Posts tagged with "circumstantial evidence"

Stolen Dealer Plates Found Relevant and Probative in Vehicle Retagging Scheme

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a defendant’s conspiracy and larceny convictions, finding that evidence of stolen dealer plates was properly admitted.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on February 4, 2008. Months before, state police began investigating an operation where vehicles stolen in New York were “retagged” and sold in Connecticut. A detective went undercover posing as a buyer and agreed to purchase two stolen vehicles for $20,500. The defendant was present when dealer plates belonging to his previous employer were attached to one car, and he drove the second vehicle to the exchange point in Fairfield. Police moved in and arrested the defendant and several other individuals involved. Troopers observed materials used in the retagging process on the defendant’s person, as well as inside nearby vehicles driven by coconspirators.

The defendant was charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit larceny in the first degree and two counts of larceny in the first degree. Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion seeking to exclude evidence of the stolen dealer plates. He argued that it was irrelevant, and the probative value, if any, was far outweighed by the prejudicial effect it would have on the jury. The State countered that such evidence went to intent and to show the defendant was a knowing participant in the conspiracy rather than an unwitting passenger.

The court allowed the evidence and attendant testimony, noting it was relevant to a material fact in the case. Thus, for example, a detective “opined that, based on her training and experience, a former employee would have better access than a stranger to the dealer plates because of his familiarity with the dealership and the knowledge of its layout.” The defendant was subsequently found guilty on all counts and appealed his convictions, arguing that evidence of the dealer plates was improperly admitted because it was not relevant, and alternatively that it was unfairly prejudicial.

To convict a defendant of conspiracy under Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-48, the State must show that an agreement to commit a crime was made between two or more people, one of whom acts overtly to further the conspiracy. This is a specific intent crime, and the State must prove that the conspirators “intended to agree and that they intended to commit the elements of the underlying offense.” Because it is difficult to ascertain a person’s subjective intent, it is often inferred from circumstantial evidence and rational inferences. Evidence is relevant so long as it has a “logical tendency to aid [the judge or jury] in the determination of an issue” to even the slightest degree, so long as it is not unduly prejudicial or merely cumulative.

In this case, the Appellate Court found that the dealer plates “had a logical tendency to show a connection between the defendant and the larcenous scheme,” as well as the requisite intent to commit conspiracy to commit larceny. Indeed, this evidence countered the defendant’s assertion that he was an innocent bystander. While the evidence itself might have been weak, this was an issue of its weight, not its relevance. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing it.

There are many grounds for excluding relevant evidence, such as the risk of unfair prejudice. Naturally, all evidence against the defendant is damaging and thus prejudicial, so the appropriate inquiry is whether the proffered evidence will “improperly arouse the emotions of the jury.” In this case, the defendant argued that the jury may have concluded that the dealer plates, which belonged to his previous employer, were stolen, a fact which they would then impermissibly use to infer he committed the presently charged offenses. The Appellate Court stated that while such impermissible inferences may have been drawn, the trial court has broad discretion in weighing the probative value versus prejudicial impact, a decision reversible only upon showing an abuse of discretion or manifest injustice. Based on the facts of this case, the Court could not conclude that the trial court abused its discretion; therefore, the defendant’s claims on appeal failed.

When faced with a charge of larceny, burglary, conspiracy, 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.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Appellate Court Upholds License Suspension, Citing Circumstantial Evidence That Plaintiff Operated the Motor Vehicle in Question

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a plaintiff’s argument that the commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) had insufficient evidence to suspend his driver’s license.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at 2:31am on May 19, 2007. Police dispatch received emergency phone calls from two citizen informants (informants) regarding an erratic driver. They described the driver as male, provided a description of his vehicle, and indicated they were both following him in their own cars. The informants conveyed to dispatch that the driver was constantly switching lanes, traveling slowly then accelerating rapidly, and swerving, and that he pulled into a Home Depot parking lot.

When officers arrived at this location, they saw the plaintiff sitting alone in his vehicle, which matched the description given by the informants. His car was turned off and the ignition key was in his pocket. Additionally, no one else was in the vicinity, including the informants. When officers engaged in a conversation with the plaintiff, they observed slurred speech, glassy eyes, and the smell of alcohol. In addition, after the plaintiff exited the vehicle he was unsteady on his feet. The plaintiff failed three field sobriety tests and was arrested for and charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI). Approximately a half hour later at the police station, the plaintiff spoke to an attorney and then refused to submit to a breathalyzer test.

Because the plaintiff refused to submit to a chemical alcohol test, the DMV suspended his license for one year. The plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, during which the hearing officer found: 1) that police had probable cause to arrest the plaintiff for OMVUI; 2) the plaintiff was arrested; 3) the plaintiff refused to submit to the breathalyzer test; and 4) the plaintiff operated a motor vehicle. The one-year suspension was upheld, and the plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court, who dismissed the appeal. The plaintiff sought recourse with the Appellate Court, where he argued that the record lacked sufficient evidence to support a finding that he operated the motor vehicle at issue.

To be found guilty of OMVUI, the State must prove that the defendant operated a motor vehicle on a public highway while under the influence or with an elevated blood alcohol content. Direct evidence is not required to establish “operation;” oftentimes, circumstantial evidence “may be more certain, satisfying and persuasive.” Pursuant to the substantial evidence rule, the findings of an administrative agency are upheld “if the record affords a substantial basis of fact from which the fact in issue can be reasonably inferred.” This is a highly deferential standard, and the plaintiff must prove that the DMV commissioner abused his discretion in suspending the plaintiff’s license.

