Posts tagged with "conspiracy"

Where Defense Counsel Invited Error, He Could Not Then Demand a Mistrial

In the previous article “Jury Could Reasonably Infer That Defendant Withheld Fact She Participated in Robbery In Order To Receive State Benefits,” the defendant did not succeed in her claim that the State presented insufficient evidence to convict her of fraudulent receipt of worker’s compensation benefits. In her appeal, she additionally argued that because an officer improperly referenced the defendant’s request for counsel during his testimony, the court should have declared a mistrial but failed to do so.

During cross-examination, defense counsel pressed the officer regarding whether he had taken a statement from the defendant following the robbery, asking variants of the same question. The officer consistently stated he did not take a statement, and upon repeat questioning, clarified that he had not done so because the defendant asked for an attorney. Defense counsel did not object to this testimony, and it was the judge who pointed out, outside the presence of the jury, the potential constitutional issue of referencing the counsel request. At this point, defense counsel made an oral motion for a mistrial, arguing that the statement was improper and nonresponsive. The court denied the motion, finding that the officer’s testimony was “sort of responsive,” and instead instructed the jury to disregard the officer’s testimony about the defendant’s request for counsel.

Declaring a mistrial is an extreme measure granted in very few situations, such as prejudice undermining the right to a fair trial. If the court can implement a curative action to counter the prejudice, oftentimes through a jury instruction, this is the preferred course of action. It is within the trial court’s discretion to grant or deny a motion for a mistrial, and the defendant “bears the burden of establishing that there was irreparable prejudice to the defendant’s case such that it denied him a fair trial.” However, if the error claimed by the defendant resulted from questioning on his part during cross-examination, “[s]o long as the answer is clearly responsive to the question asked, the questioner may not later secure a reversal on the basis of any invited error.”

In this case, the Appellate Court determined that defense counsel invited the error. By repeatedly asking the officer whether he had taken a statement from the defendant, despite consistent negative answers, defense counsel “opened the door for [the officer] to explain why there was no statement.” In addition, the defendant failed to show how she was denied a fair trial. The judge gave a curative instruction to disregard the statement, and “[a]bsent evidence to the contrary, we presume that the jury followed the court’s limiting instruction.” The Court further noted the strength of circumstantial evidence against the defendant. Therefore, this argument on appeal was rejected as well, and the judgment affirmed.

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.

Jury Could Reasonably Infer That Defendant Withheld Fact She Participated in Robbery In Order To Receive State Benefits

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed the judgment of an individual who fraudulently received worker’s compensation benefits following a staged robbery.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on March 3, 2002. The defendant was the general cashier and income auditor of a Hilton Hotel, and appeared to be the victim of a robbery at that location. The perpetrator escaped with over $100,000 in cash and checks. Subsequently, the defendant sought medical treatment for anxiety, insomnia, muscle spasms, and other conditions that seemed to stem from this event. She filed for worker’s compensation, receiving over $5,500 in medical and indemnity benefits. As police investigated the robbery, they began to realize that the defendant was actually a willing participant and, in fact, suffered no injuries. Therefore, she was arrested and charged with fraudulent receipt of worker’s compensation benefits in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 31-290c(a).

At trial, the State did not offer the defendant’s claim form into the record, which prompted defense counsel to file a motion for a judgment of acquittal (MJOA) at the close of evidence. It argued that unless the jury actually saw the form or statements the defendant made to the worker’s compensation board, it would need to speculate as to whether or not the defendant misrepresented or omitted important material information. The State argued that there was sufficient evidence on the record, upon which a reasonable inference could be made that the defendant did not truthfully describe the circumstances of the robbery and her part in it.

The court denied the motion, as well as the renewed MJOA after the defendant was convicted. It found that the jury did not need to speculate in order to reach a verdict in this case. Following sentencing, the defendant appealed, arguing once more that because the State did not submit the written claim into evidence, the jury was left in the position to guess whether the defendant omitted material facts in her claim.

The use of inferences, based on proven facts and circumstances, to establish knowledge has become commonplace in our justice system. In determining whether an inference made by the jury was proper, a reviewing court will consider “whether the circumstances of the particular case form a basis for a sound inference as to the knowledge of the accused in the transaction under inquiry.” In this case, with respect to the second MJOA, the Court engaged in the following discussion with defense counsel regarding why the jury did not have to speculate to reach their decision:

The Court: I understand that juries are not supposed to speculate, but is it speculation that she withheld the fact that this was a staged robbery?

[Defense Counsel]: Yes. We don’t know the circumstances she claimed the injury occurred in or what the injury was.

The Court: If you write to the [workers’] compensation commission and say I staged a robbery at the hotel, I took $ 114,000 worth of money and checks and credit card slips or whatever they use there, and I got hurt during a robbery that I conspired to create and participate in, and falsify, they’re still going to give you [compensation]?

