HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut's highest court on Tuesday upheld a robbery conviction in a case that centered on separate U.S. Supreme Court rulings on jury tampering that have divided state and federal courts for more than 30 years.
The state Supreme Court issued a 7-0 decision affirming the conviction of Orlando Berrios Jr., whose public defender argued for a mistrial because Berrios' mother alleged in a conversation with a juror outside court that a police officer lied on the witness stand. Justices said state prosecutors proved the jury's impartiality wasn't affected by Berrios' mother's actions.
Berrios is serving a 15-year prison sentence for robbing a man at gunpoint in New Haven of cash, his cellphone and a sweatshirt and jacket he was wearing in December 2011.
Justices said they agreed with the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Remmer v. United States that there is a presumption of prejudice when jury tampering claims arise, and that presumption imposes a heavy burden on prosecutors to prove jury impartiality wasn't affected.
The state court noted, however, that subsequent rulings in 1982 and 1993 by the nation's highest court created uncertainty over the 1954 decision among courts nationwide, including federal appeals courts.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, for example, has concluded that the 1982 ruling cancels out the 1954 decision and its presumption of prejudice, and puts the burden of proof on defendants to show that unauthorized communications with jurors resulted in jury bias.
Berrios' public defender, Richard Condon Jr., said the comments to the juror by Berrios' mother put Berrios in a negative light before the jury.
"I certainly don't think a jury can get that out of their minds," Condon said. "I strongly believe the defendant should have gotten a new trial in this case."