By Purposefully Driving At Officer on Foot, Defendant Took “Substantial Step” to Commit Assault

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a defendant’s conviction for attempt to commit assault in the first degree, following an incident where he attempted to hit an officer with his vehicle.

The Case

This case arose from an incident that occurred on March 16, 2006. A police cruiser pursued the operator of a motor vehicle into a fenced-in construction site after he sped off during a valid traffic stop. Two foot patrol officers, C and H, assisted and made their way to a closed gate on the other side of the property. With weapons drawn, the officers repeatedly yelled at the operator, later identified as the defendant, to stop.

The defendant flashed his high beams at the officers and drove his vehicle into the fence, which in turn struck C, who “flew in the air and landed in the street.” The fence did not break, and the defendant once again drove at it. H realized that if the defendant continued on this path, C, who was lying motionless in the street, would be run over. H fired four shots at the defendant’s car, which turned and drove directly toward him. H managed to get out of the way of the car, which instead made contact with H’s service weapon.

The Charges

The defendant was subsequently arrested, charged with, and convicted of assault of a peace officer, attempt to commit assault in the first degree, and attempt to commit assault of a peace officer, among other charges. On appeal, the defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence “to prove that he intended to cause serious physical injury to [H] or that he took a substantial step to commit the crime.”

To be convicted of attempt to commit assault in the first degree, the State must prove “intentional conduct constituting a substantial step toward intentionally causing the victim serious physical injury by means of a dangerous instrument.” Unless a defendant confesses, circumstantial evidence is frequently used to infer intent to commit a crime. As the Appellate Court previously explained:

Intent may be gleaned from circumstantial evidence such as the type of weapon used, the manner in which it was used, the type of wound inflicted and the events leading up to and immediately following the incident. … [I]t is a permissible… inference that a defendant intended the natural consequences of his conduct.

The Defendant’s Argument

The defendant claimed that he simply intended to elude police, but the Court was not persuaded. “The existence of an intent to escape does not necessarily negate the existence of an intent to cause serious physical injury when making the escape.” Instead, the Court held that a jury could reasonably find that intent to injury H was established: the defendant knew of the officers’ location, because they were repeatedly yelling at him; he flashed his high beams at them; he struck C with his car; and he purposefully turned his vehicle toward H on his second attempt to escape.

In addition, the defendant argued that the State failed to prove that he took a substantial step to commit a first-degree assault. “To constitute a substantial step, the conduct must be strongly corroborative of the actor’s criminal purpose.” The defendant stated that he merely brushed H’s service weapon, which was simply not enough. The Appellate Court disagreed, writing that simply because H dodged the oncoming vehicle did not mean that there was insufficient showing the defendant intended to inflict serious physical injury. “An attempt is complete and punishable, when an act is done with intent to commit the crime… whether the purpose fails by reason of interruption… or for other extrinsic cause.”

Thus, in this case, the jury could reasonably conclude that the defendant’s actions “constituted a substantial step that strongly corroborated the defendant’s criminal purpose.” Therefore, this aspect of the defendant’s appeal failed.

When faced with a charge of assault 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.