STATE of Connecticut v. DARRYL W.
Argued Sept. 21, 2011. -- January 10, 2012
Annacarina Jacob, senior assistant public defender, for the appellant (defendant).Melissa L. Streeto, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, was John A. Connelly, former state's attorney, Maureen Platt, state's attorney, and John Davenport, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).
The defendant, Darryl W.,1 appeals directly to this court, pursuant to General Statutes § 51–199(b)(3), from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of criminal attempt to commit aggravated sexual assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a–49 (a)(2) and 53a–70a (a)(1),2 sexual assault in the third degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a–72a (a)(1)(B) and kidnapping in the first degree with a firearm in violation of General Statutes § 53a–92a.3 The defendant also appeals from the trial court's judgment finding him guilty of violation of probation based on his conviction of the aforementioned criminal offenses. The defendant raises two issues on appeal. He claims first that the trial court improperly instructed the jury regarding the elements of §§ 53a–70a (a)(1) and 53a–92a and regarding his affirmative defense to § 53a–92a under General Statutes § 53a–16a.4 This claim specifically concerns the legal standards for determining whether a weapon may be considered operable under these statutes.5 The defendant also claims that certain improper comments by the senior assistant state's attorney during closing argument deprived him of his right to a fair trial. We conclude that the defendant failed to preserve his jury instruction claim and is not entitled to review on any basis asserted. We further conclude that there was no prosecutorial impropriety. Accordingly, we affirm the judgments.
The record reveals the following procedural history and facts as the jury reasonably could have found them. The defendant is married to the sister of the victim, D. Following the loss of her house due to foreclosure, D, along with her husband and two children, resided with the defendant, his wife and their four children for several months. D and her family then moved out of the defendant's house to live with her parents and subsequently began looking for a house to buy. On the day of the incident, the defendant tricked D, whom he had offered to help find a house, into meeting him alone at a commuter parking lot in Waterbury and driving with him to his house. When they arrived, the defendant asked D to help carry a box into the house. Once inside, he held D at gunpoint, handcuffed her and brought her to a bedroom. There, he removed her pants, placed duct tape over her mouth, kissed her breasts, touched her vagina, briefly tied her feet to a bed, removed his pants and climbed on top of her. The defendant stopped short of intercourse, saying he “couldn't do this,” and subsequently agreed to let D leave after she brought him back to his vehicle in the commuter lot.
The gun that the defendant used was an air pistol that the police later seized in a search of a vehicle belonging to the defendant. The pistol was designed to shoot BBs propelled by compressed carbon dioxide, or CO2. At the time the police seized it, the pistol contained neither BBs nor a CO2 cartridge, but a later test confirmed that it was capable of firing when equipped with BBs and a cartridge.
At trial, the defendant testified that he and D had previous romantic encounters and that on the day in question they engaged in consensual intimate activity but stopped after deciding that doing so was wrong. The defendant also sought to show that the seized air pistol was not on his person at the time of the incident but had in fact been stored in his vehicle for several months. In the alternative, for purposes of the charge of kidnapping in the first degree with a firearm, he asserted an affirmative defense that, even if he had been armed with the air pistol, it was inoperable.
Pursuant to the amended information that the state filed after the close of its case, the trial court instructed the jury that it did not need to find that the defendant actually possessed an operable pistol to convict him on the kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault charges, which required only that he represented by words or conduct that he possessed such a weapon. The court further instructed the jury, pursuant to the defendant's affirmative defense, that it should acquit him of the kidnapping charge if it found that he proved the air pistol was not operable.6 The jury returned a verdict convicting the defendant on all counts.7 This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.
The defendant raises two related claims with respect to the jury instructions regarding the pistol's operability for purposes of aggravated sexual assault in the first degree under § 53a–70a (a)(1) and kidnapping in the first degree with a firearm under § 53a–92a. First, he claims that the trial court improperly failed to instruct the jury that the state bore the burden of proving operability as an element of each of these offenses. Second, he claims that the trial court improperly failed to instruct the jury that he could prove inoperability for purposes of his affirmative defense to § 53a–92a by showing either that the pistol did not contain BBs and therefore was not loaded or that it did not contain a CO2 cartridge and, therefore, lacked a component necessary for discharging a shot.
