Posts tagged with "criminal law matter"

Defendant’s Actions Evidenced Bigotry and Bias Toward Homosexuals; Intimidation Conviction Upheld

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a defendant’s conviction for intimidation based on bigotry or bias, because the evidence established that he possessed the specific intent to intimidate or harass the victim based on actual or perceived homosexuality.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on September 12, 2005. The victim and defendant were homeless and lived in tents at a wooded campsite. That afternoon, they drank alcohol at a park with an unidentified man (man), who implied that he was homosexual. When the victim and defendant returned to the campsite, the defendant stated he did not want “fags” in their area, particularly the man. The two spent the evening drinking and got into an argument when the victim began undressing. The defendant claimed the victim must be a “fag” because “[o]nly a fag would take his clothes off in front of another man” and because he was spending time with the man.

A fight ensued, lasting at least ten minutes, when the defendant poured a bottle of vodka on the victim and tried to light him on fire. Unsuccessful in this attempt, the defendant then threatened to burn the victim with gasoline before leaving the campsite. The victim went to a local soup kitchen for help, and gave police a sworn statement about what occurred. The defendant was subsequently arrested and signed a waiver of rights before making both oral and written statements, in which he repeatedly used the word “fag.”

The Trial

A jury found the defendant guilty of attempt to commit assault in the second degree, threatening in the second degree, reckless endangerment in the second degree, intimidation based on bigotry or bias in the second degree, and disorderly conduct. The defendant appealed, arguing in part that there was insufficient evidence that he committed intimidation. He claimed that the State did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he had “the requisite specific intent to intimidate or harass [the victim] because of [the victim’s] actual or perceived sexual orientation.”

Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-181k(a) prohibits acts in which a person specifically intends to intimidate or harass another person on the basis of actual or perceived race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. “Specific intent involves a ‘conscious objective to cause [a] result,’” and is often inferred from circumstantial evidence, such as a defendant’s verbal or physical conduct.

The Court’s Decision

The Appellate Court found that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to reasonably conclude that the defendant possessed the required specific intent to violate § 53a-181k(a). Based on his oral and written statements, the jury could infer a bias toward homosexuals as well as his question as to whether the victim was homosexual as well. He stated he did not want homosexuals at the campsite and then accused the victim of being a “fag” before fighting him.

In addition, the defendant attempted to set the victim on fire, and threatened a second attempt to do so. Therefore, “the jury could have inferred that the defendant acted with intent to harass or to intimidate [the victim] because of his actual or perceived sexual orientation.” Thus, the judgment was affirmed.

When faced with a charge of assault, threatening, or intimidation, 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.

Appellate Court Reversed Conviction Due to Invalid Waiver

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut reversed a defendant’s criminal convictions, finding that his purported waiver of his right to a jury trial was not validly made.

Case Background

In this case, the defendant was arrested and charged with sexual assault in the fourth degree, public indecency, and disorderly conduct. He never expressed his wish, either orally or in writing, to waive his right to a jury trial. However, at a status conference, defense counsel stated the defendant would be electing for a bench trial. The case was placed on the trial docket, and at the next court appearance, both the defense counsel and prosecutor assured the judge that the defendant was adequately canvassed with respect to waiver.

Thereafter, the court found the defendant guilty on all charges. He appealed his convictions, claiming that “the purported waiver of his right to a jury trial was invalid because the record does not reflect that he ever personally affirmed, either in writing or orally, his desire to waive this right.”

Waiver of a Constitutional Protection

In order to constitute a valid waiver of a constitutional protection, a defendant must make it knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. The Supreme Court of Connecticut previously ruled that a defendant – and only the defendant – may waive his “fundamental right to a jury trial.” Even as a matter of trial strategy, defense counsel cannot make this decision. More importantly, the defendant must make an “affirmative indication” of his wish: “passive silence… while defense counsel purport[s] to waive the defendant’s right to a jury trial” provides an insufficient showing of a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver.

