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Defendant’s Juror Misconduct Claim Rejected; Lower Court Did Not Abuse Its Discretion with Extent of Inquiry

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a previously posted article, a criminal defendant convicted of various gun charges failed on his insufficiency of the evidence claim. He further argued on appeal that the court improperly concluded that juror misconduct did not take place.

Case Background

Essentially, the defendant claimed that a juror, T, did not believe there was enough evidence that the defendant committed assault. However, T changed his vote to guilty after another juror threatened to hang the jury on an attempted murder charge. The court held an evidentiary hearing, asking questions “which mainly focused on T’s recollection and awareness of the instructions on legal principles that had been given to the jurors prior to their deliberations.” T responded in the affirmative when asked these questions.

Memorandum Issued

Thereafter, the court issued a memorandum that rejected the defendant’s claim of jury misconduct. It explained, in essence, it is only the final and formal conclusion that is considered, not a juror’s prior, private intentions:

Connecticut courts have consistently found that the expressions and arguments of jurors in their deliberations and evidence as to their own motives, beliefs, mistakes and mental operations in arriving at a verdict are to be considered immaterial in claims of juror misconduct. To do otherwise would violate the sanctity of the juror process. …

Court’s Ruling

It is the burden of the defendant to prove actual juror bias and misconduct that resulted in actual prejudice, where the trial court was not responsible. In this case, the defendant argued that the court’s inquiry was not sufficient because “the court did not ask the juror if he recalled the court’s instruction prohibiting consideration of punishment or the consequences of their verdict.”

The Appellate Court concluded that the court’s inquiry into whether juror misconduct occurred “was tailored properly to ascertaining this fact.” It noted that T confirmed that he recalled the relevant instructions given by the court before deliberations began. The court found no need to proceed any further, and to do so would constitute an abuse of discretion. “That the verdict may have been the result of compromise, or a mistake on part of the jury, is possible. But verdicts cannot be upset by speculation or inquiry into such matters.” Therefore, this part of the defendant’s appeal was denied.

Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Arson Convict Loses His Appeal: Evidence Pointed to Intent to Destroy Building in Suicide Attempt

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut declined to reverse a defendant’s arson convictions, finding sufficient evidence to establish the essential elements of the crime.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on October 13, 2006. Police responded to the multi-resident apartment building where the defendant lived, following a report that the defendant was threatening to commit suicide. After they arrived, another resident was seen leaving the building because she was “nervous” about the defendant’s conduct. Officers were unsuccessful in communicating with the defendant, who refused to speak with them.

Smoke soon appeared in the building, and though the defendant climbed onto the fire escape, he reentered the building when officers asked him to come down. The fire intensified but responders could not enter the building because they feared for their safety in light of the defendant’s behavior. The defendant fell from a third-story window and was apprehended with effort, and firefighters promptly attempted to suppress the fire.

However, a portion of the roof collapsed and they had to exit the building. The fire was eventually put out but nonetheless caused severe structural damage. The fire marshal did not find an accidental cause for the fire and placed its origin in the defendant’s apartment, but was not definitive on the cause.

Intent Inferred

The defendant was charged with and convicted of two counts of arson in the first degree (under different subsections to address risk of injury to other occupants and the firefighters) and interfering with an officer. On appeal, the defendant argued that the State provided insufficient evidence that he “intentionally started the fire,… specifically intended to destroy or damage the building and… had reason to believe that the building was or may have been occupied or inhabited at the time the fire started.”

Intent is often inferred from circumstantial evidence where direct evidence is lacking. In arson cases, it is permissible to use the lack of evidence that the fire was caused accidentally, in light of other evidence bearing on intent, to infer that the fire was instead intentionally started.

In this case, the Appellate Court cited numerous pieces of circumstantial evidence supporting the jury’s findings: the origin of the fire, the fire marshal’s conclusions, the defendant’s destructive emotional instability, and the fact that no one else left the building after the fire began other than the defendant. Therefore, a jury could reasonably infer that the defendant intended to start the fire.

Court Rejects Defendant’s Claims

The defendant next argued that his conduct “indicated recklessness or indifference to the damage [the fire] would cause, not specific intent to damage or destroy the building.” However, the Appellate Court was not persuaded, arguing that even if suicide was the primary goal, the jury could reasonably infer that “he intended to damage the building as a means to that goal.” Therefore, as with the previous argument posed by the defendant, this one equally failed.

