STATE v. COURTNEY BRYAN, SC 18776
Judicial District of New Britain
Criminal; Defenses; Whether the Appellate Court Properly Concluded that the Trial Court’s Failure to give a Defense of Others Instruction Required Reversal of the Judgment of Conviction. The defendant was arrested in connection with the March 1, 2007 stabbing of Abdelmoutalib Sofiane. At his trial, the defendant testified that on that day he had traveled with his girlfriend, Farrah Lawrence, to the school that she attended and that he had stayed in the car while she went inside the building. He further testified that Sofiane, who was Lawrence’s former boyfriend, approached his car, revealed a gun under his shirt and threatened to kill Lawrence. The defendant also testified that Sofiane walked into the building, and that, upon following him, he encountered Sofiane as he was exiting the building, at which time Sofiane began attacking him and reaching for his waistband, where he had previously displayed the gun. The defendant testified that the stabbing was accidental, but he also testified that he stabbed Sofiane in defense of himself and Lawrence. The trial court refused to instruct the jury, as the defendant had requested, on defense of others under General Statutes (Rev. to 2007) § 53a-19. The defendant was convicted of assault in the first degree and attempted assault in the first degree and sentenced to a six year term of imprisonment. On appeal to the Appellate Court (126 Conn. App. 597), the defendant contended that the trial court should have given the defense of others instruction. The Appellate Court agreed, reversed the judgment and remanded the case for a new trial. The court determined that the defendant had produced enough direct and circumstantial evidence to demonstrate that he reasonably believed that deadly physical force was necessary to prevent Sofiane from committing or attempting to commit a crime of violence against Lawrence. The court found relevant not only the direct evidence presented by the defendant, but also the evidence of past incidents of violence and abuse directed at Lawrence by Sofiane. In reaching its decision, the court rejected the state’s contention that a charge on the defense of others was not justified because the only rational inference that a jury could make from Sofiane's action in turning around in the doorway was that he abandoned his purpose and that Lawrence was no longer in imminent danger. The court also disagreed with the state's argument that a defense of others charge was not warranted because Lawrence was not physically present during the altercation and, hence, the threat to her was not imminent. The Supreme Court has granted certification to decide whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that the trial court's failure to give a defense of others instruction required reversal of the judgment of conviction.