Posts tagged with "evidence"

To Be Qualified for a Position, an Employee Must Also Be Eligible

Most employees are familiar with the proposition that for them to prevail in a discrimination case they must prove several things, including that they were “qualified” for the position sought (and denied).  Most people equate being “qualified” with “possessing the qualifications to perform the job” and this is correct.  But there is more.  In addition to being technically competent, the employee must also be eligible to apply for the position.

Case Background

In a decision, a Physician’s Assistant (“PA”) voluntarily chose to transfer from a hospital’s Department of Surgery to its Department of Medicine in order to avoid impending “on-call” obligations.  When a Lead PA position was posted in the Department of Surgery it was hospital policy to offer it first to PA’s within the Department (of which there was one) and absent interest, to open the position to other Departments.  When the Lead PA position was offered to and accepted by the lone PA in the Department of Surgery the former Department PA sued on a variety of grounds, including race and gender discrimination.

The Court’s Decision

After a jury initially found for the disappointed PA, a reviewing court found that the jury’s determination that he was qualified for the position found no support in the record.  The court framed the relevant inquiry as “whether he would have been eligible to apply as a non-departmental candidate when there was an internal candidate willing to take the . . . position.”  The court answered this question in the negative and judgment was entered in favor of the defendant hospital.

Parenthetically, the court also found that the plaintiff PA did not suffer any adverse employment action and that the circumstances of the case did not give rise to an inference of gender discrimination.  Noteworthy, too, was the court’s observation that “unfairness is not the equivalent of gender discrimination.”  The court’s sole concern is “whether unlawful discriminatory animus motivates a challenged employment decision.”  Thus, a successful plaintiff must produce evidence from which such motivation can reasonably be inferred.

The employment law attorneys in the Westport, Connecticut office of Maya Murphy, P.C. have extensive experience in the negotiation and litigation of all sorts of employment-related disputes and assist clients from Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk, Westport and Fairfield in resolving such issues. Please contact our Westport office at 203-221-3100.

Four-Prong Test Applied to Enforce Non-Compete Provision in a Franchise Agreement

Money Mailer Franchise Corporation v. Wheeler, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2260
Case Details

Mr. Douglas Wheeler entered into a Franchise Agreement with Money Mailer Franchise Corporation on February 28, 2003, wherein he was assigned a mailing territory comprised of thirteen zip codes in Fairfield and New Haven counties.  Money Mailer was a business that franchised a system of providing direct mail order advertising and related services.  The Franchise Agreement contained a non-compete covenant.

The non-compete prohibited Mr. Wheeler from engaging “in any Competitive Activities with the Territory [his thirteen zip codes] or within the territory of any other “Money Mailer” franchise then in operation” for a period of two years following termination.  This essentially obligated Mr. Wheeler to not engage in any competing business enterprise within fifty miles of any Money Mailer franchise.

Mr. Wheeler sold his franchise to Mr. Javier Ferrer on October 31, 2007 for $130,000.  He executed an additional non-compete agreement in connection with this transaction wherein he promised not to compete for three years following the closing of the deal.  In February 2008, he began to work as an Independent Contractor for Direct Advantage, a direct competitor engaged in the same business(es) as Money Mailer.

Money Mailer sued Mr. Wheeler for breach of the Franchise Agreement and requested that the court enforce the provisions contained in the non-compete agreement.  Mr. Wheeler acknowledged that he was involved in the exact same business addressed and prohibited in the non-compete agreement and admitted to soliciting several of Money mailer’s previous and current customers.

The Court’s Decision

The Connecticut state court granted Money Mailer’s request for injunctive relief and ordered the enforcement of the restrictive covenant.  The court stated that the purpose of injunctive relief was to preserve the status quo of the parties until the case was definitively decided.

It further noted the relevant standard of review for granting a request for an injunction and specified four factors: 1) no adequate remedy at law, 2) plaintiff would experience irreparable harm if the request was not granted, 3) plaintiff was likely to prevail on the merits of the case, and 4) an injunction would sustain the balance of the parties’ equities.  The court concluded that Money Mailer’s case met all of these requisite factors and its complaint warranted relief in the form of a temporary injunction.

