Posts tagged with "Criminal Defense"

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.

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.

Defendant’s Refusal to Comply with Officer’s Legitimate Identification Request Constituted Interference with the Officer’s Duties

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed the Appellate Court’s decision to vacate a criminal defendant’s conviction for interfering with a police officer, because the State provided sufficient evidence of the essential elements.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 14, 2002. The defendant had a history of trespassing on a business’ property, and an employee discovered the defendant apparently tampering with pumping equipment. The defendant urged the employee to call police, and when they responded, an officer asked the defendant to identify himself. The defendant failed to do so immediately, claiming that “he did not need to produce identification, that he was on public property and that ‘this isn’t Russia. I’m not showing you any [identification].’”

The defendant was arrested and subsequently convicted of interfering with a police officer in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-167a, as well as other charges. When asked how the State provided sufficient evidence, the court responded that police were “acting within the scope of their duties in investigating the defendant’s alleged trespass,” and the defendant knew why he was being asked for identification.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the State provided insufficient evidence that he hindered the investigation by failing to promptly identify himself, and that his conduct was outside the scope of § 53a-167a. The State countered that the statute prohibits both verbal and nonverbal conduct calculated to interfere with the completion of an officer’s duties. In addition, the State contended that “a refusal to comply with a legitimate police request is equivalent to interfering with an officer,” thus there was sufficient evidence to convict. The Appellate Court agreed with the defendant and overturned his conviction. The State appealed this ruling, arguing that where a police officer makes “a legitimate investigatory stop under Terry, the person subject to the Terry stop must honor the officer’s reasonable demand for identification.” It stated that in this case, the officer had reasonable suspicion that the defendant was engaged or had engaged in criminal activity, and his refusal to promptly identify himself “provided a sufficient factual basis for the defendant’s conviction.”

Upon review of the statute, the Supreme Court noted that the words used are broad in scope, indicating that the legislature “intended to prohibit any act which would amount to meddling in or hampering the activities of police in the performance of their duties.” The Court agreed with the State that a refusal to provide identification in conjunction with a Terry stop “may hamper or impede a police investigation into apparent criminal activity,” regardless of whether the offending conduct is active, passive, aggressive, or peaceable. The Court explained that because § 53a-167a was drafted in such a way as “to encompass a wide range of conduct,” it is unreasonable to determine that because the legislature did not explicitly include refusals to identification requests, such conduct is exempt.

In order to effectuate an investigation, it is only natural that officers ask questions, and “questions concerning a suspect’s identity are a routine and accepted part of many Terry stops.” The government has several legitimate interests in ascertaining a suspect’s identity, and “[t]he request for identity has an immediate relation to the purpose, rationale, and practical demands of a Terry stop.” The Supreme Court agreed with the State that the defendant’s conduct fell within the purview of § 53a-167a, and was left to determine whether the elements of the offense were satisfied: namely, whether the defendant intentionally hindered the investigation. The Court agreed that there was sufficient evidence to convict: the defendant’s refusal delayed the police investigation “to [an] appreciable degree.” The delay need not be substantial. In addition, the defendant knew why the police were present, and his refusal “reflected an intent by the defendant to hinder, delay or impede the police.” Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment with respect to this charge and remanded the case to affirm the judgment of conviction.

When faced with a charge of interfering with a police officer, 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.

In Light of Reasonable Suspicion, Police Properly Detained Burglary Suspect

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed the convictions of a burglar who argued that officers had no reasonable or articulable suspicion to detain him.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on March 21, 2007. Earlier that year, a neighborhood was suffering from a series of residential burglaries. On February 14, a victim was leaving her home when she saw a man wearing a dark sweatshirt with dark pants, with the hood pulled up, looking down while walking in front of her house. She later returned to find her house burglarized and many possessions, including a handgun, were stolen. She recalled seeing a similar person two days earlier, and conveyed this as well as the physical description to police; a similar description was developed from victims of other burglaries.

On March 21, the victim saw the defendant, who matched the appearance of the person near her house the day it was burglarized. Her husband called police, who were dispatched to the defendant’s location, and officers were aware that a gun was stolen during the burglary. The defendant was detained, and a pat down revealed a handgun in his sweatshirt pocket. The defendant informed police that “he was not properly licensed nor legally permitted to carry the gun.” The defendant was arrested and charged for numerous crimes on several dockets. He filed a motion to suppress all evidence because it was obtained during an unlawful search and seizure. The court denied this motion, finding that police had a reasonable and articulable suspicion that justified the search.

The defendant entered into a conditional plea to larceny in the first degree, burglary in the third degree, and stealing a firearm. Following sentencing he appealed, arguing that the court improperly denied his motion because police had no reasonable or articulable suspicion to stop him. He noted that “the record contains no indication that he was observed directly engaging in criminal conduct or suspicious activity.”

An officer may temporarily detain an individual for investigative purposes if he has a reasonable and articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. The scope of an investigatory stop must be “carefully tailored to its underlying justification,” and an officer may make “reasonable inquiries” to confirm or dispel his suspicions. The ultimate question is “whether a reasonable person, having the information available to and known by the police, would have had that level of suspicion.”

In this case, the Appellate Court noted that the defendant’s presence in this neighborhood, the time of day, how he was dressed, and the manner in which he walked would not, on their own, be sufficient to justify a stop. However, in light of the additional information provided by victims, such factors provide sufficient reasonable and articulable suspicion to justify an investigatory stop. “The possibility of an innocent explanation does not deprive the officers of the capacity to entertain a reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct.” Therefore, the judgment was affirmed.

When faced with a charge of larceny or burglary, 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.

