State v. Jones
In the 2002 case of State v. Singh, the Connecticut Supreme Court explained the "well established evidentiary rule that it is improper to ask a witness to comment on another's witness' veracity." The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. After encountering Shelvonn Jones, George Harris went for a bicycle ride and saw Jones again. Jones, intoxicated, drew a utility knife. Harris asked Jones what was his problem was. Jones slashed at Harris, cutting his chest and back. Harris knocked Jones down with his bicycle and pulled Jones' sweatshirt over his head, binding his arms and subduing him. Observers called police. Harris went home. Responding police found Jones and, thinking he was the victim, drove him home. After further information, they arrested Jones. Following a jury trial, Jones was convicted of assault in the second degree. Jones appealed claiming, successfully, that prosecutorial impropriety deprived him of his right to a fair trial and due process of law. The Appellate Court reversed the judgment and remanded the matter for a new trial. The state conceded four improprieties consisting of three questions on cross-examination compelling the defendant to comment on the veracity of the complainant and police and a reference to them in closing argument. The Appellate Court agreed that the statements violated State v. Singh but disagreed with the state that the statements did not so prejudice the defendant as to deprive him of a fair trial. Considering the factors from the 1987 Supreme Court case of State v. Williams in the context of the trial as a whole, the panel concluded that there was at least a reasonable likelihood that the verdict would have been different had the improprieties not occurred. The case fell within a line of cases where the Connecticut Supreme Court has found that prosecutorial impropriety resulted in substantial prejudice depriving a defendant of a fair trial and due process, even absent an objection or request for specific curative instructions. In each case, as here, the defendant failed to object or request curative instructions for Singh violations, the state's case was not strong and amounted to a credibility contest between the defendant and one or two witnesses. Further, the impropriety augmented the state's case on a central issue of credibility, was repeated on cross-examination and closing arguments and was uninvited.