The court concluded that an injunctive order was necessary to balance the parties’ interests during the legal proceedings and that the temporary injunction would essentially restore the parties to their relative positions before the alleged violation of the non-compete agreement.  Money Mailer was able to demonstrate that Mr. Wheeler’s actions had a detrimental impact its business interests.

Additionally, the court found that Money Mailer was likely to prevail on the merits of its complaint, specifically citing that Mr. Wheeler’s own testimony provided abundant evidence of activities that should trigger the enforcement of the restrictive covenant.  For these enumerated reasons, the court granted Money Mailer’s request for an injunction restraining Mr. Wheeler from further violations of the non-compete provisions contained in the Franchise Agreement executed between the parties in 2003.

The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable employment and corporate law practitioners and assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and elsewhere in Fairfield County.  If you have any questions relating to your non-compete agreement or would like to discuss any element of your employment agreement, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Requisite Proof to Demonstrate Irreparable Harm in Connection to Breach of Non-Compete

VBrick Systems, Inc. v. Stephens, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45835
Case Background

VBrick Systems, Inc. was a Delaware corporation with primary business operations based in Wallingford, Connecticut that provided networked streaming video products and services.  The company employed Mr. Robert Stephens as its Army Federal Territory Manager from July 2005 until April 1, 2008, when he tendered his resignation from the company and began to work at Optibase, Inc as its Director of Federal Sales.  Optibase is a direct competitor that also sells networked video products and services to government, military, and private sector customers. Mr. Stephens traveled to Connecticut after he was hired by VBrick to attend a training session at the company’s headquarters and signed an employment agreement that contained non-compete and non-disclosure clauses.

The Employment Agreement

In the agreement, he agreed to refrain from working at a competing company during an eighteen-month period after his termination from VBrick.  The non-disclosure covenant stipulated that Mr. Stephens be legally obligated to maintain the confidential nature of VBrick’s business operations and information that he had access to during his employment with the company.  The employment agreement stated that Connecticut law would govern any legal disputes but failed to enumerate any geographical limitations for the restrictive covenants.

VBrick alleged that Mr. Stephens breached the covenants by accepting a position with a competitor within eighteen months of his termination and by using VBrick’s proprietary information in his role as an Optibase employee.  VBrick sued in federal court and requested that the court enforce the provisions contained in the restrictive covenants.  The court ultimately found in favor of Mr. Stephens and denied VBrick’s request for injunctive relief.  The court found that VBrick did not meet the burden of proof to demonstrate that it would suffer irreparable harm if the court did not issue an injunction.

The Court’s Decision

The court held that VBrick failed to present adequate and convincing evidence that Mr. Stephens actually possessed or had access to any of its trade secrets or confidential information.  He had familiarized himself with the products he was marketing and selling by using the company’s training programs and corporate website, both of which are accessible by the public.

Additionally, VBrick did not convince the court that Mr. Stephens’ action as an Optibase employee had “affected or will significantly affect VBrick’s sales or revenues”.  This meant that VBrick was unable to show that it had been adversely affected by Mr. Stephens’ actions or that it was likely to be in the future.  VBrick’s testimony offered evidence to the contrary when it stated before the court that its sales and revenues remained strong despite Mr. Stephens’ termination and the national economic downturn.  In light of inadequate evidence to show that Mr. Stephens’ action at Optibase created an imminent danger for VBrick’s business operations, the court had no option but to deny VBrick’s request for injunctive relief.

 

The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable employment and corporate law practitioners and assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and elsewhere in Fairfield County.  If you have any questions relating to your non-compete agreement or would like to discuss any element of your employment agreement, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

“Inevitable Disclosure Doctrine” Fails to Demonstrate Breach of Non-Disclosure and Non-Compete Agreements

EarthWeb, Inc. v. Schlack, 71 F. Supp. 2d 299
EarthWeb, Inc. v. Schlack, 2000 U.S. App. LEXIS 11446

Mr. Mark Schlack worked for EarthWeb, Inc. from October 19, 1998 to September 22, 1999 as the company’s Vice President of Worldwide Content where he had overall editorial responsibilities for the company’s website.  EarthWeb was started in 2004 and had 230 employees nationwide that provided online products and services to business professionals in the information technology (IT) industry.  The company and Mr. Schlack signed an employment agreement on October 13, 1998 that contained non disclosure and non compete clauses.

