Connecticut Adds Investigative Subpoena to Legislature
Connecticut criminal defendants never have to help the police build a case against them. But a new law passed by the Connecticut legislature adds investigative subpoena powers for prosecutors and local authorities in specific situations. Find out when you could receive a subpoena and what your rights are if you do.
Connecticut State Legislature Allows Investigative Subpoenas, Sometimes
A new law that went into effect October 1, 2021, restores Connecticut’s investigative subpoena power, but only in very limited circumstances. Public Act No. 21-33 allows local civilian police review boards and the state’s newly appointed Inspector General to issue investigative subpoenas to investigate police abuse of force claims.
The legislation was proposed after a police shooting incident in January 2020. Edward Gendron was killed in Waterbury, CT, when police responded to a call that he allegedly fired a bullet through a shared wall and into a neighbor’s home. Gendon, who was drunk, using drugs, and armed, threatened to shoot the first officer who arrived. While they struggled, another officer shot and killed Gendron.
The investigation into the shooting, which happened in the midst of nationwide protests against police violence, met with a “blue wall” of uncooperative witnesses. Waterbury police officer Daniel Stanton refused to give a statement entirely. Without these powers, the investigator, State’s Attorney Brian Preleski, was blocked. His report said:
“Unlike prosecutors in virtually every other jurisdiction in the United States, Connecticut law fails to provide either a viable and effective grand jury system or investigative subpoenas. That means if an important witness does not wish to cooperate with an investigation, they do not have to cooperate.”
In response, the Connecticut legislature made an exception, allowing investigators to utilize this power, but only when investigating police use of force or abuse of power claims, like Mr. Gendron’s shooting.
What is an Investigative Subpoena?
An investigative subpoena is an order compelling a person to answer questions or turn over documents or evidence to prosecutors or investigators before criminal charges have been filed. Federal prosecutors, and those in other states, use this tool to get access to financial documents in fraud or conspiracy cases, and to compel witnesses to talk to police about cold-case homicides and violent gang-related crimes.
Before the mid-1980s, Connecticut prosecutors also had the ability to issue investigative subpoenas in the course of investigating complex and white-collar crimes. After that investigative power turned on politicians, the Connecticut legislature removed the prosecutors’ ability to issue them. Instead, Connecticut prosecutors can, in limited contexts, use single-person grand juries to compel witness testimony and build their cases. However, they need more evidence to impanel a grand jury than they do to issue a subpoena. Because of this, the process is rarely used.
What Does the Connecticut Legislature’s Change Mean for You?
Because the state’s power in this area is very limited, the new law probably won’t affect most Connecticut residents. State police and prosecutors still can’t issue investigative subpoenas to investigate drug crimes, conspiracy, or fraud cases. However, if you are a police officer, or are involved in or witness an incident involving police misconduct, you could receive an investigative subpoena.
When you do receive a subpoena, investigative or otherwise, it is important that you respond to it in a timely way. Failure to respond can result in criminal contempt charges including fines and jail time. If you are concerned that this could result in criminal charges against you, you should meet with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to consider your options and avoid self-incrimination.
Can You Plead the Fifth or Otherwise Avoid an Investigative Subpoena?
There are options available to limit your exposure to an investigative subpoena. Which one applies will depend on what the investigator is asking you to produce, and your role in the incident they are investigating.
Plead the Fifth
You have the constitutional right not to provide evidence if you are worried that testifying or turning over a surveillance video could result in criminal charges against you. However, if you are called to testify you can’t “plead the fifth” to avoid showing up. Instead, you must appear at the time and place requested -- ideally with your criminal defense attorney -- and assert your right not to incriminate yourself in response to specific questions.
Quash the Subpoena
Your attorney can also file a motion to quash (invalidate) or limit the subpoena if it is not relevant to the police use of force investigation, is overly broad or burdensome, or would invade a statutorily protected privilege (such as doctor-patient privilege). A judge will then review it and your defense or privilege and can excuse you from answering questions or limit the scope of the investigator’s search.
Help for Connecticut Residents Who Have Been Served
Just because the investigation is against the police doesn’t mean you can’t get swept up along the way. If you have been served, you should talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney to file your objections and preserve your rights. Based in Fairfield, Connecticut, The Lebedevitch Law Firm handles a variety of criminal defense cases in Fairfield and New Haven counties. We can help review the details and protect your interests in court. Contact us for a free phone or video conference consultation.