In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s insufficiency of the evidence claim, citing ample evidence that placing a child into extremely hot bathwater was reckless conduct, constituting reckless assault charges.

The Case

This case arose from an incident that occurred on January 10, 2002 in New Haven, Connecticut. The defendant lived with his girlfriend and her three children, including two-and-a-half year old W. The defendant regularly cared for W, including bathing, without incident. On the morning in question, neighbors heard loud banging noises coming from the defendant’s apartment, as well as W crying and the defendant repeatedly yelling at W to be quiet.

Paramedics responded to a 911 call placed by the defendant. W had sustained second and third degree burns to his body up to his hands and forearms, and suffered serious medical side effects. When paramedics were treating the child, a sergeant with the police department walked into the bathroom and “noticed that there was water in the bathtub and steam rising from the water.” Two detectives returned to the apartment to re-create what occurred. They followed the defendant’s explanation of how he prepared the bath, and the thermometer produced a water temperature reading of 160 °F, which “cooled” to 120 °F after thirty minutes.

The Trial

At trial, the defendant testified that he was unaware of the bathtub’s excessive temperature. He stated that he placed W into the bathtub and left the room for at least ten minutes, at which point he returned, saw W’s skin floating in the water as well as the burns, and promptly called 911. He could not recall W screaming, yelling, or crying in the bathtub. However, W’s attending physician explained that “on the basis of the pattern of injuries and severity of the burns, W’s injuries must have been inflicted intentionally and not accidentally.” A professor of pediatrics testified that W’s injuries were a “classic, textbook case of abusive immersion burns” that were the result of an intentional “hot, quick dip.”

The defendant was convicted of first degree assault (specifically reckless assault) and risk of injury to a child, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) §§ 53a-59(a)(3) and 53-21(a)(1) respectively. On appeal, the defendant argued in part that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of the assault charge.

What Constitutes Reckless Conduct?

Under CGS § 53a-59(a)(3), a person commits reckless assault when with extreme indifference to human life, he or she “recklessly engages in conduct which creates a risk of death to another person,” but instead causes serious physical injury to that person. “Reckless” conduct is that which shows the actor knew of but consciously disregarded a substantial or unjustifiable risk, which is of such a nature that disregarding it “constitutes a gross deviation” from a reasonable person’s conduct under the circumstances.

In this case, the question is whether or not dipping a child into scalding bathwater is reckless conduct creating a risk of death. The Appellate Court held that the jury could reasonably have found that the defendant immersed W into extremely hot water, and this conduct was a gross deviation from what is considered reasonable. Because the defendant’s conduct “constituted a conscious disregard for the risk of serious physical injury to W,” there was sufficient evidence to convict him of reckless assault.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

When faced with a charge of assault or risk of injury to a child, 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.