The restrictions prohibited Mr. Schlack from being an employee of a business entity that directly competed with EarthWeb for a period of twelve months after his termination.  The agreement provided consideration in the form of Mr. Schlack’s salary, performance-based bonus, and stock options.  Mr. Schlack tendered his resignation in September 1999 and informed his superiors at EarthWeb that he had accepted a position with ITworld.com, a subsidiary of IDG, another business connected to the IT industry.

EarthWeb Takes Action

EarthWeb sued Mr. Schlack in federal court and asked it to grant a preliminary injunction to prevent him from working for ITworld.com.  EarthWeb sued in order to protect its confidential information and trade secrets related to several components of its business operations: 1) strategic content planning, 2) licensing agreements and acquisitions, 3) advertising, and 4) technical knowledge.

The company argued that an injunction and the enforcement of the non-compete agreement were necessary to prevent disclosure of its trade secrets and confidential business information.  The federal court denied EarthWeb’s request and the company appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals (jurisdiction over Connecticut, New York, and Vermont).  At the appellate level, the court affirmed the district court’s decision and held that the denial of the injunction and enforcement was proper given the facts of the case.

How to Prove Irreparable Harm

The Second Circuit had previously held that a demonstration of irreparable harm is the “single most important prerequisite for the issuance of a preliminary injunction”.  Mamiya Co. v. Masel Supply Co., 719 F.2d 42, (1983).  Disclosure of trade secrets and confidential information has traditionally been sufficient to show irreparable harm so long as the harm is imminent.  The mere possibility of harm is insufficient and motions should be denied when the harm described in the complaint is remote and speculative.  This case did not involve actual theft or misappropriation of confidential information, only the possibility of future disclosure.

Mr. Schlack defended himself by asserting that the position awaiting him at ITworld.com was very different from his job at EarthWeb and that he would not have an occasion to divulge any of EarthWeb’s confidential information.  Additionally, he claimed that EarthWeb’s complaint overstated his responsibilities and he was nowhere close to being a senior executive with access to vast amounts of confidential information.

Shortcomings of EarthWeb’s Argument

EarthWeb had the burden to show that Mr. Schlack’s breach of the non-compete agreement would create irreparable harm.  The appellate court held that the company had failed to establish that an injunction was reasonably necessary to protect its business interests.  The company failed to produce any evidence that there was an imminent risk that Mr. Schlack would disclose EarthWeb’s confidential information while being employed at ITworld.com.

The court stated that EarthWeb had relied on the “Inevitable Disclosure Doctrine”; a theory the court rejected and commented should only be applied in the rarest of circumstances.  The doctrine heavily relies on speculation and “what ifs” to advance a request for injunctive relief for breach of a non-compete agreement.  This doctrine employed insufficient concrete evidence that there would be a disclosure of confidential information and both the district and appellate courts denied EarthWeb’s request for injunctive relief in the form of enforcing the restrictive covenant.

The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable employment and corporate law practitioners and assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and elsewhere in Fairfield County.  If you have any questions relating to your non-compete agreement or would like to discuss any element of your employment agreement, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

In Reviewing Evidentiary Inferences, Whether They Are Reasonable and Logical is Paramount Consideration on Appeal

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

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

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

The Defendant’s Appeal

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

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

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

The Court’s Decision

When a jury considers evidence, it need not “accept as dispositive those inferences that are consistent with the defendant’s innocence. … The [finder of fact] may draw whatever inferences from the evidence or facts established by the evidence that it deems to be reasonable and logical.” Therefore, when a reviewing court determines whether or not a jury’s inference was proper, it asks whether there is “a reasonable view of the evidence that supports the [finder of fact’s] verdict of guilty.”

In this case, it was the jury’s authority to weigh the credibility of witness testimony and choose which inferences to accept – here, those asserted by the State. Therefore, the Court found that there was ample evidence to support the defendant’s convictions, and the denial of the MJOA was not erroneous.

