Posts tagged with "experienced criminal law practitioner"

Lower Court Erred in Denying Defendant’s Motion to Vacate Enhanced Sentence Because the Persistent Offender Provision Was Inapplicable

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut agreed with a defendant that he was improperly sentenced as a repeat offender under General Statutes § 14-227a(g) and that the trial court erred in denying his motion to vacate.

Case Details

In this case, the defendant was arrested on three separate occasions over the span of approximately three weeks. He was charged with three counts of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of § 14-227a, and each case was docketed in a different jurisdiction: Waterbury, Meriden, and Bristol. The defense counsel and Waterbury prosecutor reached a plea agreement, under which the defendant would be sentenced as a first-time offender twice and a second-time offender once.

However, the Meriden prosecutor would not transfer his case unless the defendant first pled guilty. On December 15, 2008, the defendant entered a guilty plea in the Meriden case, which was then transferred to Waterbury for purposes of sentencing. The Bristol case was transferred as well.

The Court’s Decision

On December 22, 2008, counsel submitted a new plea agreement to the court. Under its terms, the defendant would be sentenced as a first-time offender once (in the Meriden case) and a second-time offender on the other two counts. The defendant entered guilty pleas on January 12, 2009. The defendant, with support from the State, filed a motion to vacate the pleas and sentences, arguing that the pleas were improperly and illegally entered.

The court denied this motion, and the defendant sought remedy with the Appellate Court, arguing that he should have been sentenced as a first-time offender for all three cases. He noted that “he cannot be subjected to the enhanced penalty… because his conviction in the Meriden case occurred after the conduct underlying the violations of § 14-227a in the Waterbury and Bristol cases.”

General Statutes § 14-227a(g) allows for enhanced penalties for repeat offenders in OMVUI cases. In State v. Burns, the Supreme Court of Connecticut determined that for this section to be applicable, a defendant “must [first] have been convicted under § 14-227a and later must have violated the statute.”

In this case, the defendant was not convicted of OMVUI in the Meriden case “at the time of the commission of the second and third violations in the Waterbury and Bristol cases.” Instead, the defendant was sentenced in all three matters on the same date. As such, the Appellate Court found that the persistent offender provision did not apply, and the trial court erred when it did not grant the defendant’s motion to vacate.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

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

Plaintiff’s Lawsuit Against Commissioner of Department of Motor Vehicles Barred by State’s Sovereign Immunity; Plaintiff Failed to Prove Any Exceptions Applied

In a criminal law matter, the Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Fairfield at Bridgeport dismissed a plaintiff’s action against the defendant Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), because she was barred under sovereign immunity doctrine from bringing suit.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on or about July 11, 2006. The plaintiff was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a, and she refused to submit to an alcohol chemical test. She pled guilty to this charge, and in light of two previous OMVUI convictions, her license was suspended for a year and she would be required to install an interlocking ignition device (IID) in her vehicle.

The plaintiff received a revised suspension notice from the DMV stating her license would instead be suspended for three years because of her refusal to submit to the chemical test. In addition, the plaintiff would not be able to make use of the IID. See General Statutes § 14-227b(i)(3)(C).

The plaintiff filed motions with the court, asking it to enjoin the defendant from suspending her license beyond the initial one-year period. The plaintiff argued that the defendant exceeded his statutory authority and, as such, violated her constitutional rights. In its motion to dismiss, the defendant countered that the court did not have subject matter jurisdiction because of the state’s sovereign immunity. He pointed out that the plaintiff did not seek declaratory or injunctive relief “based on a substantial claim that the state or its officials have violated [her] constitutional rights or that the state or its officials have acted in excess of their statutory authority.”

Sovereign Immunity Doctrine 

Sovereign immunity doctrine holds that a State cannot be sued unless it authorizes or consents to suit. There are only three statutory exceptions to this rule: waiver, violation of a plaintiff’s constitutional right by a state official, and action in excess of a state official’s statutory authority which violates a plaintiff’s right. If the second exception is asserted, State action will survive strict scrutiny analysis only if it is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.

