Posts tagged with "death"

Because State Presented No Proof Defendant Knew of Victim’s Unique Habit, Felony Murder Charge Was Dismissed

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut concluded that the State did not establish probable cause to prosecute a defendant for felony murder, and as such dismissed the charge due to a lack of proof.

Case Background

In this case, the victim’s body was discovered in his apartment on August 25, 2005, and death was caused by blunt force trauma to the head. His leather pouch with money and personal identification were missing. The defendant admitted that she struck him several times in self-defense and took a fresh shirt from his closet because hers was covered with blood. Nonetheless, she was charged with murder, felony murder, robbery, and other violations of State law.

At trial, the victim’s daughter testified that she was at her father’s house on Father’s Day two months prior, at which point he gave her cash he retrieved from his freezer. She explained that her father “was in the habit of keeping cash in tin foil packets” in his refrigerator, freezer, sock drawer, and under the mattress. A neighbor confirmed the victim’s money-storing habits, but conceded she never actually saw the money. She also stated that prior to this incident she gave the victim $2,000. There was additional testimony that a thorough search of the victim’s apartment did not reveal any money in these secret locations.

However, the victim’s daughter found two envelopes located in a jacket inside the victim’s closet. One envelope was for the neighbor and contained $1,400, while the other had several thousand dollars in cash. Furthermore, a search warrant was validly executed on the defendant’s residence, but none of the missing items were found there.

The State’s Argument

The defendant was charged with felony murder, which under Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-54c reads as follows:

A person is guilty of murder when, acting either alone or with one or more persons, he commits or attempts to commit robbery [or another enumerated offense] … and, in the course of and in furtherance of such crime or of flight therefore, he … causes the death of a person other than one of the participants.

In this case, the State argued that the defendant killed the victim while attempting to rob him. Thus, in order to prosecute the defendant for felony murder, the State had to establish probable cause that “the defendant robbed [the victim], that is, that she stole his property through the use of force, and in the course of and in furtherance of the robbery, she caused his death.”

The State may introduce habit evidence “to prove that the conduct of that person… on a particular occasion was in conformity with that habit.” In this case, the habit in question was the storage of money by the victim in rather unorthodox locations, meant to prove that he “possessed money in such locations at the time of his death on or about August 24, 2005.”

In light of this evidence, along with the missing wallet, his violent death, and the absence of money in these locations, the State asserted that “there exists probable cause to believe that [the victim] was killed in the course of a robbery.”

Questions Raised

While the habit evidence in this case was admissible, the weight it would receive depended on two factors: “the invariability of the habit and… the timeliness of observations that the person was acting in accordance with that habit.” The Superior Court noted that the real question was whether the victim had money in his freezer on the day of the murder, not two months prior.

It set forth other possible explanations for its absence, including the simple one of needing money and spending it, an inference bolstered by the amount short of the $2,000 given to him earlier. Another explanation was consolidation into a single envelope, located in the jacket.

Court’s Conclusion

Particularly damaging to the State’s case was that they presented no evidence that the defendant knew of the victim’s money-keeping habits. As the Superior Court concluded:

To accept the state’s theory of the crime, one would have to conclude that the defendant, with no advance knowledge of money locations, so thoroughly searched [the victim’s] apartment so as to discover money secreted in foil packets in his freezer and an old leather pouch that resembled a cosmetic case, but did not discover several thousand dollars in the pocket of a coat hanging in a closet. Such a theory is not reasonable. Particularly since the defendant admitted taking a shirt from the closet after the attack. On the other hand, to conclude that the defendant took only the pouch and freezer money because she knew of Mr. Gordon’s habits would be based on speculation because there was no evidence offered to prove such knowledge.

When faced with any 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.

Liability Under Dram Shop Act Requires “Visible Intoxication”

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

The Appellate Court of Connecticut considered whether or not a trial court’s denial of a motion to set aside the verdict in a case involving the Dram Shop Act was an abuse of discretion, because a required element of the offense charged was not established by the plaintiff.

Case Background

In this case, a citizen and his friend were at a restaurant-bar where they were playing billiards. The citizen consumed five beers, two alcoholic shots, and a blackberry brandy within a four-hour period, but did not exhibit any physical signs of intoxication. Nonetheless, while drunk, he purchased an alcoholic beverage from the restaurant’s bartender. Subsequently, the citizen and his friend left the restaurant-bar and were involved in an accident, resulting in the friend’s death.