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

Testimony Deemed Proof of Market Value of Shoplifted Goods Where Defense Counsel Failed to Object to Its Admission

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s insufficiency of the evidence claims regarding the value of shoplifted goods and the element of “taking” under Connecticut’s larceny laws. Court deems testimony to be sufficient evidence.

The Case

This case arose from an incident that occurred on January 30, 2007. Stratford police responded to a shoplifting in progress at a local Wal-Mart. At the store’s loss prevention office, the officers observed live camera footage of the defendant and her accomplices attempting to hide DVDs, first in a clear plastic tote, then within a suitcase.

The defendant stayed inside the store as the accomplices pushed a cart with the suitcase to a store exit and left it there as they proceeded outside, where they were arrested. The defendant then moved to the cart and pushed it slightly, but was detained before actually leaving the store. Pursuant to police department procedure in shoplifting cases, the officers asked a store employee to scan the DVDs and provide a receipt as if they were purchased. There were 101 DVDs with an aggregate value of $1,822.72.

Charges Made Against the Defendant

The defendant was charged with larceny in the third degree and conspiracy to commit larceny in the third degree. At trial, an officer testified as to how the value of the DVDs was calculated, but could not remember the exact amount. After being shown a copy of his report to refresh his recollection, the officer testified that the total amount was $1,822.72. Defense counsel did not object to the line of questioning or the testimony on the grounds of hearsay or competency. No other evidence regarding the value of the DVDs was provided, such as the receipt or the DVDs themselves.

The defendant was convicted on both counts and sentenced to three years of incarceration. On appeal, she first argued that the officer’s testimony was incompetent evidence that the value of the DVDs exceeded $1,000. He did not have an independent knowledge of their value and was merely reciting a value from a document not entered into evidence. Even if such testimony was competent, the use of the store’s price tags was an inadequate measure of market value. Rather, according to the defendant, evidence of actual sales was necessary.

Sufficiency of Evidence

The Appellate court found that the officer’s testimony was sufficient proof because defense counsel did not object to its admission. “If [inadmissible] evidence is received without objection, it becomes part of the evidence in the case, and is usable as proof to the extent of the rational persuasive power it may have.” The Court noted that “market value” and “selling price” (a.k.a. price tags) are synonymous terms, and that “any evidence which reasonably tends to show the present value of the stolen goods may be admitted.”

The defendant next argued that there was insufficient evidence of a taking, as she was still inside the store and had not brought any DVDs outside at the time she was detained. In Connecticut, larceny consists of “(1) the wrongful taking or carrying away of the personal property of another; (2) the existence of a felonious intent in the taker to deprive the owner of [the property] permanently; and (3) the lack of consent of the owner.” To constitute a criminal taking, what is necessary is the “implicit transfer of possession or control,” not whether the item itself was removed from the owner’s premises. To constitute larceny in the third degree, the value of the property must exceed $1,000.

Conclusion

In this case, the Appellate Court was once more not persuaded that there was insufficient evidence. The actions taken by the defendant and accomplices “in concealing the DVDs and moving them to an area where they quickly could be removed from the store” was sufficient evidence to establish the essential taking element of larceny.

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.

Appellate Court Considers Whether Evidence of Previously-Set Fire Was Improperly Admitted in Arson Trialinimnininin

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In “Double Jeopardy Not Implicated in Case Where Man Purposefully Burned Down His Home to Collect Nearly $400,000 in Insurance Payments,” the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s claims that his constitutional protections against double jeopardy were violated when he was convicted of both larceny in the first degree and insurance fraud. The Court considered other matters on his appeal, including whether or not the court improperly admitted evidence including testimony.

The Case

In her sworn statement, the defendant’s daughter informed police that the defendant had purposefully set her car on fire during the summer of 2001. She explained that she did not want to have to continue making her car payments, so the defendant “told [her] that he was going to start a fire in the car and make it look like an electrical fire so that she could collect the insurance and pay off the automobile loan.” His effort was a success: police determined the damage was accidental, the car was deemed a total loss, and the insurance company, as expected, paid her claim.