The Appellate Court was not persuaded that there was insufficient evidence proving the plaintiff was the driver of the vehicle. It cited police observations that the defendant was alone in the vehicle and at the location precisely identified by the informants, whose absence was immaterial. In addition, because the commissioner determined “operation” on the basis of the informant’s observations and subsequent identification of the plaintiff as the operator of the erratically driven vehicle, it was not relevant that the plaintiff’s car was not running when officers arrived. Therefore, the Appellate Court concluded there was substantial evidence of the commissioner’s finding that the plaintiff operated the motor vehicle in question and affirmed judgment.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence), 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.

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

In a recent 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.

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 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 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.

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Court Upholds Gun Crime Convictions Where Circumstantial Evidence Established That Missing Weapon Was a Pistol

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut found that despite the absence in the record of a weapon used in a shooting, the State presented sufficient circumstantial evidence that it was a pistol. As such, the defendant’s convictions for criminal possession and use of a pistol were supported by the evidence.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on May 1, 2004. The victim drank alcohol profusely that evening, first at a party and then at a woman’s house. When he became belligerent and obnoxious, the woman called the defendant, asking him to drive the victim home. The woman became upset with the victim’s behavior and asked him to leave, which he did after yelling at and threatening her. The defendant called and the woman relayed the most recent events. As the victim was walking home, he noticed a van following him, so he hid in some bushes. As he proceeded once more, he saw the van stopped in front of him. The driver asked if the victim knew the woman, and after the victim said yes he was shot in the stomach. Police soon arrived and transported the victim to the hospital.

During the investigation, the victim told police that the man who shot him drove a gray customized van and used what he thought at first was a cap gun. After his name came up when they spoke with the woman, officers drove by the defendant’s house and observed the vehicle described by the victim. A photographic array was presented to the victim, who chose the defendant’s picture. Officers obtained and executed a search warrant of the defendant’s house, where they seized numerous weapons, magazines and cartridges, and a small amount of marijuana.

The defendant was charged with and convicted of assault in the first degree, three counts of criminal possession of a pistol, criminal use of a firearm, and possession of marijuana. On appeal, he argued that the State presented insufficient evidence that the firearm used was a pistol (having a barrel length of less than twelve inches) and thus failed to prove an essential element of the crimes charged. He noted that the weapon used in the shooting was never recovered, and the victim couldn’t describe the weapon in great detail.

The Appellate Court disagreed, noting there was more than enough evidence upon which a jury could reasonably infer the weapon was a pistol. The victim testified that he believed the defendant pointed a cap gun at him; thus, “it is unlikely that anyone would describe as a ‘cap gun’ a firearm with a barrel length longer than one foot.” In addition, the shell casings at the scene matched ammunition found at the defendant’s house and could be fired from a weapon the defendant once owned. Therefore, the Court concluded that a jury could reasonably conclude that “the missing… pistol was the ‘cap gun’ the victim described as having been used by the defendant in this shooting.” Therefore, the defendant’s insufficiency of the evidence claim failed.

When faced with a charge of criminal use or possession of a firearm or other gun-related offenses, 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.

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

In a recent 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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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Intent Element of Conspiracy Established Where Weapon Used in Robbery Was Obtained in Victim’s Home

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut upheld a defendant’s conviction for conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree, since use of a knife obtained the victim’s home furthered the scheme.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on January 22, 2005. The defendant and another man were armed and wearing masks when they broke into the victim’s apartment. They bound the victim and began to beat him, demanding money and rummaging through his personal belongings. One of the men found a knife in the kitchen and heated it on the stove, then they used it to repeatedly burn the victim in hopes that he would reveal where more money was located. In total, the duo took over $12,000 worth of property and cash from the victim’s residence.

The victim was taken from his home and brought to other locations where additional money may have been located. Despite numerous threats to kill the victim, he was released in a high school parking lot in a neighboring town. The perpetrators left the victim with his cell phone and even called 911 on his behalf before departing. The victim conveyed to the operator that he knew the identity of one of the perpetrators, the defendant, from a previous business transaction. After the victim received treatment for his injuries at a local hospital, he identified the defendant in a police photographic array.

The defendant was subsequently charged with numerous counts and convicted of conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes §§ 53a-48(a) and 53a-134(a). He was sentenced to eighteen years of incarceration but appealed, arguing in part that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction.

Under Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-133, a person commits a robbery when, during the commission of a larceny, he uses or threatens to use physical force against the victim for one of two purposes: to counter resistance to the taking of property, or to coerce the delivery of property. To qualify for robbery in the first degree, one of four scenarios must be met, including the use or threatened use of a dangerous instrument.

On the other hand, a conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime, and one of them commits an overt act in the furtherance of the conspiracy. For the State to secure a conviction, it must show beyond a reasonable doubt “(1) that a defendant intended that conduct constituting a crime be performed [and] (2) that he agreed with one or more persons to engage in or cause the performance of such conduct.” Rarely is a conspiracy proven through direct evidence; thus, the use of circumstantial evidence has become commonplace.

In this case, the Appellate Court determined that there was sufficient evidence to convict the defendant of this crime. The victim testified as to the use of the knife, a “dangerous instrument,” during and in furtherance of the robbery itself. Intent is not diminished simply because the knife was found at the apartment: “As long as the defendant had time to reflect and to deliberate on his actions, he can be held culpable for the requisite specific intent to commit a crime.” Therefore, the conviction was upheld.

When faced with a charge of larceny, burglary, conspiracy, 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.

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