STATE v. HERBERT CLARK, SC 19041

Judicial District of New Britain at G.A. 15

 

†††† ††† Criminal; Whether Admission of Prior Conviction Evidence Constituted Harmless Error.† The defendant was convicted of assault in the first degree in connection with an incident in which he struck the victim in the face with a beer bottle during an argument at a bar.† He was acquitted of a second charge of assault in the first degree, which alleged that he intended to permanently disfigure the victim.† On appeal, the defendant claimed that the trial court improperly permitted the state to use his four prior felony convictions to impeach his credibility as a witness. †The Appellate Court (137 Conn. App. 203) ruled that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of the prior convictions, finding that that evidence was only minimally relevant to the defendantís credibility.† It explained that, because the prior convictions were not for crimes involving dishonesty or deceit, they did not bear directly upon the defendantís credibility.† Further, in light of the fact that the convictions were more than ten years old, the court opined that any impeachment value those convictions may have possessed had been significantly diminished by their remoteness in time.† Additionally, it determined that, since the prior conviction evidence pertained to the defendant and not merely to a defense witness, the danger of unfair prejudice created by its admission was high because the jury might have been prejudiced not merely on the question of the defendantís credibility but also on the ultimate question of his guilt or innocence.† The Appellate Court nonetheless affirmed the defendantís conviction, ruling that the improper admission of the evidence constituted harmless error.† In so ruling, the court found that the stateís case against the defendant was strong and largely uncontested.† The court also found it significant that the jury acquitted the defendant of the second assault charge.† That verdict, the court opined, indicated that the jury was discerning in its assessment of the stateís claims and that it was not disposed to find the defendant guilty based on his prior felony convictions.† In this certified appeal, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court properly determined that the admission of the defendantís record of prior convictions constituted harmless error.† The state claims, as an alternate ground for affirming the Appellate Courtís judgment, that the admission of the prior conviction evidence was proper.†