The Appellate Court in this case determined that the record wholly lacked any indication that the defendant himself waived his right to a jury trial, and defense counsel’s actions simply were not sufficient to meet the strict standard imposed. Because the defendant did not personally waive his right, his convictions were reversed and a new trial was ordered.

When faced with a charge of sexual assault or any other criminal offense, 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.

Convict Unsuccessfully Argues that Spitting Does Not Constitute Breach of Peace

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut held that a trial court did not err in denying a defendant’s motion for a judgment of acquittal, as spitting qualifies for the requisite act for a breach of peace.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on December 1, 2005. Following an alleged robbery, the defendant was transported to the hospital after complaining about injuries. He was partially restrained to a gurney and under police guard. He repeatedly threatened an emergency room nurse and, while being discharged, he spat in the nurse’s face.

The defendant was charged with and convicted of breach of peace in the second degree, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-181(a)(1) and (5). He twice moved for a judgment of acquittal, which the court denied. On appeal, the defendant argued that “spitting is not a violent behavior and, because he was strapped to the gurney, he could not engage in violent of tumultuous behavior.”

What is Considered Breach of Peace?

A person commits second-degree breach of peace “when, with intent to cause inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, such person: (1) Engages in fighting or in violent, tumultuous or threatening behavior in a public place.” The language of § 53a-181(a)(1) shows that the legislature intended to prohibit any conduct that involves either actual physical violence or the threat of physical violence. Because spitting involves applying force to a victim’s body, it qualifies as a physical act.

The Appellate Court further noted that the words “inconvenience, annoyance or alarm” encompass conduct that a reasonable person would perceive to be as such in light of generally accepted community standards. The highly unsanitary act of one person spitting on another “is almost universally acknowledged as contemptuous and is calculated to incite others to act in retaliation.” As such, it was reasonable for a jury to conclude that the elements of breach of peace were satisfied.

When faced with a charge of breach of peace or assault, 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.

Lengthy Sentence for Cooperative Defendant Convicted of Felony Murder was Proper

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Sentence Review Division (Division) of a Superior Court of Connecticut affirmed a petitioner’s sentence following her felony murder conviction.

The Case

In this case, the petitioner planned with S and V to rob the victim’s apartment, which contained a safe filled with cash. When they arrived, they broke their way in, overpowered the victim, and confiscated his handgun. They located the safe, but could neither open it nor remove it. At this point, an officer arrived on the scene in response to a citizen complaint, but as he approached the apartment, S shot him with the victim’s handgun. All robbery participants fled the scene, and the officer later died as a result of his wound.

The petitioner was arrested and fully cooperated with officers in the investigation. She pled guilty to felony murder, a violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-54c, which is punishable by up to sixty years’ incarceration, twenty-five of which are mandatory. Upon accepting the plea agreement, the court imposed a total effective sentence of forty-two years.

The Cooperative Defendant’s Plea for a Sentence Modification

The petitioner sought modification of her sentence, arguing that it was disproportionate. Counsel highlighted that she was a “key cooperator” – in fact, the only cooperative defendant – so a sentence of thirty years was more appropriate. The petitioner apologized for her actions, admitting she would have to live with the officer’s death for the rest of her life. The State, however, countered that the petitioner was an active participant in the robbery, thus the sentence was fair.

The Division is strictly limited to modifying sentences that it determines are “inappropriate or disproportionate.” It will consider explicit statutory factors: “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.” As applied to this case, the Division noted the petitioner’s active participation in a robbery that resulted in the death of an on-duty police officer. If the petitioner did not cooperate with authorities, her conviction for felony murder could have carried substantially more time. Therefore, the Division affirmed the sentence.

When faced with a charge of robbery or a homicide crime, 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.

Because Assault Victim Did Not Show Intent To Inflict Harm, Defendant’s Self-Defense Claim Failed

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut held that a trial court properly concluded that a defendant did not act in self-defense, following an assault stemming from a residential burglary.

The Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on July 26, 2007. The defendant was burglarizing a residence when the tenant caught him in the act. The defendant fled and attempted to hide in a garage on the property, but the landlord’s son, the victim, located him and began to chase him with a baseball bat. While running away from the victim, the defendant turned around and hit him in the head with a tire iron in his possession, causing severe injury.

The defendant was quickly located by police and placed under arrest. He provided a written statement about the burglary and assault, in which he stated that the victim hit him with a baseball bat in the garage before the flight from the property. The defendant claimed he grabbed a pipe in the garage and used that to hit the victim when he got too close during the flight.

The Trial

At trial, a neighbor, L, testified that he saw the victim running after the defendant past his house. Approximately two-and-a-half houses down the road, the defendant “turned around and popped [the victim] in the back of the head with the crowbar.” L insisted that he did not see the victim hit the defendant or swing the bat.

A second neighbor, T, stated that he was five to seven houses away when he saw the victim take a swing at the defendant, who turned and struck the victim. In stark contrast to his written statement, the defendant claimed that the victim attempted to strike him with the bat during the chase, so he turned and threw the pipe at the victim. He argued that he did not read the contents of the written statement, which he nonetheless signed.

Self-Defense Claim

The defendant was subsequently convicted of burglary in the first degree, assault in the first degree, and violation of probation. On appeal, he argued that the State failed to disprove his theory of self-defense: “when the defendant swung the tire iron at the victim, he reasonably believed that the victim was about to inflict great bodily harm against him.”

Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-19(a) is our State’s self-defense statute. Using this justification defense, the defendant argues that his otherwise illegal conduct was legally justified and not criminal in nature. “[I]n order to invoke the defense of self-defense, one must reasonably believe that an individual is going to use deadly force or inflict great bodily harm against him.” When a defendant asserts this defense, he need not do more to assert his claim: it becomes the burden of the State to disprove the defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Court’s Decision

In this case, the Appellate Court held that the trial court properly determined that the defendant lacked the subjective belief that deadly physical force was necessary. The victim never acted in such a way as to indicate he intended to cause the defendant great bodily harm. It was reasonable for the court to give greater weight to L’s testimony, as he was in closer proximity to the victim and defendant than T was.

The Court noted that at the time of the incident, the defendant never told police that the victim swung the bat during the chase, that he acted in self-defense, or that he feared for his safety. Indeed, because the defendant provided conflicting accounts of the events, it was within the court’s province as the arbiter of credibility to conclude that the defendant was not a credible witness. Therefore, there was sufficient evidence for the court to decide that the defendant did not act in self-defense, and the assault conviction was proper.

When faced with a charge of assault 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.

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

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a 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 and his statement was voluntary.

Case Background

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.

Defendant Claims Statement was Involuntary

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.

Court’s Ruling

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.

Immersing Child Into Steaming Bathwater Constitutes Reckless Assault

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

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

The Case

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

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

The Trial

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

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

What Constitutes Reckless Conduct?

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

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

When faced with a charge of assault or risk of injury to a child, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Felony Murder Conviction Affirmed in Light of Confession and Extrinsic Evidence

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a defendant’s conviction following the strangulation murder of a woman, despite the defendant’s argument that his conviction violated the rule of corpus delicti, because the defendant’s confession was sufficiently corroborated by evidence that a crime actually occurred.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on January 2, 1998 in Hartford, CT. The defendant called an escort service to set up an arrangement before leaving his home in search of narcotics. He was stabbed multiple times following a failed robbery attempt, after which Good Samaritans treated his wounds and drove him home. The escort (the victim) arrived at the defendant’s residence and called her boss from inside, stating she was going to leave. When she stated her intention to the defendant, he blocked the entrance and a lengthy physical struggle ensued, during which he suffocated the victim.

The defendant transported the victim’s body in her own car to Suffield, where he disposed of it in a wooded area. Upon returning to Hartford, he traded the car to two drug dealers for $50 worth of cocaine and then saw various family members for treatment of his injuries and to request that his apartment be cleaned out. Afterwards, the defendant fled to Massachusetts.