Finally, the defendant claimed he had no reason to believe anyone else was in the building at the time he started the fire. However, the evidence worked against him: another resident left the building shortly before it was started. At trial, this individual testified that she typically stays home during the daytime. In addition, another resident’s vehicle was located on the scene. Therefore, a jury could reasonably have inferred that “the defendant had reason to believe that one or more tenants may have been in the building during the incident.” Therefore, the Appellate Court affirmed the judgment.

When faced with a charge of arson, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Definition of “Public Housing Project” Adequately Defined for Purposes of Drug Distribution Statute

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s attacks on the statutory definition of “public housing project” for purposes of State narcotics distribution statutes.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on September 13, 2007. Police officers went to the defendant’s residence to execute a valid search and seizure warrant related to narcotics activity. When officers identified themselves, the defendant ran inside and locked the door. Once the officers gained entry using a battering ram, they heard a toilet flush and saw the defendant leaving the bathroom. The defendant refused to comply with orders and resisted officer attempts to place him under arrest. Officers discovered two rocks of crack cocaine and assorted pills, digital scales, plastic baggies used in the packaging of drugs, and in excess of $1,400 cash.

The defendant was charged with and convicted of possession of cocaine, possession of narcotics with intent to sell within 1500 feet of a housing project, and interfering with an officer. On appeal, he claimed that the State did not present sufficient evidence establishing nearby residential housing as a public housing project.

Defendant Contests Classification as a “Public Housing Project”

Under Connecticut General Statutes § 21a-278a(b), a person is prohibited from transporting or possessing with the intent to sell or dispense controlled substances within fifteen-hundred feet of a designated public housing project. Pursuant to this statute, public housing project means “dwelling accommodations operated as a state or federally subsidized multi-family housing project by a housing authority, nonprofit corporation or municipal developer.”

At trial, one officer testified that the residential housing was “a federally subsidized, elderly/disabled housing complex” that was run by the city’s housing authority. Another officer explained that the neighborhood was “an elderly apartment complex owned and operated by the [city’s] Housing Authority.” In stark contrast, nothing on the record suggested that the property in question was “anything other than a public housing project.” Therefore, the defendant’s claim failed.

Defendant Claims Unconstitutional Vagueness

The defendant further contested that the statute’s definition of “public housing project” was unconstitutionally vague. To prevail on a void for vagueness claim, the defendant has to show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that “[he] had inadequate notice of what was prohibited or that [he was] the victim of arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.” A defendant need only prove one or the other, not both.

The Appellate Court disagreed with this challenge, stating that the statutory definition “by its plain terms, afforded the defendant notice that the statute applied to public housing projects where elderly or disabled people reside.” Particularly telling, it pointed out that the statute doesn’t require the prosecution to show that the defendant knew he was within fifteen-hundred feet at the time of the narcotics transaction. Therefore, the defendant failed to prove that a constitutional violation had taken place.

When faced with a charge for possession or distribution of controlled substances, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-211-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Left-Handed Defendant Presented No Scientific Evidence of Inability to Use Right Hand to Stab a Victim

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut declined to overturn a defendant’s convictions for assault and carrying a dangerous weapon, rejecting his appellate claim of physically impossible conclusions.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on July 9, 2006. An ongoing feud existed between the defendant and the victim, which came to a head at the Puerto Rican Day Parade in Bridgeport. The two first engaged in a verbal argument, then physical blows. When the defendant was on his knees, he reached for his back right pocket and stabbed the victim in the stomach before running off. At the hospital, the victim recovered and told police that the defendant was his attacker.

The defendant was charged with assault in the first degree and carrying a dangerous weapon, among other counts. At trial, a witness verified that they saw the defendant pull a butterfly knife from his right rear pocket, and a medical expert testified that the injuries sustained were consistent with those made by someone holding a knife with his right hand.

Defendant claims “Physically Impossible Conclusions”

However, the defendant testified that he was left-handed and thus could not have inflicted the injuries. He contended that one of the State witnesses, who received a plea bargain for his testimony, had a knife as well and could have caused the injury. This individual conceded that he had an eight-inch hunting knife that he unsheathed and waved around in an attempt to break up the fight. However, the blade was at the minimum 2.25 inches wide, while the victim’s injuries were only 1.75 inches in width.