To support this claim, the defendant proposes a statutory gloss that relies on mutually reinforcing interpretations of the offenses and of the affirmative defense to § 53a–92a. He contends that the language of the two substantive offenses, though ambiguous, should be read to require the state to prove that the defendant actually was armed with a pistol and that he therefore could not properly be convicted for only representing that he possessed one.8 He suggests that allowing conviction merely for claiming to have a gun would produce the absurd result that § 53a–16a would potentially provide an affirmative defense against § 53a–92a for a defendant armed with a nonfunctional pistol but not for one with no pistol at all. The defendant further contends that the affirmative defense under § 53a–16a, the text of which he claims is also ambiguous, should be interpreted in this statutory scheme to preclude conviction—even once the statutory definition of “firearm” has been met—if a defendant can show that the firearm was not loaded and, therefore, not capable of discharging a shot.9
The defendant contends that he preserved both objections but, in the alternative, he seeks Golding review10 as to the first claim and plain error review as to the second claim. We conclude that the defendant has preserved neither claim, that his first claim cannot succeed under Golding because it has been waived and that the second claim does not merit reversal for plain error.
The record reveals the following additional facts and procedural history relevant to these claims. After the close of its case, the state sought to amend the information with respect to § 53a–92a, kidnapping in the first degree with a firearm. The proposed substitute information replaced an allegation that “during the commission of said crime [the defendant] was armed with and represented by his words or conduct that he possessed a pistol”; (emphasis added); with the narrower charge that “during the commission of said crime he represented by his words or conduct that he possessed a pistol,” thereby avoiding the need to prove the defendant was armed with an operable pistol. The defendant objected, arguing that the amended count would prejudicially preclude him from raising an affirmative defense under § 53a–16a that any pistol he may have possessed was “not a weapon from which a shot could be discharged․” The trial court, citing this court's decision in State v. Hawthorne, 175 Conn. 569, 402 A.2d 759 (1978), ruled that the defendant still could raise this affirmative defense even though the state did not allege that he was armed with a pistol.11 On the basis of this ruling, the defendant withdrew his objection. The court then confirmed that, with respect to the charge of attempted aggravated sexual assault in the first degree under § 53a–70a (a)(1), the state was “also simply claiming that [the defendant] represented by his words or conduct that he had a deadly weapon.” The defendant raised no objection and acknowledged that no affirmative defense applied to this count.
Shortly thereafter, while discussing a motion for a judgment of acquittal filed by the defendant, the trial court expressed its understanding that under the amended charges “the state no longer has the burden to show operability.” The defendant replied, “I would not disagree with that.” He argued instead that because there was no evidence that the pistol contained a CO2 cartridge, his own burden of showing inoperability for purposes of his affirmative defense under § 53a–16a had been met. The court denied his motion.
Following the conclusion of evidence, the trial court provided counsel with copies of a draft jury charge. Per the defendant's request, that charge included an affirmative defense to the kidnapping charge and definitions of the terms “firearm,” “deadly weapon” and “pistol,” which the trial court drew from the relevant statutory text and Penal Code definitions.12 The next morning, the court held a charging conference. The defendant expressed his satisfaction with the proposed instructions.
In his closing argument, the defendant contended that for the pistol to be operable, it required both BBs and a CO2 cartridge. He then distinguished between the BBs and the cartridge, arguing that the BBs were ammunition, whereas the cartridge was an essential component of the gun itself.
As we previously have noted, following the close of evidence the trial court instructed the jury, in accordance with the amended information, that for purposes of kidnapping in the first degree with a firearm and attempted aggravated sexual assault in the first degree it was not necessary for the state to prove that the defendant actually possessed a firearm or deadly weapon or that such a weapon was actually capable of discharging a shot. See footnote 6 of this opinion. The court also instructed the jury that the defendant had asserted, as an affirmative defense to the charge of kidnapping in the first degree with a firearm, that any pistol displayed by him was not a weapon from which a shot could be discharged. Both the state and the defendant indicated, upon the court's inquiry, that they took no exception to these instructions.
