Because Assault Victim Did Not Show Intent To Inflict Harm, Defendant’s Self-Defense Claim Failed

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut held that a trial court properly concluded that a defendant did not act in self-defense, following an assault stemming from a residential burglary.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on July 26, 2007. The defendant was burglarizing a residence when the tenant caught him in the act. The defendant fled and attempted to hide in a garage on the property, but the landlord’s son, the victim, located him and began to chase him with a baseball bat. While running away from the victim, the defendant turned around and hit him in the head with a tire iron in his possession, causing severe injury. The defendant was quickly located by police and placed under arrest. He provided a written statement about the burglary and assault, in which he stated that the victim hit him with a baseball bat in the garage before the flight from the property. The defendant claimed he grabbed a pipe in the garage and used that to hit the victim when he got too close during the flight.

At trial, a neighbor, L, testified that he saw the victim running after the defendant past his house. Approximately two-and-a-half houses down the road, the defendant “turned around and popped [the victim] in the back of the head with the crowbar.” L insisted that he did not see the victim hit the defendant or swing the bat. A second neighbor, T, stated that he was five to seven houses away when he saw the victim take a swing at the defendant, who turned and struck the victim. In stark contrast to his written statement, the defendant claimed that the victim attempted to strike him with the bat during the chase, so he turned and threw the pipe at the victim. He argued that he did not read the contents of the written statement, which he nonetheless signed.

The defendant was subsequently convicted of burglary in the first degree, assault in the first degree, and violation of probation. On appeal, he argued that the State failed to disprove his theory of self-defense: “when the defendant swung the tire iron at the victim, he reasonably believed that the victim was about to inflict great bodily harm against him.”

Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-19(a) is our State’s self-defense statute. Using this justification defense, the defendant argues that his otherwise illegal conduct was legally justified and not criminal in nature. “[I]n order to invoke the defense of self-defense, one must reasonably believe that an individual is going to use deadly force or inflict great bodily harm against him.” When a defendant asserts this defense, he need not do more to assert his claim: it becomes the burden of the State to disprove the defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

In this case, the Appellate Court held that the trial court properly determined that the defendant lacked the subjective belief that deadly physical force was necessary. The victim never acted in such a way as to indicate he intended to cause the defendant great bodily harm. It was reasonable for the court to give greater weight to L’s testimony, as he was in closer proximity to the victim and defendant than T was. The Court noted that at the time of the incident, the defendant never told police that the victim swung the bat during the chase, that he acted in self-defense, or that he feared for his safety. Indeed, because the defendant provided conflicting accounts of the events, it was within the court’s province as the arbiter of credibility to conclude that the defendant was not a credible witness. Therefore, there was sufficient evidence for the court to decide that the defendant did not act in self-defense, and the assault conviction was proper.

When faced with a charge of assault or burglary, 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.