holding instruction improper where court read entire statute to jury but failed to define key wordsSummary of this case from State v. Gooden
While trial courts may instruct juries in the exact language of statutes, they should not do so where the language used might be misleading. It is better practice to interpret statutes where differences of opinion as to their meaning may exist. The defendants appealed from their conviction of the crime of policy playing. Since that crime is proscribed by a long and complex statute (53-298) covering two distinct offenses and since the claims of proof here did not require that the statute be recited to the jury in its entirety, its inapplicable portion should have been deleted. Moreover, certain key words in the statute should have been explained in the charge and a more detailed elaboration of their meaning in the statutory context given than was afforded by the court's mere reading of the statute. Held that as a result of the inadequate charge, the defendants were denied their right to have their guilt or innocence under 53-298 fairly determined by the jury.
Argued January 7, 1970
Decided February 4, 1970
Informations in two counts charging the defendant in the first case with the crimes of policy playing and destruction of evidence and the defendant in the second case with the crimes of policy playing and interfering with a search, brought to the Circuit Court in the seventh circuit and tried to the jury before Reynolds, J.; verdict and judgment of guilty on both counts in the first case and verdict and judgment of guilty on the first count in the second case and appeal by the defendants to the Appellate Division of the Circuit Court, which reversed the judgment in the first case as to the second count only; from the judgment of the Appellate Division, the defendants, on the granting of certification, appealed to this court. Error; new trial.
R. David Broiles, with whom, on the brief, were Ira B. Grudberg and Howard A. Jacobs, for the appellants (defendants) in each case.
Joseph D. Harbaugh, special assistant chief prosecuting attorney, for the appellee (state) in each case.
This court granted the defendants' petition for certification for review of their cases which were decided adversely to them by the Appellate Division of the Circuit Court. See General Statutes 51-265. The certification was limited to a review of certain claimed errors in the trial court's instructions to the jury.
The defendants, Albert and Genevieve Criscuolo, husband and wife, were tried together on separate informations. While the issues involved differ as to the second count in each information, both defendants were charged with policy playing in violation of 53-298 of the General Statutes in the first count of each information and were convicted on those counts.
The defendants claim that the court erred in charging the jury on 53-298 of the General Statutes. The record before us is deficient, however, in that the finding fails to disclose the exceptions taken to the charge as required both by this court's rules of practice and by those of the Appellate Division of the Circuit Court. Practice Book 635, 999, 1023. Nevertheless, the Appellate Division, apparently on the basis of the transcript and the defendants' sixth assignment of error, considered the claims of error in the charge without mentioning the deficiency in the finding. Because we saw sufficient reason in this case to grant limited certification and since the parties have briefed and argued the issues, we have decided to consider the appeal. See O'Keefe v. Bassett, 132 Conn. 659, 660, 46 A.2d 847.
Section 53-298 of the General Statutes incorporates two offenses. Maintaining a policy office and policy playing are both proscribed. The statute consists of two sentences and contains over five hundred words. Consequently, there is justification for the defendants' claim that the statute, read as a whole, would tend to confuse a jury in applying the pertinent law to the particular facts of the present case.
Despite the complexity and length of the statute, the finding reveals that the court read the entire statute to the jury without expanding upon its meaning in any substantial manner. Although it is generally proper for the court to charge in the language of a statute, the statute should be explained where the meaning of ifs language might be unclear to the jury. "While the court may instruct in the exact language of the statute, it should not do so where the exact statutory language might mislead the jury, as where the ordinary juror is unable to understand its meaning." 88 C.J.S. 886, Trial, 337(a). It is error to read a statute which requires interpretation to the jury as an instruction; "the better practice is for the court to interpret any statute, about the interpretation of which there is or may be a difference of opinion." St. Louis, I.M. S.R. Co. v. Elrod, 116 Ark. 514, 518, 173 S.W. 836; Missouri Pacific Transportation Co. v. Parker, 200 Ark. 620, 624, 140 S.W.2d 997, cert. denied, 311 U.S. 696, 61 S.Ct. 133, 85 L.Ed. 450.
In the instant case the claims of proof as revealed by the finding did not require that the statute be read in its entirety, and the inapplicable portion of the statute should not have been read to the jury. State v. Tryon, 145 Conn. 304, 306, 142 A.2d 54; State v. Maurisky, 102 Conn. 634, 636, 129 A. 714. Furthermore, certain key words, such as "policy," were never explained in the charge, and a more detailed elaboration of their meaning in the statutory context should have been given than was afforded by a mere reading of the statute. See State v. Groos, 110 Conn. 403, 410, 148 A. 350.
Because the court's charge did not meet the test of adequacy as explained in such cases as State v. Alterio, 154 Conn. 23, 27, 220 A.2d 451, and Phoenix Mutual Life Ins. Co. v. Brenckman, 148 Conn. 391, 397, 171 A.2d 194, the defendants were denied the right to have their guilt or innocence under General Statutes 53-298 fairly determined by the jury.
There is no need to discuss the other claims of the parties arising under the limited certification in the light of our disposition of this appeal.