During the course of deliberations, the jury submitted a note asking, “[d]oes the gun need to be theoretically operable or actually operable at the time the crime was committed?” In the discussion that ensued, the defendant opined that “I think you would have to answer that question in my opinion, no, to both of those,” reasoning that the pistol was not actually operable without BBs and a CO2 cartridge and that it was not theoretically operable because it could not have fired even if a BB were present. The court responded that the defendant's argument was unsupported because, under the statutory definition of a firearm, it was irrelevant whether the gun was loaded. The defendant replied, “[o]kay.” The court then expressed its view that the legislature clearly intended operability not to turn on whether the pistol contained ammunition but that the case involved a reasonable dispute over whether the CO2 cartridge should be construed as ammunition or a component of the pistol. The court then characterized this as a question of fact for the jury and asked if either party wished to be heard further; the defendant responded, “[n]o, Your Honor.”
Ultimately, the court decided to reread the statutory definition of a firearm that it previously had given the jury. The defendant expressed concern that doing so might cause the jury to fail to consider the definition in the context of the facts and argument made in the present case,13 but the court indicated that such an instruction was unnecessary because its previous instruction had made that point clear and the jury's question was seeking a clarification on the law. Thereafter, the court proceeded to reinstruct the jury that a firearm is “any weapon, whether loaded or unloaded, from which a shot may be discharged.”
At the sentencing hearing, the defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal with respect to the charge of kidnapping in the first degree with a firearm, arguing that evidence that the pistol contained no CO2 cartridge demonstrated that it was inoperable for purposes of his affirmative defense under § 53a–16a. He made no express claim at this time that the absence of BBs rendered the weapon inoperable. The defendant also moved for a new trial on the ground that the court had not appropriately responded to the jury's question regarding whether the weapon needed to be theoretically or actually operable. The court denied the defendant's motions. With these facts in mind, we turn to the defendant's specific contentions.
The defendant first claims that the court improperly instructed the jury regarding the elements of aggravated sexual assault in the first degree under § 53a–70a (a)(1) and kidnapping in the first degree with a firearm under § 53a–92a by telling the jury that it need not find that the defendant actually possessed a “weapon, whether loaded or unloaded, from which a shot may be discharged” to convict him on these counts. The defendant suggests that this claim is preserved by his repeated references to inoperability as an affirmative defense; in the alternative he asks for Golding review.14 We conclude that this claim is unpreserved and that the defendant cannot prevail under Golding.
“[A] fundamental element of due process of law is the right of a defendant charged with a crime to establish a defense․ Where, as here, the challenged jury instructions involve a constitutional right, the applicable standard of review is whether there is a reasonable possibility that the jury was misled in reaching its verdict․ A challenge to the validity of jury instructions presents a question of law over which [we have] plenary review.” (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Collins, 299 Conn. 567, 598–99, 10 A.3d 1005 (2011).
As the rules of practice make clear, however, “[a]n appellate court shall not be bound to consider error as to the giving of, or the failure to give, an instruction unless the matter is covered by a written request to charge or an exception has been taken by the party appealing immediately after the charge is delivered. Counsel taking the exception shall state distinctly the matter objected to and the ground of objection.” Practice Book § 16–20. In the present case, the defendant did not submit a request to charge addressing the elements of these offenses, nor did he take exception to the jury instructions either at the charging conference or after the charges were read to the jury. At no time thereafter did the defendant indicate that the jury must be instructed on operability as an element of §§ 53a–70a (a)(1) and 53a–92a rather than as a condition of the affirmative defense under § 53a–16a. Accordingly, the defendant has not preserved this claim.
In reviewing unpreserved claims under Golding, we have held that “[a] defendant in a criminal prosecution may waive one or more of his or her fundamental rights.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Fabricatore, 281 Conn. 469, 478, 915 A.2d 872 (2007).15 “[A] constitutional claim that has been waived does not satisfy the third prong of the Golding test because, in such circumstances, we simply cannot conclude that injustice [has been] done to either party ․ or that the alleged constitutional violation clearly exists and clearly deprived the defendant of a fair trial․” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Holness, 289 Conn. 535, 543, 958 A.2d 754 (2008).
