STATE v. AARON B. CUTLER, SC 18060
Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk
Criminal; Uncharged Misconduct Evidence; Whether the Prejudicial Effect of Uncharged Misconduct Evidence Outweighed its Probative Value; Whether the Jury, Before Considering Evidence of the Defendant's Prior Acts of Uncharged Misconduct, must First Find, by a Preponderance of the Evidence, that the Defendant in fact Committed Those Alleged Acts. On March 25, 2005, the defendant and his former girlfriend got into an argument that culminated in a physical altercation. As a result of the incident, the defendant was charged with, inter alia, unlawful restraint in the first degree. Prior to trial, the state filed a motion to introduce evidence of the defendant's prior misconduct. The state proffered that the victim would testify regarding four prior acts of physical violence perpetrated by the defendant against her, which had occurred in August, 2004, January, 2005, and on March 12 and 22, 2005. The defendant, however, argued that the misconduct evidence should not be admitted because its prejudicial effect outweighed its probative value. Specifically, the defendant claimed that the misconduct evidence had minimal probative value because it lacked independent corroboration and because it had been refuted by his proffered evidence. He also maintained that the evidence was highly prejudicial because it consisted of four separate acts of violence, the most recent of which was virtually identical to the incident upon which the criminal charges were based. After hearing argument, the trial court admitted the three acts of misconduct that occurred in January, 2005, and on March 12 and 22, 2005. In so doing, the court found that the evidence was admissible under the intent exception to the general rule prohibiting admission of uncharged misconduct. The court also determined that the probative value of the evidence outweighed its prejudicial effect, noting that the three incidents were not remote in time and bore similarity - an argument that escalates into physical violence - to the charged conduct. At trial, consistent with the court's ruling, the victim testified regarding the three prior incidents of physical violence. At the close of evidence, the defendant, relying on Huddleston v. United States, 485 U.S. 681 (1988), requested that the court instruct the jury that before considering the defendant's prior acts of misconduct on the issue of intent, it had to first find, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant in fact committed those alleged acts. The trial court rejected the defendant's request, noting that State v. Aaron L., 272 Conn. 798 (2005) "militate[d] against" giving such a charge. The jury ultimately found the defendant guilty of first degree unlawful restraint. On appeal, the defendant claims, among other things, that the trial court, in admitting evidence of prior misconduct, improperly determined that the probative value of the evidence outweighed its prejudicial effect. The defendant also claims that the trial court erred in refusing to charge the jury that it had to find, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant in fact committed the alleged acts of misconduct, before it could rely on those acts to find that the defendant possessed the intent to commit the charged offenses.