STATE v. JOE BALTAS, SC 18633
Judicial District of New Haven
Criminal; Third Party Culpability; Whether Jury Should Have Been Instructed on Theory of Defense; Whether Jury Should Have Been Instructed on Complaining Witness' Motive to Testify Falsely; Prosecutorial Impropriety. The defendant was convicted of murder, assault, kidnapping and burglary in connection with a masked assailant's attack on the family of the defendant's former girlfriend, Misty Rock. Rock's mother and brother survived the attack with stab wounds; her stepfather was killed. The kidnapping charges were predicated on the state's claim that the defendant abducted Rock from the crime scene. The defendant appeals, claiming the trial court deprived him of his right to present a defense by curtailing his attempts to show that Rock was a participant in the crimes rather than a victim. The defendant sought to show that Rock had a bad relationship with her stepfather and that she had a financial motive to harm him. He claims that the proffered evidence was vital to establishing his defense because it would have impeached Rock's claim that she was a victim and shown that she had a motive to fabricate her testimony about the defendant's actions. The defendant contends that the evidence should have been admitted because it was crucial to his defense theory that he was innocent of the charges of kidnapping and burglary and to show that Rock participated in the crimes. The defendant also argues that, because he managed to present sufficient evidence directly connecting Rock to the crimes, the court erred in denying his request that the jury be instructed on what he calls "hybrid third party culpability." Alternately, he argues that the jury should have been given a "theory of defense" instruction. He claims that such an instruction is warranted when a defendant has not advanced a legally recognized defense but where the defense theory, if accepted by the jury, would nonetheless rebut the elements of the crime. The defendant also contends that the trial court erred in denying his request that the jury be instructed on Rock's motive to testify falsely where he claims that Rock, as a complaining witness, could have been subjected to prosecution depending on the veracity of her account. Finally, the defendant claims he was denied a fair trial due to prosecutorial impropriety. He argues that the prosecutor misused evidence of an incident of domestic violence committed by the defendant against Rock and misled the jury concerning a statement given to the police by Rock's mother. The state argues that the defendant's evidentiary claims amount to nothing more than an assertion that evidence should have been admitted to show Rock's third party culpability. The state claims that the evidence was properly excluded because the defendant did not present evidence directly connecting Rock to the crimes.