In this case, the Superior Court found “little dispute” that highway safety is a compelling state interest and that the increased suspension and IID refusal was “both reasonable and necessary to achieve the goal of protecting the public safety.” Therefore, the Court found that the plaintiff’s constitutional rights were not violated.

Regarding the third exception, the DMV Commissioner has very broad discretion “to oversee and control the operation of motor vehicles generally.” Public policy concerns underpinning our motor vehicle laws center on the protection of the lives and property of Connecticut’s citizens. The legislature has also recognized the heavy burden placed on those convicted of OMVUI “in a society dependent on automotive transportation.” The use of IIDs helps alleviate these burdens, but it is a privilege of limited application, which does not encompass suspensions based on refusing to submit to an alcohol chemical test.

In this case, the Superior Court found that the defendant “clearly” had statutory authority to impose the three-year suspension and refuse the plaintiff’s request to use an IID. Therefore, because the plaintiff failed to establish the applicability of either exception, the Superior Court held her action was barred by the State’s sovereign immunity.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

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.

U.S. Supreme Court to Tackle Nonconsensual, Warrantless Blood Draws

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Missouri v. McNeely (11-1425) and its ruling on warrantless blood draws has impacted the criminal justice community and Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.

Katz v. United States

In the pivotal U.S. Supreme Court case Katz v. United States, the justices stated, “Searches conducted without warrants have been held unlawful notwithstanding facts unquestionably showing probable cause.”[1] The compulsory administration of a blood test “plainly involves the broadly conceived reach of a search and seizure.”[2] Warrantless searches are “per se unreasonable… subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.”[3]

One such recognized exception is exigent circumstances, which “refers to those situations in which law enforcement agents will be unable or unlikely to effectuate and arrest, search or seizure, for which probable cause exists, unless they act swiftly and, without seeking prior judicial authorization.”[4]

Case Background

McNeely involved a traffic stop turned DUI investigation, followed by the compulsory administration of a blood test against the defendant’s wishes. This scenario was previously expounded upon by the Supreme Court in Schmerber v. California, which permitted the warrantless taking of blood samples in light of “‘special facts’ that might have caused the officer to reasonably believe he was faced with an emergency situation in which the delay in obtaining a warrant would threaten the destruction of evidence.”[5] Concerning special facts in that case:

The threat of evidence destruction was caused by the fact that the percentage of alcohol in a person’s blood begins to diminish shortly after drinking stops and because there was an accident requiring time to be taken to both transport the defendant to the hospital and to investigate the scene of the accident.[6]

Court Ruling

However, the Court in McNeely characterized the facts as “a routine DWI case” where there were “no other ‘special facts’ of exigency.”[7] As such, “[i]n routine DWI cases, in which no ‘special facts’ exist other than the natural dissipation alcohol in the blood, a warrant must be obtained before [a nonconsensual blood draw occurs].”[8] Thus, on Supreme Court review, McNeely presents the following constitutional inquiry: “police authority to take a blood sample from a driver who allegedly was drunk, when the officer has no warrant but wants to act quickly because of the chemical fact that alcohol in the blood dissipates over time.”

Indeed, only two months ago, I discussed a Superior Court of Connecticut case addressing this very scenario following a deadly automobile accident. During a motion to suppress a blood toxicology report, the State made the same argument set forth by Missouri – “evidence of the defendant’s blood alcohol level would have been lost if not obtained within a reasonable time”[9] – and equally failed because “the record [did] not contain any information that supports the finding that an exigency actually existed.”[10] How the Supreme Court decides on this question will undoubtedly have a widespread impact on police investigations involving intoxicated drivers.

Contact Us

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, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.


[1] United States v. Katz, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967).

[2] Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 767 (1966).

[3] State v. Aviles, 277 Conn. 281, 293 (2006).

[4] Id.

[5] Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 770-71 (1966).

[6] Id.

[7] State  v. McNeely, 358 S.W.3d 65, 74 (Mo. 2012).

[8] Id.

[9] State v. D’Andrea, 2006 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3381  (2006).

[10] Id.

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.