We conclude that the defendant's claim fails to satisfy the third prong of Golding because we agree with the state that it was waived at trial. As we recently observed, in addition to express waiver, implicit waiver of a claim of instructional error may properly be found where “the defense expressly acknowledged and agreed by words or conduct to the instruction challenged on appeal.” State v. Kitchens, 299 Conn. 447, 475, 10 A.3d 942 (2011); State v. Holness, supra, 289 Conn. at 543, 958 A.2d 754 (denying Golding review where “defense counsel clearly and unequivocally agreed to the limiting instruction that the trial court gave to the jury”).
The defendant cannot prevail under Golding with respect to the aggravated sexual assault charge under § 53a–70a (a)(1) because he impliedly waived this claim. The defendant raised no objection when the state confirmed that, for that charge, it was “also simply claiming that [the defendant] represented by his words or conduct that he had a deadly weapon.” The defendant later expressly assented to the jury instructions, both before and after they were read, after having ample opportunity for review. See State v. Kitchens, supra, 299 Conn. at 475, 10 A.3d 942. He also argued the issue of operability at length during his closing argument, presenting it explicitly and exclusively as an affirmative defense to § 53a–92a. Accordingly, when the issue of operability with respect to § 53a–70a (a)(1) was squarely before the defendant on several occasions, the defendant's conduct manifested a clear relinquishment of his present claim.
With regard to the kidnapping charge under § 53a–92a, the defendant not only satisfied the conditions of implied waiver under Kitchens by indicating his satisfaction with the jury charge, but he also expressly waived the claim by explicitly assenting to the amended information, which eliminated the state's burden of proving he was armed with an operable firearm, and requesting an affirmative defense under which he would bear the burden of proving that the air pistol was not a weapon from which a shot could be discharged. See State v. Fabricatore, supra, 281 Conn. at 481, 915 A.2d 872 (Golding review was denied when “defense counsel not only failed to object to the instruction as given or to the state's original request to charge the jury with the duty to retreat, but clearly expressed his satisfaction with that instruction, and in fact subsequently argued that the instruction as given was proper. Indeed, defense counsel himself addressed the duty to retreat in his own summation.”). During his closing argument, the defendant argued that “operability is an affirmative defense to the charge of kidnapping in the first degree with a firearm” and later contended that “I think I can meet my burden of preponderance of the evidence with regard to the operability of that gun.” With the benefit of hindsight, the defendant attempts to amend this unsuccessful trial strategy by arguing that § 53a–92a invariably requires the state to bear the burden of proving the defendant was armed with a firearm. Regardless of whether the defendant's proposed statutory construction has any merit, it is flatly at odds with his own express position at trial. Under these circumstances, we cannot conclude that a clear constitutional violation clearly deprived the defendant of a fair trial. See State v. Holness, supra, 289 Conn. at 543, 958 A.2d 754.
The defendant claims additionally that the court improperly instructed the jury regarding inoperability as an affirmative defense to kidnapping in the first degree with a firearm under § 53a–92a. Specifically, he contends that the affirmative defense under § 53a–16a, that the firearm was not one “from which a shot could be discharged,” should be construed as a matter of law to provide an affirmative defense when a defendant is armed either with an unloaded firearm or with a firearm that is mechanically incapable of being fired even if it is loaded. The defendant concedes that the term “firearm” is used in both the substantive offense and affirmative defense and that this term is defined in such a way as to make the question of whether the weapon is loaded irrelevant. He nevertheless contends that in order to make the statutory scheme coherent, the affirmative defense must be construed to allow a defendant to prevail if he establishes that the weapon is unloaded. The trial court's failure to give an instruction endorsing the “unloaded” prong of this construction was therefore, the defendant reasons, improper. The defendant further contends that the court's response to the jury's subsequent question regarding whether the air pistol needed to be actually or theoretically operable was inadequate because it did not clarify that either lack of ammunition (BBs) or a missing mechanical component (CO2 cartridge) would be sufficient to establish inoperability for purposes of the affirmative defense.16 We conclude that this claim is unpreserved and that it does not warrant reversal for plain error.