Prior to the defendant’s trial for arson, insurance fraud, and larceny, he filed a motion seeking to exclude any evidence related to car fire. He argued that he did not receive any of the proceeds, was never charged for a crime, and the evidence was more prejudicial than probative.

Inadmissible Evidence

The State countered that this evidence of misconduct was admissible because it was relevant in establishing intent as to whether the house fire was accidental and showed a common scheme. The court denied the motion but issued a jury instruction that the purpose of the evidence was to establish “a method or plan or scheme… in the commission of criminal acts or the existence of intent or the absence of accident.”

Generally, evidence of a defendant’s prior bad acts is inadmissible to prove guilt on a present charge. However, “evidence of crimes so connected as to tend directly to prove the commission of the charged crime is admissible.” Such evidence will be admitted only if it is relevant to a statutory exception, such as proving intent, and the probative value outweighs the prejudicial effect.

The Court’s Decision

In this case, the Appellate Court agreed with the defendant that the daughter’s statement was inadmissible to show a common scheme or plan because the car fire occurred more than a year before the house fire. However, the Court sided with the State and found the evidence was admissible “to prove the closely related issues of intent… lack of accident or mistake.” As the Court elaborated:

The evidence that the defendant started a fire in the automobile in order that his daughter might recover insurance proceeds tended to prove that he knew how to start a fire that appeared to be accidental in nature and that he intentionally set the fire to his residence to recover insurance proceeds.

Whether or not the house fire was accidental in nature became an issue in the case, so the evidence regarding the car fire made “utterly limpid his subsequent intent to burn down his house… to recover the insurance proceeds.” After determining the evidence would not “shock the sensibilities” of the jury, resulting in undue prejudice to the defendant, the Appellate Court affirmed judgment as to this aspect of the defendant’s appeal.

 

When faced with a charge of arson, fraud, 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.

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.

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.

Court’s Limiting Instruction Minimized Prejudicial Impact of Contested Evidence

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s claims of improperly-admitted evidence and prosecutorial impropriety, following his conviction in a DUI-related case. The defendant’s first claim is discussed in this article.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on July 3 and 4, 2006. Officers initiated a traffic stop after observing the defendant driving erratically, and after personal interaction they determined the defendant was highly intoxicated. They placed him under arrest for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a. The officers also arranged for the defendant’s truck to be towed. During the booking process, officers learned that the defendant’s driver’s license was suspended at the time of the traffic stop. Therefore, they charged him with operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license (OMVSL) in violation of CGS § 14-215. The following morning, an officer saw the defendant being driven to the tow truck company that had towed the defendant’s truck the previous night. There, the officer observed the defendant driving his truck from the parking lot exit, so he initiated a traffic stop and issued a summons for OMVSL.

At trial, the State sought to include redacted versions of the two suspension notices, but defense counsel objected. Citing un-redacted portions that showed duration of the suspensions, counsel argued, “[A]ny reasonable person would infer from the blacked out [portion] that the suspension notice [was] alcohol related, and… that would be unduly prejudicial for [the defendant].” The court overruled the objection, stating the argument involved mere speculation. The court later gave a limiting instruction to the jury that they were not to speculate as to the reasons for the instructions; rather, the suspension notices were only being used by the State to allege that the defendant was under suspension.

The defendant was convicted on all counts, and after sentencing he filed an appeal. He argued, in part, that the probative value of the suspension notices was outweighed by their prejudicial impact. He argued that inclusion of the notices would lead the jury to believe he was a “chronic drunk driver,” which would be highly prejudicial to the present case.

The trial court has discretion to determine whether the probative value of evidence is outweighed by its prejudicial impact. Such findings are reversed only upon the showing of an abuse of discretion or manifest injustice. In this case, the Appellate Court determined that the notices were relevant because they tended to prove that the defendant’s license was suspended on July 3 and 4, 2006. The defendant failed to provide any compelling basis to indicate they were unduly prejudicial. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that their admission into evidence was unduly prejudicial, the limiting instruction given by the court lessened or even eliminated any adverse impact on the outcome of the trial. Therefore, the court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the notices into evidence.

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