A missing person’s report was filed by the victim’s daughters, and telephone records directed investigators to the victim’s boss, who told them the victim was with the defendant on the night she disappeared. Officers then went to the defendant’s apartment, where the front door was open, bloodstains were on multiple pieces of furniture, and a gold hoop earring similar to one owned by the victim was located underneath the bed.

Conviction based on Confessions

The defendant was tracked down in Massachusetts, where he was in prison for other offenses. On three occasions, he confessed to strangulating the victim and disposing of her body. He twice showed police to the wooded area in Suffield, and skeletal remains were recovered. The remains were identified as belonging to the victim, and a medical examiner cited “homicidal violence” as the cause of death. In addition, the medical examiner found that “the remains recovered were consistent with someone who had been killed by strangulation.”

The defendant was subsequently convicted of manslaughter in the first degree, felony murder, kidnapping in the first degree, and larceny in the third degree. On appeal, he challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to convict, in part [uniquely] because the state “failed to present substantial independent evidence that indicated that his confessions were true.” As such, the State’s case “based solely on his uncorroborated confessions… failed to comply with the rule of corpus delicti.”

Compliance with Corpus Delicti

Under the rule of corpus delicti, out-of-court confessions cannot be the sole basis for a conviction. Instead, the confession must be corroborated by proof that a crime in fact had occurred. However, many jurisdictions, including Connecticut, have moved away from this doctrine and adopted the trustworthiness doctrine. Direct corpus delicti proof is not required if there is “substantial independent evidence which would tend to establish the trustworthiness of the [defendant’s] statement.”

In this case, the Appellate Court found that there was sufficient independent evidence which established the trustworthiness of the defendant’s confessions. He led police to where the victim’s skeletal remains were located, and the medical examiner concluded death was not natural but the result of homicidal violence consistent with strangulation.

Additional support came from the discovery of the victim’s earring, as well as the boss’s testimony and telephone records. All of this taken together established that a crime did take place, and that the defendant was the perpetrator. Therefore, this aspect of the defendant’s insufficiency of the evidence claim failed, and after addressing additional matters on appeal, the judgment was affirmed.

When faced with a charge of a homicide crime, kidnapping, or larceny, 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.

Inflammatory Comments by Prosecutor Found Not Sufficiently Prejudicial to Warrant Reversal

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut ruled that a prosecutor’s statements during closing arguments were improper because they appealed to the emotions, passions, and prejudices of the jurors. However, they did not deprive the defendant of a fair trial; thus, his due process claim was unpersuasive and the motion for impropriety was denied.

Case Background

This case arose from a quadruple homicide that occurred on September 25, 1996. The defendant and a coconspirator planned on robbing a man following a dispute about crack cocaine sales, but instead murdered him in his home. There were three other people at the house, including the man’s teenage daughter, and each was fatally shot to prevent witness identification. Nonetheless, the defendant was linked to the crime and subsequently faced a host of charges, including four counts each of murder and felony murder.

During closing arguments, the prosecutor talked of grieving relatives “clutching” to past memories of their lost loved ones and the victim’s silent voices crying out for justice. The trial started one day after the September 11th attacks, and the prosecutor equated the jury’s civic duty to that of American troops “defending American values abroad.” He played a 911 recording in which the daughter can be heard “gasping for breath, unable to talk” and made explicit references to the biblical story of Cain and Abel.

Defense counsel vehemently objected and moved for a mistrial, but the trial court denied the motion, instead electing to issue curative jury instructions. The defendant was convicted and given a total effective sentence of two hundred sixty (260) years of incarceration. On appeal, he argued in part that these statements improperly played on the emotions, passions, and prejudices of the jury. Therefore, the trial court erred in denying his motion for a mistrial.

Determining Impropriety

In deciding a claim of prosecutorial impropriety, a reviewing court must first determine whether an impropriety even occurred, and if so, whether it deprived a criminal defendant of his or her right to a fair trial. What is crucial is whether the improprieties, as a whole, caused the trial itself to be fundamentally unfair, thus depriving a defendant of the Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial.