To preserve an exception to a jury instruction for further review under Practice Book § 16–20, a party must either submit a written request to charge or “state distinctly the matter objected to and the ground of objection.” Although the defendant did present in his closing argument to the jury, albeit in an inarticulate and undeveloped manner, the theory that he advances on appeal, none of his representations or arguments to the court foreshadowed or subsequently reiterated this claim to the jury. The defendant never asked the court to instruct the jury that, should it find the pistol was unloaded, it must consequently find that the pistol “was not a weapon from which a shot could be discharged” pursuant to § 53a–16a. Nor did the defendant make a distinct request or objection during the discussion of the jury's request for clarification regarding “theoretical” or “actual” operability. Although the defendant opined that the evidence satisfied both theories, he immediately acceded to the trial court's summary response that the argument made in his closing argument was legally unsupportable. Furthermore, in both his motion for acquittal after the close of the state's case and his motion for a new trial following the verdict, the defendant emphasized the lack of a CO2 cartridge as a basis for finding the pistol inoperable. It is our long-standing position that “[t]o review [a] claim, which has been articulated for the first time on appeal and not before the trial court, would result in a trial by ambuscade of the trial judge.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Boyd, 295 Conn. 707, 758, 992 A.2d 1071 (2010), cert. denied, ––– U.S. ––––, 131 S.Ct. 1474, 179 L.Ed.2d 314 (2011). Accordingly, to the extent that the defendant identified the significance of the pistol being unloaded at all, his “imprecise reference did not reasonably alert the court to the deficiencies in the charge now advanced. Counsel thus failed to state distinctly the matter objected to and the ground of objection as required ․ for appellate review.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Berry v. Loiseau, 223 Conn. 786, 816, 614 A.2d 414 (1992).
Because this claim is unpreserved and the defendant has not requested review of the claim under Golding, we turn to the defendant's alternate request to prevail by demonstrating plain error.17 “[T]he plain error doctrine ․ is not ․ a rule of reviewability. It is a rule of reversibility. That is, it is a doctrine that this court invokes in order to rectify a trial court ruling that, although either not properly preserved or never raised at all in the trial court, nonetheless requires reversal of the trial court's judgment, for reasons of policy․ In addition, the plain error doctrine is reserved for truly extraordinary situations where the existence of the error is so obvious that it affects the fairness and integrity of and public confidence in the judicial proceedings․
“[W]e recently clarified the two step framework under which we review claims of plain error. First, we must determine whether the trial court in fact committed an error and, if it did, whether that error was indeed plain in the sense that it is patent [or] readily discernable on the face of a factually adequate record, [and] also ․ obvious in the sense of not debatable․ We made clear ․ that this inquiry entails a relatively high standard, under which it is not enough for the defendant simply to demonstrate that his position is correct. Rather, the party seeking plain error review must demonstrate that the claimed impropriety was so clear, obvious and indisputable as to warrant the extraordinary remedy of reversal.” (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Crawford v. Commissioner of Correction, 294 Conn. 165, 204–205, 982 A.2d 620 (2009).
It is manifest from the defendant's own exposition of his claim that he cannot “demonstrate that the claimed impropriety was so clear, obvious and indisputable as to warrant the extraordinary remedy of reversal.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., at 205, 982 A.2d 620. With respect to the court's initial instruction on the affirmative defense, which verbatim reiterated the language of § 53a–16a (using the term “pistol,” which the court had defined for purposes of the kidnapping charge pursuant to General Statutes § 53a–3  ), the defendant concedes that “the reading of the statutes was technically correct” and points to no case law compelling his proposed explication of the text. Instead, the defendant essentially proposes a judicial gloss of the statutory scheme that relies heavily on isolated statements in the legislative history of the statutes. As we recently have noted, “[i]t is axiomatic that the trial court's proper application of the law existing at the time of trial cannot constitute reversible error under the plain error doctrine.” State v. Diaz, 302 Conn. 93, 104 n. 8, 25 A.3d 594 (2011). Under these circumstances, we conclude that the defendant has failed to allege a clear, obvious and indisputable error requiring reversal, and we therefore decline to reverse the judgment on the basis of plain error.