The estate of the friend (plaintiff) brought a wrongful death action against the owners of the restaurant (defendant), claiming liability under the Dram Shop Act, Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 30-102. A jury found in the plaintiff’s favor and awarded $4 million in damages, though the defendant sought reduction to the statutory $250,000, which the court granted. The defendant also filed a motion to set aside the verdict and a directed verdict, arguing, in part, that “no evidence was presented from which the jury reasonably could have concluded that [the citizen] was intoxicated” under CGS § 30-102. The motion was denied, and the defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the motion.

Proof of “Visible Intoxication” Required

CGS § 30-102 is the statutory mechanism through which a plaintiff may recover damages from one who sells alcohol to an intoxicated person, and such person subsequently causes an injury. For the plaintiff to prevail in such an action, he or she must prove that “there was (1) a sale of intoxicating liquor (2) to an intoxicated person (3) who, in consequence of such intoxication, causes injury to the person or property of another.” At issue on appeal in this case was whether or not the second element requires proof of “visible intoxication” or what amounts to per se intoxication.

The Appellate Court agreed that a showing of visible intoxication was required, and stated that for purposes of CGS § 30-102, “an individual must exhibit some type of physical symptomology in such a way that an observer could perceive that the individual was indeed under the influence of alcohol to some noticeable extent.” In addition, the plaintiff must present evidence that shows the subject in question was either visibly or perceivably intoxicated.

Appellate Court Ruling

In this case, the Appellate Court noted that while the evidence presented at trial may establish intoxication as it is used in our DUI law (CGS § 14-227a), it was insufficient to prove intoxication under CGS § 30-102. As the Court elaborated, the plaintiff did not present any evidence of visible intoxication – indeed, there was no evidence at all showing that the citizen “was exhibiting any visible or perceivable indications that he was intoxicated.” Therefore, the court abused its discretion in denying the motion to set aside the verdict, because based on the evidence presented, a jury could not have found the required element of “intoxicated person.” Therefore, the judgment was reversed and case remanded.

Should you have any questions, 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.

Division to Petitioner: “No Good Reason” for Sentence Reduction

Superior Court of Connecticut: Sentencing Review Division (Division)

In a criminal law matter involving a sentence reduction, the Sentencing Review Division (Division) of the Superior Court of Connecticut declined to reduce the sentence of a petitioner who claimed it was inappropriate and disproportionate.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on September 23, 1999. The petitioner was driving his car when he began racing a second vehicle at speeds in excess of 100mph. The second vehicle crashed into a traveling motorcycle, resulting in the death of both vehicles’ passengers. In addition, the motorcyclist required a leg amputation. Meanwhile, the petitioner continued driving until he experienced a flat tire, at which point he walked back to the scene of the accident and was arrested.

Counts of Conviction

The petitioner was charged and convicted, following a jury trial, of the following counts:

  1. Third-degree reckless assault: mandatory one year in jail.
  2. Misconduct with a motor vehicle (two counts): maximum of five years of incarceration.
  3. Reckless driving: maximum one year in jail for subsequent offenders.
  4. Illegal racing: maximum one year in jail.

The petitioner was sentenced to twelve years of incarceration. Following an unsuccessful appeal, he pursued a reduced sentence of eight years, arguing that it was the average sentence for those convicted of similar offenses. He claimed that his sentence, “being higher than the average, is therefore ‘inappropriate’ or ‘disproportionate.” The State vehemently opposed, pointing to the petitioner’s: history of speeding violations, including one between the time of this offense and his sentencing; denial of responsibility; failure to show genuine remorse; history of behavioral problems; and the suffering inflicted on the families of the victims.

Connecticut Practice Book § 43-28

Under Connecticut Practice Book § 43-28, one will find the statutory limitations of the Division’s authority to modify criminal sentences to those that are inappropriate or disproportionate. When making this determination, the Division will consider: “the nature of the offense, the character of the offender, the protection of the public interest, the deterrent, rehabilitative, isolative, and denunciatory purposes for which the sentence was intended.” In this case, the Division considered these factors and affirmed the sentence, noting that there was “no good reason to reduce the sentence imposed by the trial court.”

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

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 Conviction for Misconduct with a Motor Vehicle Upheld; Sufficient Evidence to Establish Requisite Mental State

In a criminal law matter decided this month, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a defendant’s conviction for misconduct with a motor vehicle, finding sufficient evidence to convict and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting potentially prejudicial evidence.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on the night of December 2, 2007. Despite snow and freezing rain that day, the defendant drove with his friends to an unplowed parking lot after dinner and performed a “donut” around a light pole. Afterward, he traveled along a road where passing was not permitted, the speed limit was 45mph, and there was only one travel lane in each direction. The defendant attempted to pass a slow-moving vehicle but lost control of the vehicle. The car veered off the road and two passengers were ejected, one sustaining head injuries that led to his death.

