Despite Inconsistent Witness Statements, Other Evidence Established That Defendant Committed Assault

In an opinion issued earlier this year, the Appellate Court of Connecticut upheld a defendant’s conviction for first-degree assault, citing sufficient evidence identifying him as the perpetrator.

The case arose from an incident that occurred on February 7, 2008. The victim was employed at a market in the neighborhood in which the defendant, a frequent customer known as Espana, lived. The defendant entered the store and asked the victim for money, which was promptly given away to other customers. When asked for more the victim refused, and the defendant stated “you’re going to see what’s going to happen” before leaving the store. That night, as the victim and a coworker, W, were emptying garbage outside the store, the defendant stabbed the victim twice and ran off. Despite profuse bleeding, the victim went inside and told another employee, F, that Espana stabbed him.

Police responded, but the victim told them that two black men assaulted him. W initially conveyed he saw nothing because “he was nervous and so did not tell the police everything he had witnessed that night.” In addition, F had problems conveying to officers what the victim stated, since none of the officers were fluent in Spanish. The victim underwent emergency surgery and survived his injuries, though he was hospitalized for five weeks. Eight days later, the defendant returned to the store while intoxicated, threatened W, and told both F and W that he stabbed the victim. Police were called to the scene, where they arrested the defendant and charged him with several crimes, including assault in the first degree.

On March 19, 2008, the victim was released from the hospital and went to the police station to give a statement. He identified the defendant as his attacker, and selected the defendant’s photograph from an array of eight photographs. The victim explained that he was not initially forthcoming because he was not a U.S. citizen and used a false identity, but he became concerned when “[the defendant] went back looking for me saying that he was going to finish what he started.” At trial, the victim, F, and W all made in-court identifications of the defendant as the perpetrator, as well as testified to that fact.

The defendant was convicted and received a lengthy sentence but appealed, arguing that the State presented insufficient evidence that he was the person who assaulted the victim. He pointed to the series of inconsistent statements: “[I]n speaking to police on the night of the attack, [the victim] did not identify the defendant as the attacker, [W] denied witnessing the attack and [F] denied knowing who had stabbed [the victim].”

Under Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-59(a)(1), an individual commits first-degree assault “when… [w]ith the intent to cause serious physical injury to another person, he causes such injury to such person or to a third person by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument.” In this case, the Appellate Court determined that the jury could reasonably conclude that the defendant was the perpetrator, despite the apparent inconsistent statements. This went to witness credibility rather than sufficiency of the evidence, and “[i]t is the [jury’s] exclusive province to weigh the conflicting evidence and to determine the credibility of witnesses.”

In addition, the Court pointed to other evidence on the record that, taken together, met the State’s burden: the in-court identifications, the victim’s written statement to police, the victim’s identification of the defendant as the perpetrator, the selection of the defendant’s picture in the photographic array, and the defendant’s oral confession a week after the incident. Thus, the Court held that it was reasonable for the jury to conclude that “the cumulative force of this evidence established the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” After addressing an additional matter on appeal, the judgment was affirmed.

When faced with a charge of assault or battery, 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.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.