[Defense Counsel]: I wouldn’t think so.

The Court: I wouldn’t think so, either. Here, I do not think that the jury had to engage in speculation. […]

The Appellate Court agreed that the inference drawn by the jury was reasonable based on the evidence presented. “It was the jury’s right to infer that no workers’ compensation benefits would have been paid to the defendant if she had disclosed that she had participated in the staged robbery.” Therefore, this aspect of the defendant’s claims on appeal failed, and ultimately the judgment was affirmed.

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.

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.

Coconspirator’s Opinion Was Properly Admitted, As It Did Not Involve “Ultimate Issue”

In the article “Stolen Dealer Plates Found Relevant and Probative in Vehicle Retagging Scheme,” the defendant did not prevail on his arguments that the trial court improperly allowed dealer plates belonging to his previous employer into evidence. In his appeal, he also argued that the trial court abused its discretion when it allowed another member of the conspiracy to give “impermissible opinion testimony regarding an ultimate issue of fact.”

One of the coconspirators testified for the State, and the prosecutor asked this individual a series of questions about whether the defendant was “part of the group” of those arrested in Fairfield on February 4, 2008. Defense counsel objected, arguing that this involved an ultimate issue of fact, but the State countered, “I believe I asked him if he was part of this group. Whether he’s part of the conspiracy, I didn’t ask him that.” The court overruled the objection and allowed the questioning.

In essence, the coconspirator testified that if the defendant was not “part of the group,” he would not have been present while the vehicle plates were being changed or at the exchange point. The coconspirator further answered, “I imagine that if he wasn’t part of the group, he wouldn’t drive the car.” On appeal, the defendant characterized this testimony as impermissible lay opinion regarding an ultimate issue of fact, and the trial court erred by permitting it.

The Connecticut Code of Evidence § 7-1 is relevant to the Appellate Court’s conclusion in this matter. Pursuant to this section:

If a witness is not testifying as an expert, the witness may not testify in the form of an opinion, unless the opinion is rationally based on the perception of the witness and is helpful to a clear understanding of the testimony of the witness or the determination of a fact in issue.

Opinions are improper if they “embrace an ultimate issue to be decided by the trier of fact.” This includes legal opinions about whether or not the defendant is guilty.

In this case, the Appellate Court concluded that the coconspirator’s testimony was proper lay opinion. It was “rationally based on his perception of the circumstances as he perceived them on the night of February 4, 2008, and when he observed prior conduct in New York.” Such testimony was helpful to the jury in determining whether the defendant had the requisite intent for committing conspiracy. In addition:

Although it is true that evidence of association is relevant to proving participation in a conspiracy… association, by itself, does not necessarily constitute intentional participation in a conspiracy. One can be “with” a group without being a conspirator, even if others in the group are, in fact, conspirators.

The nature of the coconspirator’s testimony was not the same as giving an opinion about whether the defendant “intended to agree to engage in a larceny or whether he intended to actually commit the larceny,” which are ultimate issues in this case. Because the testimony did not encompass opinions of guilt, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing it.

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.

Though Defendant’s Statement Was Not A “Model of English Grammar and Spelling,” It Was Voluntarily Made

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress a written statement, claiming his Miranda waiver was not properly made.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 4, 2004 in Danbury, Connecticut. Following a roadway altercation, two victims were subject to a brutal beating inflicted by the defendant and his friends. One victim was repeatedly punched and kicked in the head, resulting in very significant head-related injuries, the need for an abdominal feeding tube for two months, and extensive physical, speech, and occupational therapy. The defendant was later apprehended in Rhode Island by federal authorities. En route to Connecticut, Danbury officers transporting the defendant stopped at a McDonald’s restaurant to get him food. There, the defendant wished to give a statement, which was taken after he was given his Miranda warnings and signed a waiver of rights form.

Prior to trial, the defendant moved to suppress his statement. He claimed that he drank roughly one gallon of Hennessy cognac with a codefendant twenty hours before being arrested. The defendant argued he was still intoxicated at the time he gave the written statement, so his waiver was not voluntary. To bolster his position, he cited the statement, “which was replete with typographical and grammatical errors, evincing that he merely wrote what the police instructed him to write.”

The State countered that due to the passage of time, the defendant was not under the influence at the time he gave his statement. One Danbury officer testified that the defendant did not appear as such at the McDonald’s, and that he had eaten two meals while in custody prior to giving the statement. The trial court denied the motion, agreeing with the State’s argument. It noted the defendant’s express interest in giving the statement and that he voluntarily signed the form, among other findings. In addition, the court stated that the statement was “clear and not reflective of someone who was under the influence of alcohol.” Though it was not a “model of English grammar and spelling,” the statement was comprehensible.

