STATE v. LUIS DIAZ, SC 17949

Judicial District of Fairfield

 

      Criminal; Jury Instructions; Jailhouse Informants; Whether the Trial Court Should Have Given a Special Instruction Cautioning the Jury About the Credibility of the State's Witnesses.  The defendant was charged with murder, carrying a pistol without a permit and criminal possession of a pistol in connection with the shooting death of Philip Tate.  The identity of the shooter was at issue during the trial, and three of the state's key witnesses, who claimed to be eyewitnesses to the shooting, implicated the defendant as the shooter.  Two of these witnesses were incarcerated at the time of the defendant's trial, and the third was on probation for federal charges and had state charges pending against him.  In its instructions to the jury, the trial court stated that the jury was to determine the credibility of the witnesses and the weight to be given to their testimony.  The court further informed the jury that, in determining whether to credit a witness's testimony, it could consider whether the witness had an interest in the outcome of the case or any bias or prejudice concerning any party or any matter involved in the case.  The defendant did not object to the jury instructions, and he never requested a special credibility instruction with regard to the state's three key witnesses.  The jury subsequently found the defendant guilty as charged, and the court sentenced him accordingly.  In this appeal, the defendant argues that the trial court committed plain error in failing to give, sua sponte, a special credibility instruction regarding the state's three key witnesses, who he claims all had motives for implicating him in the murder.  In particular, he claims that the trial court should have given a special credibility instruction pursuant to State v. Patterson, 276 Conn. 452, cautioning the jury that in evaluating a jailhouse informant's credibility, it may consider the benefits the state has promised the informant in exchange for his or her testimony.  The defendant also requests that the Supreme Court invoke its supervisory powers to expand the rule in Patterson and require that a special credibility instruction be given in all cases where a self-interested witness testifies against a defendant.