such a way. Do you understand the distinction I'm trying to make, that you're not satisfied that your family member ended up in prison versus I'm not satisfied that they were treated properly by either the court system or by the police. There's a difference, and I'm not sure I'm explaining it very well.
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: Are you saying more, like, for instance, like, someone may have gone to jail because they did something wrong-
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Right.
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: -and they had to pay the consequences.
‘‘ ‘[The Prosecutor]: Right. And you know, like that, but-
‘‘ ‘[W.T.]: So-exactly. You have to-even if it's your family member or not, you did something wrong, ...

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