For parallel reasons, the defendant's complaint regarding the court's response to the jury's question must also fail. The defendant frames this aspect of his claim by way of another concession: “Rereading the firearm definition—although it was correct—would be of little help to a perplexed jury.” Again, regardless of whether the defendant has suffered any prejudice from a genuine error, he has failed to point to an indisputable or obvious one. The trial court's reiteration of its previous “technically correct” instruction is a remedy for juror confusion specifically endorsed in Practice Book § 42–27.18 More significantly, the defendant points to no undeniably compelling alternative instruction the court should have given; as we discussed previously herein, the defendant's preferred instruction, never clearly voiced to the trial court, is far from indisputably correct. As a matter of plain error, we therefore cannot fault the trial court for failing to embrace it.
The defendant also claims that the senior assistant state's attorney improperly asserted facts not in evidence and vouched for D's credibility during its closing argument, thereby depriving the defendant of a fair trial as guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment to the United States constitution. We disagree and determine that the prosecutor's remarks were not improper.
“In analyzing claims of prosecutorial impropriety, we engage in a two step analytical process․ The two steps are separate and distinct․ We first examine whether prosecutorial impropriety occurred․ Second, if an impropriety exists, we then examine whether it deprived the defendant of his due process right to a fair trial.”19 (Citations omitted.) State v. Fauci, 282 Conn. 23, 32, 917 A.2d 978 (2007).
We begin, therefore, by considering the relevant standards of prosecutorial conduct. “[A]s the state's advocate, a prosecutor may argue the state's case forcefully, [provided the argument is] fair and based upon the facts in evidence and the reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom․ Moreover, [i]t does not follow ․ that every use of rhetorical language or device [by the prosecutor] is improper․ Nevertheless, the prosecutor has a heightened duty to avoid argument that strays from the evidence or diverts the jury's attention from the facts of the case․ By reason of his office, he usually exercises great influence upon jurors․
“A prosecutor may invite the jury to draw reasonable inferences from the evidence; however, he or she may not invite sheer speculation unconnected to evidence․ Moreover, when a prosecutor suggests a fact not in evidence, there is a risk that the jury may conclude that he or she has independent knowledge of facts that could not be presented to the jury․ In addition, [a] prosecutor may not appeal to the emotions, passions and prejudices of the jurors․ [S]uch appeals should be avoided because they have the effect of diverting the [jurors'] attention from their duty to decide the case on the evidence.” (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Skakel, 276 Conn. 633, 745–46, 888 A.2d 985, cert. denied, 549 U.S. 1030, 127 S.Ct. 578, 166 L.Ed.2d 428 (2006).
The defendant points to eight comments over the course of the state's closing argument that he contends either asserted facts not in evidence or vouched for D's credibility as a witness. Of these comments, only one stands out as a potential source of concern.20 With respect to attempted aggravated sexual assault in the first degree, the senior assistant state's attorney argued: “The question is whether or not [the defendant] took a substantial step in the course of conduct that was on its way [to intercourse and penetration]. In other words in laymen's terms, and not to be vulgar, had he had an erection, he would have done it. It's as simple as that. He had her tied up on the bed spread eagle because he wanted to have intercourse with her. And that was the entire focus of the intention, it was the sole intent.” (Emphasis added.) Because this comment bore directly on the mens rea requisite for the offense, was not supported by direct testimony regarding whether the defendant had an erection or was capable of achieving one and potentially resonated emotionally with the jury, it merits scrutiny.
After a review of the record, we conclude that in the context of the present case the comment by the senior assistant state's attorney was not improper. Although colored by rhetorical embellishment, the statement did not stray beyond the bounds of reasonable induction. Evidence of the defendant's actions, which included binding D, removing her pants as well as his own and climbing on top of her, provided grounds for the jury reasonably to believe that the defendant intended to complete the aggravated sexual assault. The defendant's statement that he “couldn't do this” could in this context plausibly be interpreted as an acknowledgment of temporary physical incapacity. Accordingly, the senior assistant state's attorney's comment did not hint at knowledge of facts not in evidence but, rather, presented an alternate, if hyperbolic, articulation of what the state was required to show to prove the elements of attempt.
The judgments are affirmed.
In this opinion the other justices concurred.