Instructional error in Gomes

The Connecticut Supreme Court released a decision yesterday, Gomes, that overturned an assault conviction due to a jury charge. The defense asked for a jury instruction on the adequacy of the police investigation. The police responded to a fight at a club in Bridgeport, where a female was struck in the face with a bottle. The victim and her boyfriend identified the defendant as the assailant.

The defense argued the police only interviewed those two witnesses, failed to follow-up on other leads, and failed to document the crime scene. The defense had requested the following jury charge:

"[1] You have heard some arguments that the police investigation was inadequate and biased. [2] The issue for you to decide is not the thoroughness of the investigation or the competence of the police. [3] However, you may consider evidence of the police investigation as it might relate to any weaknesses in the state’s case. [4] Again, the only issue you have to determine is whether the state, in light of all the evidence before you, has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the counts with which he is charged."

Over the defense's objection, the trial judge crafted a charge based off of the Judicial Branch website, which omitted the third point of the proposed instruction. The Supreme Court found this omission failed to inform (1) the jury of a defendant’s right to rely upon lapses in a police investigation to effectively argue reasonable doubt, and (2) of its right to consider such deficiencies in evaluating whether the state proved its case. Further, the Court found the instruction may have wrongly caused the jury to ignore the arguments that the police investigation was inadequate.

Gomes also overturned State v. Aquino, 279 Conn. 293 (2006), a decision finding a criminal appeal moot when the defendant had been deported. Gomes held that whether a defendant has been deported is irrelevant to determining the mootness of their criminal conviction, given other relevant collateral consequences, such as reputational damage, associated with a conviction.

So a big decision that changes how trial court's will instruct allegations that the police investigation was inadequate in the future. The decision will also affect deportees who wish to challenge the basis for their convictions.