The defendant was subsequently convicted of assault in the first degree, conspiracy to commit assault in the first degree, and two counts assault in the first degree as an accessory. Post-sentencing he appealed, arguing in part that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the motion to suppress. The defendant reiterated his previous arguments that the statement was not voluntarily made.

A waiver of Miranda rights must be made voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently. It is the burden of the State to prove a valid waiver by the preponderance of the evidence, and a reviewing court will look at the totality of the circumstances to determine whether the waiver is valid. In this case, the Appellate Court determined that there was substantial evidence supporting the trial court’s findings that the statement was voluntary and the waiver valid. As such, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress the written statement.

When faced with a charge of assault or conspiracy, 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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Defendant Unsuccessfully Contests Jury Instructions on Intent, But Succeeds With Double Jeopardy Claim

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut reversed in part and affirmed in part a defendant’s multi-count conviction following a coordinated ambush that left numerous victims with serious injuries.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 2, 2004. An individual “orchestrated a plan” to exact retribution against a group who attacked him a week earlier, recruiting approximately twenty relatives and friends, including the defendant, for an ambush at an enclosed basketball court. The plan was successful, and the defendant shot one victim twice and stabbed another multiple times in the back.

The defendant was subsequently arrested and charged with ten counts: two for conspiracy to commit assault in the first degree, six for assault in the first degree as an accessory, and two for assault in the first degree. Before specifically instructing the jury as to the elements of each offense, the court first gave an instruction “as to the concept of intent generally.” The defendant stated he had no objections to the instructions as given. The defendant was convicted on nine of ten counts (including both conspiracy charges) and sentenced to twenty-nine years’ incarceration.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the general intent instruction misled the jury because it allowed them to convict based on “intent to engage in the prohibited conduct without determining that he specifically intended to cause serious physical injury.” He further contended that his convictions for two counts of conspiracy, for which he received two sentences, violated double jeopardy protections because they were one crime arising from a single incident.

When a court reviews the appropriateness of a jury instruction, it must decide whether the charge in its entirety, rather than a section in isolation, properly presents the case to the jury. The Supreme Court of Connecticut has consistently held that “[a] trial court’s repeated instruction that specific intent was an element of the crime charged eliminated any possibility that the jurors reasonably could have mistakenly believed that the defendant could properly have been found guilty based on a finding of only general intent.”

In this case, the Appellate Court reviewed the trial transcripts and counted the phrase “intended to cause serious physical injury to another person” twenty times, while “specific intent” was used seven times. In stark contrast, the general intent instruction was only referred to three times, and its inclusion may have actually assisted the jury in understanding the meaning of specific intent. The Court determined that the trial court “unmistakably conveyed to the jury that specific intent was an element of the assault charges against the defendant.” Thus, this aspect of the defendant’s appeal failed.

The defendant, however, succeeded on his second claim regarding double jeopardy, with which the State agreed. An individual cannot receive cumulative punishments for two or more crimes, which he asserts instead comprise of a single crime, arising out of the same transaction or occurrence. Typically, a court will look at the statutes to determine if one requires proof of an element the other does not possess. In this case, however, it was quite clear that there were two conspiracy convictions stemming from a single agreement – the ambush. Therefore, the Court reversed the convictions and ordered the trial court to merge the conviction on these two counts while vacating the sentence for one of them.

When faced with a charge of assault, conspiracy, or accessory, 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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In Reviewing Evidentiary Inferences, Whether They Are Reasonable and Logical is Paramount Consideration on Appeal

As described in an article posted yesterday, the Appellate Court of Connecticut agreed with the State that a jury made permissible inferences regarding a defendant’s fraudulent receipt of worker’s compensation benefits. Prior to this decision, the Court heard additional matters regarding the sufficiency of the evidence used to convict the defendant of charges stemming from the hotel robbery itself.

As the police investigation proceeded, the evidence began to indicate that the defendant was not an innocent victim of the robbery, but rather an active participant. As such, she was arrested for and charged with larceny in the first degree and falsely reporting an incident in the second degree, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes §§ 53a-122(a)(2) and 53a-180c(a)(3). A jury returned guilty verdicts on both counts, and the defendant received a total effective sentence of twelve years’ incarceration, execution suspended after five years, with five years of probation.

On appeal, the defendant asserted four arguments, including the claim that the trial court erred by not granting her motion for a judgment of acquittal (MJOA) for both crimes. After the State closed its case-in-chief, defense counsel orally moved for acquittal, arguing that “the evidence was insufficient to permit a finding of guilt as to either crime in general.” The court denied this motion, and defense counsel promptly rested its own case.

The defendant initially attempted to diminish the evidence’s sufficiency by noting it was circumstantial, rather than direct, in nature. However, there is no legal distinction between these two types of evidence with respect to probative force. As long as a jury is convinced of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, either form may be used.

