STATE v. EARL ERICKSON, SC 18391
Judicial District of Bridgeport
Criminal; Right to Confrontation; Whether the Trial Court Improperly Denied the Defendant's Request for Disclosure of the Victim's Personnel File; Whether the Trial Court Improperly Restricted the Defendant's Cross-Examination of the Victim. The defendant was charged with, inter alia, assault on a public officer after he threw Richard Orr, a state marshal, out of the doorway of his house when Orr (the victim) attempted to serve him with a subpoena. At trial, the defendant claimed that the victim, by entering the defendant's home, had acted beyond the scope of his legal authority and official duties. Thus, the defendant claimed that he had the common law and statutory right to use reasonable force to expel him. Consonant with this defense strategy, defense counsel requested that the victim's personnel file with the state marshal's commission be disclosed to the defense or, alternatively, that the trial court conduct an in camera inspection of the personnel file to determine whether it contained information regarding any past incidents where the victim had illegally entered a residence to effect in hand service. He argued that such evidence could be used to establish that the victim was not engaged in "official duties" at the time of the incident in question and also to impeach the victim's testimony that he did not enter the defendant's home. Additionally, he claimed that information in the victim's personnel file might also corroborate the defense claim that the victim was facing financial difficulty at the time of the incident and that he was so desperate to collect fees for serving the subpoena that he illegally entered the defendant's home. Noting that the case law was unclear regarding the extent of a marshal's right to go on someone's property to serve a subpoena, the trial court denied the defendant's motion for disclosure without conducting an in camera review of the victim's personnel file, ruling that the defendant failed to meet the threshold requirement of showing that the file might contain relevant information. The jury ultimately found the defendant guilty. On appeal, the defendant claims, among other things, that the trial court violated his constitutional right to confrontation by denying his request for disclosure of the victim's personnel file without first reviewing it in camera. Specifically, the defendant, contending that a marshal has no authority to enter a person's home to serve a subpoena, argues that the victim's personnel file may have contained relevant and material information regarding whether the victim had any financial motive for falsely testifying against the defendant and whether the victim was acting in conformity with his official duties and authority at the time of the incident. The defendant also claims that the trial court violated his right to confrontation when it refused to allow him to cross-examine the victim regarding (a) two past complaints allegedly lodged against the victim for "mishandling" funds entrusted to his care in a trustee account, and (b) whether the victim had a "financial stake" in the outcome of the defendant's prosecution. The defendant maintains that these questions were relevant to the victim's trustworthiness, credibility, and motivation to testify.