At the close of evidence, the defendant moved for a new trial, which was denied. He was then convicted by a jury and appealed, arguing once again that the conviction was improper “because it was based on physically impossible conclusions.” The defendant claimed that as a left-handed person he could not have inflicted injuries on the victim’s right side, and it was impossible for him to reach a knife from his right-rear pocket using his left hand. In addition, he stated that a butterfly knife could not have caused the injuries.

A verdict rendered by a jury is typically given great deference, for it is their province to serve as the ultimate arbiter of credibility in a criminal case. However, there are a few situations where overturning the verdict is proper because it is based on conclusions that simply are not possible:

[A] verdict should be set aside [w]here testimony is thus in conflict with indisputable physical facts, the facts demonstrate that the testimony is either intentionally or unintentionally untrue, and leave no real question of conflict of evidence for the jury concerning which reasonable minds could reasonably differ.

Court’s Ruling

In this case, the Appellate Court found that, even assuming the jury took the defendant at his word that he was left-handed, “this does not lead to the logical conclusion that he could not have used his right hand to stab the victim.” Having predominant use of one hand does not instantly render the other one unusable, and the Court pointed out that the defendant presented no scientific evidence that he was unable to use his right hand.

In addition, the Court rejected the defendant’s argument regarding the possibility that the State witness inflicted the injury. It noted that the blade was too wide, whereas the defendant’s knife was “long enough” to cause the victim’s injuries. Because the defendant failed to provide any evidence that the jury made unreasonable findings and conclusions, this aspect of his appeal was unsuccessful. After dispensing with other matters brought forth on appeal, the defendant’s conviction was sustained.

When faced with a charge of assault or carrying a deadly weapon, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Deli Robber’s Conviction Upheld, as State Presented Sufficient Evidence to Establish Requisite Guilt

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut held that the State presented sufficient evidence to convict the defendant of charges arising from the robbery of a deli.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on February 26, 2005. The defendant wore a half mask as he entered a deli, pulled a handgun from his jacket pocket, and pointed it at the cashier while demanding money. When the cashier went to get his wallet from his coat, located behind a glass deli case, the defendant fired at him twice. Both shots missed, and the defendant escaped with a paltry $38 cash.

One month after the robbery, police presented a photographic array to the cashier, who chose the defendant but needed a recently-taken picture to be sure. Four days later, a newspaper article with a more recent picture of the defendant appeared, linking him with another robbery. The cashier promptly called police and stated the man in the newspaper photograph (the defendant) was the same man who robbed him at the deli, then made a positive identification (ID) of the defendant in a second photographic array. However, the gun used to perpetrate this crime was never recovered.

Sufficient Evidence For Robbery, Larceny, and Attempt to Commit Assault Found

The defendant was charged with a convicted of robbery in the first degree, larceny in the sixth degree, attempt to commit assault in the first degree, and carrying a pistol without a permit. On appeal, he argued that the State presented insufficient evidence identifying him as the robber. The defendant claimed that the cashier’s ID was unreliable because the perpetrator wore a mask. He cited the cashier’s initial inability to positively identify the defendant in the first photographic array and the passage of time between the incident and the second photographic array.

The Appellate Court was not convinced, citing a plethora of trial evidence upon which the jury could reasonably conclude the defendant as the robber. The cashier saw the defendant for an extended period of time in a brightly lit area at close proximity. According to testimony, the mask itself was particularly thin, allowing the cashier to see features through it, and was only a half mask, which does not cover one’s mouth, nose, forehead, eyes, and sections of hair.

Finally, in contrast to the defendant’s assertion, the cashier was “100 percent sure that the defendant was the [perpetrator]” and made an in-court identification during trial. It was up to the jury, as the arbiter of credibility, to decide what testimony to believe. Thus, this aspect of the defendant’s insufficiency of the evidence claim failed.

Sufficient Evidence for Carrying a Pistol without a Permit Found

In Connecticut, a person may not carry a pistol or revolver outside of their home or place of business without a permit to do so. A pistol or revolver that falls under this statute must have a barrel length of less than twelve inches. Without the gun itself presented into evidence, the defendant argued that the State did not sufficiently establish the length of the barrel on the firearm used in the robbery. As such, a conviction for this charge was improper.