In this case, the Supreme Court determined that the use of the 911 recording was not improper. It was admitted as a full exhibit into evidence, as the defendant did not seek a limiting instruction on its use. “An exhibit offered and received as a full exhibit is in the case for all purposes.” Thus, because the prosecutor used the tape for a proper purpose, even though it “undoubtedly… had a great dramatic effect,” he was within his discretion to do so.

The Court, however, agreed with the defendant that the other comments overstepped the bounds of impropriety. These statements had “nothing to do with the evidence in the case or the defendant’s guilt or innocence.” Rather, they allowed the jury to decide the case “not according to a rational appraisal of the evidence, but on the basis of powerful and irrelevant factors which are likely to skew that appraisal.” It is notable that courts traditionally disapprove the use of religious imagery and references during criminal trials.

The Court’s Ruling

Even though the first prong of this analysis was answered in the affirmative, the Supreme Court determined that due process was not violated. It considered the following six factors, finding that only the first weighed in favor of the defendant:

[T]he extent to which the impropriety was invited by the defendant’s conduct or argument, the severity of the impropriety, the frequency of the impropriety, the centrality of the impropriety to the critical issues in the case, the strength of the curative measures adopted and the strength of the state’s case.

The defendant did nothing to provoke the comments. However, the statements were infrequent in light of the entire closing argument and not “grossly egregious.” The trial court took issue with the fact that the comments had nothing to do with the evidence. Finally, the prosecution’s case was strong, and the instructions telling the jury they had to decide the case on the evidence, not the statements, sympathy, or prejudice. Therefore, the Supreme Court, after addressing additional matters on appeal, affirmed the judgment.

When faced with a charge of a homicide crime, assault, or robbery, 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.

Defendant’s Narcotics Conviction Upheld: Breakdown of Agreement Did Not Terminate Conspiracy

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a defendant’s narcotics conspiracy conviction, noting that a failed agreement did not end the conspiracy.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on April 15, 2009. Police officers participated in a Drug Enforcement Agency task force conducting narcotics surveillance. They observed the defendant engaging in drug-related activity over an extended period of time. He was talking on his cell phone, and soon thereafter an Acura pulled up nearby and flashed its lights. The defendant walked over to the vehicle and talked to the driver for a few minutes before the car took off.

Officers approached the defendant to effectuate an arrest, but he resisted and tried to run from the scene. However, officers subdued him and placed him under arrest. After being read his Miranda rights, the defendant told police that the driver of the Acura had come to “resupply” him with crack cocaine, a plan that fell through. He helped police locate the supplier, who they detained as well.

The defendant faced numerous charges, but was only convicted of conspiracy to sell narcotics by a person who is not drug-dependent and interfering with an officer. On appeal, he argued that the police provided insufficient evidence that an agreement existed between him and the driver and an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy was taken by either party.

Conviction Upheld

In this case, the State had the burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant “(1) with intent that conduct constituting a crime be performed, (2) agreed with one or more persons to engage in or cause the performance of such conduct, and (3) any one of them committed an overt act in pursuance of such conspiracy.” Because a written agreement almost never exists, the existence of a conspiracy may be inferred by the conduct of the defendant. Here, the defendant’s interaction with the driver in conjunction with his own statement about being resupplied established the requisite intent for conspiracy.

An overt act need not be performed by the defendant only, but by any of the coconspirators. The act doesn’t need to be “a criminal act in and of itself” to qualify. In this case, the Appellate Court found that:

[T]he finder of fact reasonably could have concluded that [the coconspirator’s] drive to [the defendant’s location], his subsequent flashing of the Acura’s lights, the defendant’s walk to the Acura, and any discussion following between the defendant and [the coconspirator] were all overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy.

That the agreement itself failed to materialize was not relevant. As the Court explained, “a breakdown of an agreement does not end the conspiracy” and is not a recognized defense. Therefore, 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.