Warrantless Search of Defendant’s Vehicle Upheld; Probable Cause Established by Drug-Related Items Found on His Person

In a recent case, a criminal defendant failed in persuading the Supreme Court of Connecticut that the State provided insufficient evidence that he constructively possessed crack cocaine and marijuana found in the car he was driving. In his appeal, he also argued that the search itself was improper and all evidence collected derived from it should have been excluded. At trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence, arguing that the officers conducted a warrantless search of his vehicle in violation of the state and federal constitutions. This motion was denied, because the trial court determined that the search was a valid search incident to a lawful arrest.

Under state and federal law, individuals are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons, houses, papers, and effects. A search conducted without a warrant evidencing probable cause is per se unreasonable, and evidence derived from this illegal search will be excluded unless one of very few exceptions apply. This includes the automobile exception, which permits officers to search a vehicle without a warrant where “the searching officer[s] have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband” or other objects that would be subject to seizure and destruction. There are two primary justifications underlying this exception: the ability of a car to move (thus creating exigent circumstances) and the diminished expectation of privacy afforded to automobiles.

In this case, officers saw the defendant drop wax folds containing what appeared to be heroin and later swallow them. As such, they had probable cause “to believe that additional contraband would be found in the car [the defendant] had been driving.” This determination was bolstered by the fact that officers found rolling papers and $550 in cash directly on the defendant. After dispensing of alternative grounds regarding the legality of the search, the Supreme Court held that the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress.

When faced with a charge for possession or distribution of controlled substances, 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 203-211-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

State’s High Court Finds Drug Offense Convictions Proper Where Defendant Constructively Possessed Narcotics and Cannabis in His Wife’s Car

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut held, in part, that the State presented sufficient evidence to convict the defendant of drug possession charges under the theory of constructive possession.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on September 18, 2007. Narcotics officers initiated a valid traffic stop of the defendant, who was driving his wife’s vehicle with a friend in the passenger seat. The defendant avoided answering questions and “began nervously placing his hands inside his sweatshirt pockets and under his clothing.” The officer became concerned for his safety and ordered the defendant to keep his hands visible, but the defendant refused and a physical altercation ensued. During the struggle, a white package fell from the defendant’s pocket to the ground. It contained five wax folds that held a white powdery substance consistent with heroin.

The defendant was placed under arrest, and a subsequent search of his person revealed rolling papers and $552 in cash. While being brought to the patrol car, the defendant twisted out of the officers’ grip, lunged for the package and swallowed it, then “laughed at the officers and said, ‘gotcha.’” After both the defendant and his friend were placed in the cruisers, a search of the vehicle revealed two bags of crack cocaine and three bags of marijuana located in the center console.

The defendant was subsequently convicted of possession of narcotics, possession of a controlled substance, interfering with an officer, and tampering with physical evidence, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes §§ 21a-179(a), 21a-279(c), 53a-167a, and 53a-155. On appeal, the defendant argued, in part, that the court “improperly applied the doctrine of nonexclusive possession,” resulting in insufficient evidence to convict him of the possessory offenses.

In a case where the State cannot provide direct evidence of drug ownership, they must present a theory of nonexclusive possession. In other words, to prove illegal possession, the State must establish that “the defendant knew the character of the substance, knew of its presence and exercised dominion and control over it.” This theory is most often set forth where the drugs were not located on the defendant’s body, but in other areas, such as his home or vehicle. However, where the defendant is not in exclusive control of the premises (for example, there are other vehicle occupants), it is improper to infer that the defendant “knew of the presence of [the substances] and had control of them, unless there are other incriminating statements or circumstances tending to buttress such an inference.”

In this case, the Supreme Court determined that the theory of nonexclusive possession was properly exercised, and a jury could have reasonably concluded that the drugs belonged to the defendant. The defendant was driving the vehicle belonging to his wife, which made it more likely that he, not the passenger, was aware of the drugs in the center console. Drugs and related items were found on his person, making it more likely the cocaine and heroin belonged to him rather than his wife or the passenger. Finally, medical records revealed that on the day of the incident, a urinalysis revealed the presence of cocaine and opiates in his system. Therefore, there was sufficient evidence to convict the defendant of the possessory counts, and the judgment was affirmed.

When faced with a charge for possession or distribution of controlled substances, 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 203-211-3100 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.

Sentence Imposed Following Voluntarily Plea Agreement in Larceny Case Was Proper, Modification Unwarranted

In a recent criminal law matter, the Sentence Review Division (Division) of the Superior Court of Connecticut declined to modify a petitioner’s sentence because it was neither inappropriate nor disproportionate.

In this case, the petitioner had three minor children and received $48,300 over the course of three years from the Department of Social Services (DSS) to pay for daycare. However, a subsequent DSS investigation revealed that she instead gave the money to a friend, who could not have provided such services because she was otherwise employed.

The petitioner was charged with larceny in the first degree by defrauding a public community, which violated Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-122(a)(4). She accepted a plea agreement, but first had the opportunity to make restitution payments; she failed to do so. During the presentencing investigation (PSI), the petitioner “minimized her larcenous conduct and suggested the DSS had failed to fully inform her about its rules regarding the use of the child care funds.” She was sentenced to ten years’ incarceration, execution suspended after four years, with five years of probation, and subsequently sought a reduction.

The Division is severely restricted regarding criminal sentence modification to instances where it is either inappropriate or disproportionate. In this case, it noted that the petitioner’s sentence was “within the parameters of an agreement that she accepted pursuant to her voluntarily plea of guilty.” In conjunction with the nature of her crime, PSI comments, and failure to make any restitution payments, the Division determined the sentence was proper, and affirmed.

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.