Police recovered two spent .45 caliber shell casings and two spent bullets, the latter located behind the deli case. At trial, State experts testified that only a handful of companies create the weapons that can fire this ammunition, and “none… manufactured firearms with a barrel length of more than twelve inches capable of discharging the kind of spent casings and bullets found at the scene of the robbery.”

In addition, the cashier provided testimony that the firearm was pulled from a jacket pocket and held with just one hand, facts from which inferences are permitted that would suggest the barrel is only twelve inches or less in length. Therefore, the Appellate Court found that the jury could reasonably infer that all elements of the carrying without a permit charge were supported by sufficient evidence.

When faced with a charge of larceny, burglary, robbery, or attempt, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

State Supplied Sufficient Evidence for Jury to Infer Defendant Knew About Child’s Injury but Failed to Act

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed the Appellate Court’s finding, ruling that the State provided sufficient evidence to convict the defendant for risk of injury to a minor child.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on January 12, 2003. A mother, U, got ready for a birthday party but forgot to turn off her hair straightener before leaving at 11:30pm. She left her four-month-old child (the victim) in the defendant’s care. U returned at 1:15am and sat with her older son in the living room until 3:30am, during which time she did not hear the victim cry.

When U then began to play with the victim, she saw that the child’s left hand was “extremely swollen and had formed a large blister” and promptly called 911. The defendant and U both told responding officers that the victim’s hand was not injured before U left earlier that night, and the defendant acknowledged that while he had been with the victim all night, he did not know what caused the injury.

The defendant was charged with risk of injury to a child “for his willful delay in seeking medical attention for the victim” in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53-21(a)(1). At trial, the treating physician testified that the victim would have “screamed bloody murder” when burned; likewise, the child’s pediatrician testified the screaming would have lasted up to fifteen minutes. Because U did not hear the victim crying when she returned, the State argued that the child suffered the injury sometime between 11:30pm and 1:15am – at least two hours forty-five minutes before 911 was notified.

Appellate Court Ruling

A jury found the defendant guilty, but on appeal the conviction was reversed. In reviewing the defendant’s insufficiency of the evidence claim, the Appellate Court found that the State failed to provide direct evidence on the age of the injury. As such, the jury’s inference that the defendant was aware of the burn was “too speculative” to support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. On appeal, the State argued that the Appellate Court failed to consider circumstantial evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the verdict.

To secure a conviction under the “situation prong” of § 53-21(a)(1), the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant “willfully or unlawfully caused or permitted a [minor] child to be placed in a situation where… the health of the child was likely to be injured…” If a defendant was under a legal duty to act and his failure to act “cause[d] a dangerous situation to exist or continue,” this may be sufficient evidence for conviction under the statute. Thus, a defendant may act willfully where he became aware of the victim’s injury but thereafter purposefully delayed seeking medical attention.

Supreme Court of Connecticut Ruling

In this case, the Supreme Court agreed that there was substantial circumstantial evidence supporting the jury’s inferences that the injury occurred while U was not home, and that the defendant was aware of the injury’s severity. At the time the victim was injured, the defendant would have heard the screaming and seen that the child’s hand was “grotesquely charred and blistered.” Therefore, the Court held that the Appellate Court erred in concluding there was insufficient evidence supporting the verdict and reversed judgment.

When faced with a charge of risk of injury to a child or reckless endangerment, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Defendant Could Not “Claim Surprise” By Kidnapping Arrest and Conviction; Statute Not Unconstitutionally Vague

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

A previous article on this website described how the defendant failed to convince the Appellate Court that the State did not prove he intentionally prevented a kidnapping victim’s liberation. Another aspect of his appeal concerned whether or not the kidnapping statute, as applied to the facts of his case, met the standards for unconstitutional vagueness.

What is a “Void for Vagueness” Challenge?

The essence of a “void for vagueness” challenge is that a person must have fair warning regarding what conduct constitutes a violation of a statute and the guarantee that the statute will not be applied arbitrarily by law enforcement officials. Thus, for a defendant to prevail on this claim, he must show beyond a reasonable doubt either that he had inadequate notice of what conduct was prohibited or was subject to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.

The Supreme Court of Connecticut has previously conceded that there are rare cases where a conviction for kidnapping “would constitute an absurd and unconscionable result because of the limited duration of the confinement or the slight degree of restriction in movement.” At the same time, however, there is no bright-line rule outlining the minimum time or distance requirements constituting a restraint. This concept, in conjunction with the statutory prohibition on restraint as outlined in § 53a-94a, ultimately defeated the defendant’s claim.

