STATE v. JASON J. OSIMANTI, SC 18311
Judicial District of Fairfield
Criminal; Whether Exclusion of the Testimony of Victim's Girlfriend Violated the Defendant's Constitutional Rights to Confrontation and to Present a Defense; Whether the Jury was Misled by the Trial Court's Self-Defense Instructions; Did the Trial Court Fail to Conduct an Adequate Inquiry into Possible Juror Bias. On July 14, 2005, during a fight, the defendant stabbed and killed John Barnum. Subsequently, the defendant was tried for murder. The defendant, pursuant to General Statutes § 53a-19, asserted a claim of self-defense. During trial, Angela Giglio, the victim's girlfriend, testified for the state that it was her opinion that the victim was not a violent person during the period between February, 2005, and July 14, 2005. The defendant sought permission to question Giglio regarding certain events that occurred prior to February, 2005, including several incidents of domestic dispute, and Giglio's statement to the police that the defendant became violent when he drank. The trial court denied the defendant's request. After trial, the defendant was found guilty of the lesser included offense of first degree manslaughter. On appeal, the defendant claimed that the trial court violated his constitutional rights to confrontation and to present a defense when it limited his cross-examination of Giglio. The Appellate Court (111 Conn. App. 700) disagreed, concluding that the defendant's cross-examination of Giglio was not unduly restricted and that the limitation imposed by the trial court did not infringe on the defendant's constitutional rights. In support of its conclusion, the court noted that, even in the absence of the excluded testimony, there was a wealth of testimony regarding the victim's propensity for violence, and the limitation did not prejudice the defendant because there was no dispute that the victim was violent during his fatal altercation. Next, the defendant challenged the trial court's instruction, given pursuant to § 53a-19 (c), that, if the jury found that the defendant was the "initial aggressor, [his] use of force may still be justified if he withdrew from the encounter and made it clear to the [victim] that he was retreating from the use of force." Specifically, he claimed that the court's use of the word "retreat" confused an initial aggressor's obligation to "withdraw" under § 53a-19 (c) with the duty of one using deadly force to "retreat" if such retreat is available and known to be completely safe under § 53a-19 (b). The Appellate Court rejected the claim, ruling that the challenged instruction complied with § 53a-19 (c) and that, although the trial court substituted the word "retreat" for the word "withdraw" in the charge, such a minor mistake was not sufficient to mislead the jury. Finally, the defendant claimed that the trial court failed to inquire adequately into juror bias when, after testimony that the victim was a member of the Latin Kings street gang, a juror notified the court that some of his friends and one relative were also members of the Latin Kings. The Appellate Court rejected this claim as well, stating that it was within the trial court's discretion to find, as it did after questioning the juror, that the juror was credible when he said that he could serve impartially and that there was nothing in the juror's answers that demanded further inquiry. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will review the Appellate Court's decision.