The defendant was charged with second-degree manslaughter, third-degree assault, and reckless driving. As an alternative to the manslaughter charge, the court charged the jury with lesser included offenses, including misconduct with a motor vehicle. Defense counsel filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude testimony regarding the donut. He argued that the evidence was not relevant, involved uncharged misconduct, and the potential for prejudice far outweighed its probative value. The State countered that because the donut was performed shortly before the accident, it was probative and relevant to mental state, and served as evidence that the defendant was aware of the poor driving conditions. The trial court denied the motion, stating, “[W]hat happened a matter of minutes before the actual incident is part and parcel of the incident itself.”

The defendant was found guilty of reckless driving and misconduct with a motor vehicle, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) §§ 14-222(a) and 53a-57(a). He appealed his conviction, arguing that the State provided insufficient evidence of the requisite mental state for misconduct with a motor vehicle, and the court improperly allowed evidence of the donut into the record.

A criminal defendant is guilty of misconduct with a motor vehicle if the State proves that he caused the death of another person through criminally negligent operation of his motor vehicle.

A person acts with “criminal negligence” with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such result will occur or that such circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation… (CGS § 53a-3 (14))

A defendant does not have to be speeding in his vehicle to violate CGS § 53a-57(a). Relevant evidence makes a material fact more or less probable than it would be without such evidence. Even if relevant, evidence may be excluded where its probative value is outweighed by the danger of undue prejudice. However, mere prejudice is not enough, because “[a]ll adverse evidence is damaging to one’s case.”

In this case, the Appellate Court was not persuaded by the defendant’s arguments. It found that there was ample evidence that the defendant operated his vehicle in a criminally negligent behavior, and that he was not speeding at the time was not dispositive. Furthermore, the Court agreed that the evidence was relevant, and the probative value outweighed the danger of undue prejudice. Its admission as evidence was not an abuse of discretion by the trial court. Therefore, the judgment was affirmed.

When faced with a charge of reckless driving or misconduct with a motor vehicle, 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.

Driver Found Guilty of Evading Responsibility, Despite Not Realizing He Caused Victim’s Death

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a defendant’s conviction for evading responsibility, unconvinced that the State did not present sufficient evidence of the crime.

This case arose from an incident that occurred shortly before midnight on June 3, 2008. A tractor trailer struck a motorcycle driven by the victim, who was killed instantly. However, the driver of the truck did not stop to render any assistance, but instead drove off. Subsequently, the defendant, a tractor-trailer truck driver, was arrested and charged with evading responsibility in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-224(a).

At trial, the State presented testimony from two witnesses. The first saw the accident and testified that she observed two working headlights on the tractor-trailer truck just prior to the collision. A second witness observed a tractor-trailer truck parked a short distance from the accident. This witness “saw the driver get out of the cab of the truck, walk around to its front, and then get back into the cab and drive away.” This witness further noted that the truck’s left headlight was not lit, and both witnesses described unique features and characteristics that were present on the defendant’s tractor-trailer truck.

The State also submitted a sworn police statement given by the defendant. He stated that he was driving at the intersection at the time of the incident when “he heard a ‘bang.’ He stated that he assumed something had become ‘hung up between the truck and the trailer’ and therefore stopped only briefly before leaving the scene of the accident.” The defendant further claimed that the headlight that was out was in that condition earlier that night. The jury found the defendant guilty, and he was sentenced to forty-four months of incarceration. The defendant appealed, arguing that the State provided insufficient evidence that he was the driver of the truck that killed the motorcyclist, and that he knew he was involved in an accident.

To convict an individual under CGS § 14-224(a), the State must prove “(1) the defendant was operating the motor vehicle, (2) the defendant was knowingly involved in an accident… (3) that accident caused the death or serious physical injury of any other person… [and] (4) that the defendant failed to stop at once to render such assistance as may have been needed…” Particularly important, however, is the interaction between the second and third elements: a defendant doesn’t have to know that the accident actually caused an injury.

In this case, the Appellate Court believed that based on the evidence presented, the jury could have reasonably concluded that the defendant was the driver in question. Furthermore, that the defendant did not know he caused an injury was not dispositive. “[W]hether a defendant had knowledge that an accident caused injury… is irrelevant to the crime of evading responsibility.” Because the first three elements were satisfied and the defendant did not stop to render assistance to the victim, the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he violated CGS § 14-224(a). After addressing and rejecting additional matters on appeal, the Appellate Court affirmed judgment.

When faced with a charge of evading responsibility, 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.