The Court’s Ruling

The Appellate Court acknowledged that the restraint in this case was brief, but due to the defendant’s evidenced intent to prevent the victim from leaving, he could not claim that he did not know that his actions were criminal. As the Court emphasized, he “cannot claim surprise that he would be arrested, prosecuted and convicted of the crime of kidnapping.”

Furthermore, the defendant presented no evidence that at the time of the incident he was acting on a good faith reliance that his conduct was lawful, or “that a person of ordinary intelligence would have no reason to know that he was engaging in prohibited conduct.” Therefore, the Court rejected the defendant’s claim that § 53a-94a was unconstitutionally vague as it applied to these facts.

When faced with a charge of kidnapping or unlawful restraint, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Attorney Did Not Ineffectively Represent Her Non-Citizen Client, Despite Failing to Seek Plea Agreement That Would Avoid Deportation

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut denied a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, because the petitioner’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel were unpersuasive.

Case Background

In this case, the petitioner, a legal resident of the U.S., was charged with larceny in the first degree and possession of narcotics. Trial counsel discussed the possibility of participation in the Connecticut Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission (CADAC) program, which upon successful completion would result both in dropped charges and avoiding deportation. However, the petitioner did not want to undergo drug addiction treatment, so this option was not pursued.

Defendant Unable to Escape Deportation

Trial counsel was extremely knowledgeable about the immigration consequences of non-citizen defendant convictions. As such, she made it a part of her regular practice to thoroughly discuss such with her clients. The State presented the petitioner with a plea agreement that would result in no jail time.

While trial counsel told her client that the deal was good for that reason, because of the petitioner’s legal status and the nature of the charges, accepting the plea would subject the defendant to mandatory deportation. She did not attempt to provide an alternative agreement or counteroffer that would avoid deportation, nor did she discuss such possibilities with the petitioner. Thus, the petitioner accepted the State’s terms, and during the plea canvass, he responded that he understood the possible immigration consequences of the plea.

The petitioner was given a suspended sentence, but violated his probation with another drug offense. New defense counsel unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate terms that would avoid deportation, and the petitioner came to the attention of immigration authorities once he was incarcerated. He filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus claiming ineffective assistance of trial counsel because counsel did not properly investigate the petitioner’s legal status and risk of deportation; he was not properly advised regarding the risk of deportation; and counsel did not include his immigration status and deportation risk as part of the plea bargaining process.

The Court’s Verdict

When a court considers an ineffective assistance claim, it applies a two-part test from Strickland v. Washington: deficient performance and prejudice to the outcome of the case. A habeas petition can be denied on either ground. In this case, the Superior Court did not believe that trial counsel’s conduct was deficient. It credited the extent of her background and training in immigration matters, and found that she properly advised her client on the consequences of accepting the plea agreement.

The Court further noted the petitioner’s unwillingness to participate in the CADAC program, which “demonstrates that the petitioner was not concerned with the possible immigration consequences of his situation.” Further evidence of the petitioner’s understanding is found in the plea canvass, where the trial court specifically asked whether he knew the consequences of pleading guilty, to which he responded “yes.” Finally, that trial counsel did not present an alternative plea or counteroffer is not a duty imposed on attorneys in this State in the context of ineffective assistance of counsel. Therefore, the Superior Court denied the habeas petition.

Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

In Case Where Employee Abused Her Position to Embezzle Substantial Funds, Modification of Sentence Was Denied

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Sentence Review Division (Division) of the Superior Court of Connecticut affirmed the sentence of a petitioner who abused her position and embezzled funds from her employer.

Case Background

In this case, the petitioner had a criminal history involving embezzlement, larceny, forgery, and substance abuse. Despite knowledge of this past, the director of a non-profit organization hired the petitioner as its bookkeeper and office manager to give her a chance at an honest living. In this position, the petitioner had “unfettered access” to financial accounts belonging to the organization and director.

Subsequently, various employees at the organization complained they were not being timely paid, and the director discovered not just an IRS tax lien on the organization’s assets, but a $20,000 unauthorized withdrawal from her personal account. Police investigated these financial irregularities and questioned the petitioner, and found that she had stolen at least $134,000.