The defendant further asserted her insufficiency of the evidence claim by arguing that police did not spend enough time on this case to pursue other possible perpetrators, such as the defendant’s coworkers. In her appellate brief, the defendant argued that the jury should have disagreed with the State’s interpretation of the evidence to favor her own, asserting “‘plausible’ ways to interpret the evidence so as to reach a [not guilty] verdict.”

When a jury considers evidence, it need not “accept as dispositive those inferences that are consistent with the defendant’s innocence. … The [finder of fact] may draw whatever inferences from the evidence or facts established by the evidence that it deems to be reasonable and logical.” Therefore, when a reviewing court determines whether or not a jury’s inference was proper, it asks whether there is “a reasonable view of the evidence that supports the [finder of fact’s] verdict of guilty.” In this case, it was the jury’s authority to weigh the credibility of witness testimony and choose which inferences to accept – here, those asserted by the State. Therefore, the Court found that there was ample evidence to support the defendant’s convictions, and the denial of the MJOA was not erroneous.

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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Defendant’s “Dastardly Overall Scheme of Personal Greed” Did Not Warrant Sentence Modification

In a previous article, the petitioner was convicted of arson in the first degree, larceny in the first degree, insurance fraud, and conspiracy after burning down his home and receiving nearly $400,000 from insurance payouts. For his crimes, he was sentenced to a total effective sentence of thirteen years of incarceration (upwards up thirty-three years if he violated probation). Approximately one year after conviction, the petitioner sought downward modification of his sentence, claiming it was inappropriate and disproportionate.

In front of the Sentence Review Division (Division), counsel for the petitioner argued that his client was of good moral character. He highlighted the petitioner’s substantial consecutive work history and lack of a criminal history prior to this incident. Therefore, counsel stated that a ten-year sentence was proper. The State, however, objected to modification, noting “both the seriousness of the offense and the ample evidence to convict.” In addition, the State argued that emergency personnel could have been injured as a result of the fire intentionally set by the defendant.

Pursuant to the Connecticut Practice Book § 43-23 et seq., the Division has authority to modify sentences only upon a showing that they are:

[I]nappropriate or disproportionate in light of the nature of the offense, the character of the offender, the protection of the public interest and the deterrent, rehabilitative, isolative and denunciatory purposes for which the sentence was intended.

The court that originally sentenced the defendant characterized the defendant’s actions as a “two-part crime; the torching of the home and the bilking of the insurance company.” Such conduct was “part of a dastardly overall scheme of personal greed.” The Division credited the defendant’s fortune that no one was injured during this incident, but nonetheless agreed that the sentence was neither inappropriate nor disproportionate.

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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Jury Reasonably Concluded Threat of Force Was Made During Course of Robbery; Absence of Firearm Immaterial

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s claims that the State provided insufficient evidence to convict her of robbery and conspiracy.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on February 29, 2004. A loss prevention supervisor at the J.C. Penney in Danbury observed the defendant and her friend taking a foot massager from the store without paying for it. He pursued them into the mall and requested that they return with him; both refused and claimed they purchased the item. The defendant then threatened that she would blow the supervisor’s brains out if he touched the friend, who was presently holding the massager. The friend dropped the item as they walked away.

The defendant was subsequently convicted on numerous counts, including robbery in the third degree and conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree. Following sentencing, she appealed and argued in part that there was insufficient evidence to convict. She claimed that the statement was not made for the purpose of retaining possession of the foot massager. The defendant further stated that at the time the threat was made, she made no action indicating she actually had a firearm in her possession.

Under Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-133, a person commits a robbery:

[W]hen, in the course of committing a larceny, he uses or threatens to use immediate use of physical force upon another person for the purpose of: (1) Preventing or overcoming resistance to the taking of the property or to the retention thereof immediately after the taking; or (2) compelling the owner of such property or another person to deliver up the property or to engage in other conduct which aids in the commission of the larceny.

A jury must consider whether the use or threatened use of force takes place “during the continuous sequence of events surrounding the taking or attempted taking.” If the jury answers in the affirmative, the use in question “is considered to be in the course of the robbery or attempted robbery within the meaning of the statute.” In this case, the Appellate Court determined that the jury had authority to conclude that the threat made by the defendant – blowing the supervisor’s brains out – was made “during the continuous sequence of events surrounding the taking of the foot massager.” Indeed, it was stated while the friend was holding onto the massager after they had only just left the store.

The Appellate Court rejected the defendant’s argument regarding the significance of an absent firearm. Third degree robbery requires mere physical force, while robbery in the first degree includes “[threatened] use of what he represents by his words or actions to be a pistol, revolver, rifle, shotgun, machine gun or other firearm.” In other words, the State need not prove that the defendant in question actually had a gun at the time he made the threat. Therefore, with respect to this aspect of the appeal, the Court agreed that the State provided sufficient evidence to convict on both counts.

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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