The Law Tribune previews interesting or important cases most weeks the state Appellate Court or state Supreme Court is in session.
Case: State v. William T. Jones
Court: Supreme Court
Date: Feb. 24
Time: 11 a.m.
Attorneys: Robert Scheinblum, Lisa Steele
Summary: A man convicted of assaulting a police officer after running over the officer’s foot and then leading him on a high speed chase, is challenging his conviction on grounds that the judge violated a practice book rule by only showing a video of the incident in the courtroom and not letting the jury watch it in the jury room.
Background: On Dec. 12, 2008, Meriden police detectives Jose Rivera and Christian Rodriguez observed the driver of a green Dodge Charger engage in a drug transaction.
The officers followed the Dodge vehicle in an unmarked cruiser. Rodriguez found out through police dispatch that the vehicle was rented and asked for a marked police car to pull the person over.
Soon, Officer George Gonzalez stopped the driver who turned out to be William T. Jones. Gonzalez parked perpendicularly in front of Jones. Rodriguez also parked his vehicle behind Jones. As Rodriguez approached the vehicle, he requested the driver show him his hands. Jones did not comply, so Rodriguez drew his gun.
From the window of the driver’s side of the vehicle, Rodriguez again told Jones to show his hands. Again, Jones refused. Suddenly, in a matter of seconds, Jones backed up his vehicle, hitting Rodriguez with the driver’s side mirror. Jones then drove forward, running over Rodriguez’s left foot, according to trial testimony.
Rodriguez immediately fired two shots at Jones which hit the side of the vehicle as it sped away. All of the officers chased after Jones but were unable to catch up to him.
Rodriguez then went to the hospital for treatment on his foot. The next day Rodriguez picked out Jones from a photo lineup. Also that day, a woman who rented the Dodge Charger told police she had rented the vehicle at Jones’ request. Jones was eventually arrested in Rochester, N.Y. on Jan. 12, 2009.
At trial, prosecutors submitted a video recording of the incident taken by a dashboard camera in one of the police cruisers. The video showed Jones’ vehicle slowing and then stopping, the cruiser stopping perpendicularly in front of the vehicle, the sound of muffled voices and two gunshots, the defendant driving off rapidly and the ensuing car chase. Both parties utilized the video at various times throughout the trial by showing the video from the prosecutor’s laptop computer so that the jury could view the images from the jury box.
During the trial, the jury viewed the entire video eight times and the jury viewed selected portions of the video eight additional times. Both parties showed the video during their closing arguments.
Jones’ lawyer requested that the jurors be able to view the video in the jury room during deliberations but the trial judge ruled that the court did not have equipment that could be sent into the jury room to play the video. The judge instructed that if the jury wanted the video replayed, they could submit a note and the video could be viewed in the courtroom where the lawyers, the defendant and the judge would also be present.
After less than an hour of deliberations and without asking that the video be replayed, the jury found Jones guilty of assault of public safety personnel and engaging police in pursuit.
Jones then appealed the verdict on grounds that the judge’s ruling concerning the viewing of the video by the jury violated Practice Book § 42-23 (a) (2), which states that “[t]he judicial authority shall submit to the jury . . . [a]ll exhibits received in evidence.”
The state Appellate Court, in a ruling released early last year, said that the judge’s instruction to the jury that they could view the video in the courtroom provided a means of presenting the video to the jury for its consideration. As such, the appellate court ruled, the trial court had offered the best solution given the circumstances for presenting the exhibit to the jury in compliance with the rule.
Jones again appealed and now the state Supreme Court will determine whether or not the trial court violated the practice book rule by not allowing the video to be watched in the jury room.
“The court cannot know and should not assume what effect the omission of the videotape had on the jury as it deliberated or what effect it would have had, had the jury been able to view the videotape in the privacy of the deliberation room,” wrote Jones’ lawyer, Lisa Steele, of Bolton, Mass., in court documents. “Instead it should not speculate. It should reverse the Appellate Court’s decision, reverse Jones’ conviction and remand this case for a new trial.”
Conversely, Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Robert Scheinblum has argued that the trial judge and appellate court made the right decisions.
“…There is nothing in the record to indicate that the jury had any desire to review the video during deliberations; thus, even if the jury had been provided with unsupervised access to a computer in the deliberation room, nothing suggests that the jurors would have watched the video again,” wrote Scheinblum to the state Supreme Court justices in his brief.
“… Because the jurors expressed no desire to review the video, the defendant has failed to establish that the failure to send the video along with proper equipment in the jury room substantially affected the verdict,” Scheinblum concluded.•