STATE v. MIGUEL A.C., SC 18690

Judicial District of Fairfield


      Criminal; Whether Defendant was Prejudiced by Stricken Testimony of Sexual Assault Complainant Concerning Alleged Confession Made by Defendant to his Wife; Whether State Engaged in Prosecutorial Impropriety; Whether Trial Court Properly Denied Defendant's Motion for In Camera Inspection of Complainant's Mental Health Records.  The defendant was convicted of sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor for engaging in sexual conduct with his twelve year old niece.  At trial, the complainant testified about a conversation that she had with her aunt, the defendant's wife, about the complainant's sexual activity with the defendant.  The complainant stated that during that conversation, her aunt told her that the defendant had confessed to her that he had engaged in sexual activity with the complainant.  The defendant objected to the testimony about the alleged confession on the ground that it was hearsay and violated the marital communications privilege.  The trial court initially overruled the defendant's objection, but, after several additional questions about the conversation between the complainant and her aunt, the court sua sponte reversed its ruling and ordered the testimony stricken and instructed the jury to disregard it.  During deliberations, the jury asked to rehear the portion of the complainant's testimony concerning her conversation with her aunt.  The court played back that portion of the testimony with the stricken testimony edited out.  On appeal, the defendant claims that he was prejudiced by the complainant's testimony about his alleged confession to his wife and that the trial court's instruction to the jury to disregard the testimony was inadequate to cure the harm from the improper evidence.  The defendant further claims that the prejudice was exacerbated when the complainant's testimony was played back to the jury.  He argues that although the jury did not rehear the stricken testimony, the portion that was replayed reminded the jury of the stricken testimony, especially in light of the fact that the playback included the state's question as to whether the complainant told her aunt what happened with the defendant "when [her] aunt said all of that stuff."  The defendant also claims on appeal that he was denied his right to due process due to prosecutorial impropriety during closing argument when the state commented on the defendant's invocation of his right not to testify and then immediately thereafter noted that the minor victim did testify.  The defendant also claims that his due process and confrontation clause rights were violated when the trial court improperly denied his motion for an in camera inspection of the complainant's mental health records.  The defendant argues that he made a sufficient showing that the records might contain exculpatory information relevant to the complainant's ability to relate events accurately and that the records were necessary for cross-examination of the complainant's mental health counselor.