Trial and Outcome

At trial for larceny in the first degree, the defendant entered into a guilty plea. She asked that her sentence be fully suspended and she be allowed to participate in an alternative to incarceration plan, but the court instead imposed twelve years of incarceration. The petitioner sought downward modification, arguing that her sentence was inappropriate and disproportionate compared to those who committed similar crimes. She asserted that she “cooperated with the police investigation, [was] contrite, willing to make restitution and was employed at the time of sentencing.”

The State opposed modification due to the defendant’s history of committing similar crimes. It noted how the defendant embezzled funds from a former employer, for which she received a five-year suspended sentence, and then violated her probation. The organization’s director also objected, stating that the sentence was proper because the petitioner “abused her position of trust, is unrepentant, and has caused a great deal of suffering.”

The Division declined to reduce the sentence, finding that under applicable statutes, it was neither inappropriate nor disproportionate. Indeed, the twelve-year sentence was within the parameters of the guilty plea, and the Division agreed with the trial court that “[i]t would stand justice on its head if I were to give you another suspended sentence after you already had one.”

When faced with a charge of larceny, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Double Jeopardy Not Implicated in Case Where Man Purposefully Burned Down His Home to Collect Nearly $400,000 in Insurance Payments

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut determined that conviction for first-degree larceny and insurance fraud did not violate double jeopardy protections, or that the latter charge was a lesser-included offense of the former.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on December 15, 2002. Police responded to a fire at the defendant’s home, where investigators concluded that the fire appeared “accidental in nature,” though its origin was unknown. The defendant collected over $386,000 under his insurance policies for structural damage, debris removal, loss of personal property, and living expenses.

One year later, the home in which the defendant’s daughter lived was burglarized. Her laptop, which the defendant previously stole from his employer, was among the items taken. Police later recovered the laptop and called the daughter; when she came to collect it, police explained that the defendant claimed it was stolen.

In turn, the daughter revealed that the defendant purposefully burned down their house on the night of December 15, 2005. In a sworn statement, she explained that the defendant was having financial issues and told her of his plan, asking that she help him transport items to a rental storage unit. After the fire, the defendant “was laughing at the fire investigators calling them ‘stupid… because he thought he got away with [setting the fire].”

Police reopened the investigation and obtained a search warrant for the defendant’s newly built house, where they found many items listed in the insurance claims as lost to the fire. The defendant was charged and convicted for arson in the first degree, larceny in the first degree, insurance fraud, and conspiracy. The defendant appealed, arguing, in part, that his conviction for both first-degree larceny and insurance fraud violated double jeopardy.

Two Charges for the Same Offence Constitute Double Jeopardy

Under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a criminal defendant cannot receive two punishments for two crimes, which he asserts to be a single crime, arising from the same act and prosecuted in a single trial. To be entitled to this double jeopardy protection, a criminal defendant must show that the charges arise from the same transaction or occurrence and that the charged crimes are, in fact, the same offense. If, however, the court determines that each charge requires proof of an element that the other does not, double jeopardy is typically not implicated.

In this case, the Appellate Court determined that larceny in the first degree and insurance fraud each possess unique essential elements. The former does not “require any proof as to the method or manner of obtaining the currency,” while the latter did not have a requisite dollar amount for the value of the property taken. The defendant countered that because insurance fraud is a lesser-included offense to larceny in the first degree, his constitutional rights were violated.

Two Charges for a Lesser-Included and Greater Offense Constitute Double Jeopardy

Even where two charges have unique elements, double jeopardy may nonetheless be implicated if the two charges are a lesser-included and greater offense. A lesser-included offense is one that must first be completed to make it possible to commit the greater offense. As an example, assault is a lesser-included offense to robbery, because every robbery includes the commission of an assault. If, however, the lesser offense need not be committed, it is not an included offense.

In this case, the Appellate Court determined that insurance fraud was not a lesser included offense because the commission of larceny did not require the presentation of false, incomplete, or misleading statements in support of a fraudulent claim. Therefore, with this respect to the appeal, the Court affirmed judgment.

To see how the defendant fared on his claim that the court improperly admitted evidence, please read “Appellate Court Considers Whether Evidence of Previously-Set Fire Was Improperly Admitted in Arson Trial.”

When faced with a charge of arson, fraud, or larceny, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.