STATE v. ANGEL T., SC 18121
Judicial District of Danbury
Criminal; Prosecutorial Impropriety; Whether Evidence Regarding the Defendant's Refusal to Submit to a Police Interview and the Prosecutor's Comments Thereon in Summation Deprived the Defendant of his Constitutional Right to a Fair Trial. The defendant was charged with first degree sexual assault and multiple counts of risk of injury to a child after his ten year old niece accused him of molesting her. At trial, the state elicited testimony from Bryan Bishop, a police detective, regarding his attempt to question the defendant prior to his arrest. Bishop testified that the defendant's attorney, Ron Sanchez, agreed to have Bishop interview the defendant at his office, but that when Bishop called Sanchez to confirm the interview, Sanchez told him that he could not contact the defendant. The interview never took place. The defendant testified on cross examination that he did not speak to the police because his attorney advised him not to do so. During his closing summation, the prosecutor argued that Bishop was an impartial investigator who would have benefited from the defendant's interview in evaluating the case. The prosecutor also referred to Bishop's testimony that, after the meeting in Sanchez's office failed to come to fruition, he subsequently attempted to contact the defendant directly, but received no response. Later, while discussing the defendant's credibility, the prosecutor pointed out that the defendant was provided with an opportunity to help with the investigation and asked the jury if he elected to do so. The prosecutor also remarked that the defendant's testimony gave the impression that he wanted the interview but that it was Bishop who changed the appointment. The jury ultimately found the defendant guilty of first degree sexual assault and two counts of risk of injury to a child. On appeal, the defendant claimed that the prosecutor's comments regarding his failure to submit to a police interview deprived him of his constitutional due process right to a fair trial. The Appellate Court (105 Conn. App. 568) concluded that the introduction of evidence regarding the defendant's refusal to submit to police questioning and his decision to retain an attorney and the prosecutor's comments thereon during summation improperly invited the jury to infer guilt from the defendant's exercise of his right against self-incrimination and his right to counsel. The court further held that this prosecutorial impropriety deprived the defendant of his right to a fair trial, noting that the case against the defendant was not strong, there was no conclusive physical evidence, the improper remarks were not invited by the defense, the defendant's refusal to be interviewed by the police was a prominent part of the state's case, and there were no curative measures taken by the trial court. Accordingly, the Appellate Court reversed the defendant's convictions. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that prosecutorial impropriety deprived the defendant of his right to a fair trial.