State v. Stovall
To conform with precedent, for a conviction of possession of narcotics with intent to sell within 1500 feet of a public housing project violating Connecticut General Statutes §21-278a(b), the trial court must inform the jury that the defendant intended to sell the narcotics in his possession within 1500 feet of a public housing project. Following a jury trial, Thomas Stovall was convicted of possession of narcotics with intent to sell by a person who is not drug-dependent violating C.G.S. §21a-278(b) and possession of narcotics with intent to sell within 1500 feet of a public housing project contravening C.G.S. §21a-278a(b). He appealed raising multiple claims including, successfully, that the trial court improperly instructed the jury on the element of intent to sell within 1500 feet of a public housing project. The state conceded that the court committed reversible error and the defendant was entitled to a new trial on that offense. The Appellate Court reversed that part of the judgment and remanded for a new trial on the count under C.G.S. §21a-278a(b). The judgment was otherwise affirmed. For the challenged instruction, the court stated that "the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant possessed with the intent to sell freebase cocaine and that this occurred in or on or within 1500 feet of the real property of a public housing project." Because of the sentence structure, it could not be discerned to what "this" refers. The jury reasonably could interpret the charge to mean that the state needed to prove mere possession of narcotics within1500 feet of a public housing project, regardless of where the defendant intended to sell the narcotics, or that the state needed to prove, as it was required to do, that the sales were within 1500 feet of a public housing project. Because both interpretations were reasonable, and only one was correct in law, the instruction as given was ambiguous. Other claims were rejected including that insufficient evidence supported the verdict that the defendant had constructive possession of crack cocaine found in a jacket in the closet of a third party's apartment. Despite discrepancies between witnesses' testimony, the jury reasonably could have inferred that the defendant owned the jacket containing the drugs and exercised dominion and control over the drugs.