Posts tagged with "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt"

Despite Inconsistent Witness Statements, Other Evidence Established That Defendant Committed Assault

In an opinion issued earlier last year, the Appellate Court of Connecticut upheld a defendant’s conviction for first-degree assault, citing sufficient evidence identifying him as the perpetrator.

Case Background

The case arose from an incident that occurred on February 7, 2008. The victim was employed at a market in the neighborhood in which the defendant, a frequent customer known as Espana, lived. The defendant entered the store and asked the victim for money, which was promptly given away to other customers. When asked for more the victim refused, and the defendant stated “you’re going to see what’s going to happen” before leaving the store. That night, as the victim and a coworker, W, were emptying garbage outside the store, the defendant stabbed the victim twice and ran off. Despite profuse bleeding, the victim went inside and told another employee, F, that Espana stabbed him.

Police responded, but the victim told them that two black men assaulted him. W initially conveyed he saw nothing because “he was nervous and so did not tell the police everything he had witnessed that night.” In addition, F had problems conveying to officers what the victim stated, since none of the officers were fluent in Spanish. The victim underwent emergency surgery and survived his injuries, though he was hospitalized for five weeks. Eight days later, the defendant returned to the store while intoxicated, threatened W, and told both F and W that he stabbed the victim. Police were called to the scene, where they arrested the defendant and charged him with several crimes, including assault in the first degree.

The Trial

On March 19, 2008, the victim was released from the hospital and went to the police station to give a statement. He identified the defendant as his attacker, and selected the defendant’s photograph from an array of eight photographs. The victim explained that he was not initially forthcoming because he was not a U.S. citizen and used a false identity, but he became concerned when “[the defendant] went back looking for me saying that he was going to finish what he started.” At trial, the victim, F, and W all made in-court identifications of the defendant as the perpetrator, as well as testified to that fact.

The defendant was convicted and received a lengthy sentence but appealed, arguing that the State presented insufficient evidence that he was the person who assaulted the victim. He pointed to the series of inconsistent statements: “[I]n speaking to police on the night of the attack, [the victim] did not identify the defendant as the attacker, [W] denied witnessing the attack and [F] denied knowing who had stabbed [the victim].”

The Court’s Decision

Under Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-59(a)(1), an individual commits first-degree assault “when… [w]ith the intent to cause serious physical injury to another person, he causes such injury to such person or to a third person by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument.” In this case, the Appellate Court determined that the jury could reasonably conclude that the defendant was the perpetrator, despite the apparent inconsistent statements. This went to witness credibility rather than sufficiency of the evidence, and “[i]t is the [jury’s] exclusive province to weigh the conflicting evidence and to determine the credibility of witnesses.”

In addition, the Court pointed to other evidence on the record that, taken together, met the State’s burden: the in-court identifications, the victim’s written statement to police, the victim’s identification of the defendant as the perpetrator, the selection of the defendant’s picture in the photographic array, and the defendant’s oral confession a week after the incident. Thus, the Court held that it was reasonable for the jury to conclude that “the cumulative force of this evidence established the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” After addressing an additional matter on appeal, the judgment was affirmed.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

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

State Supplied Sufficient Evidence for Jury to Infer Defendant Knew About Child’s Injury but Failed to Act

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed the Appellate Court’s finding, ruling that the State provided sufficient evidence to convict the defendant for risk of injury to a minor child.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on January 12, 2003. A mother, U, got ready for a birthday party but forgot to turn off her hair straightener before leaving at 11:30pm. She left her four-month-old child (the victim) in the defendant’s care. U returned at 1:15am and sat with her older son in the living room until 3:30am, during which time she did not hear the victim cry.

When U then began to play with the victim, she saw that the child’s left hand was “extremely swollen and had formed a large blister” and promptly called 911. The defendant and U both told responding officers that the victim’s hand was not injured before U left earlier that night, and the defendant acknowledged that while he had been with the victim all night, he did not know what caused the injury.

The defendant was charged with risk of injury to a child “for his willful delay in seeking medical attention for the victim” in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53-21(a)(1). At trial, the treating physician testified that the victim would have “screamed bloody murder” when burned; likewise, the child’s pediatrician testified the screaming would have lasted up to fifteen minutes. Because U did not hear the victim crying when she returned, the State argued that the child suffered the injury sometime between 11:30pm and 1:15am – at least two hours forty-five minutes before 911 was notified.

Appellate Court Ruling

A jury found the defendant guilty, but on appeal the conviction was reversed. In reviewing the defendant’s insufficiency of the evidence claim, the Appellate Court found that the State failed to provide direct evidence on the age of the injury. As such, the jury’s inference that the defendant was aware of the burn was “too speculative” to support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. On appeal, the State argued that the Appellate Court failed to consider circumstantial evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the verdict.

To secure a conviction under the “situation prong” of § 53-21(a)(1), the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant “willfully or unlawfully caused or permitted a [minor] child to be placed in a situation where… the health of the child was likely to be injured…” If a defendant was under a legal duty to act and his failure to act “cause[d] a dangerous situation to exist or continue,” this may be sufficient evidence for conviction under the statute. Thus, a defendant may act willfully where he became aware of the victim’s injury but thereafter purposefully delayed seeking medical attention.

Supreme Court of Connecticut Ruling

In this case, the Supreme Court agreed that there was substantial circumstantial evidence supporting the jury’s inferences that the injury occurred while U was not home, and that the defendant was aware of the injury’s severity. At the time the victim was injured, the defendant would have heard the screaming and seen that the child’s hand was “grotesquely charred and blistered.” Therefore, the Court held that the Appellate Court erred in concluding there was insufficient evidence supporting the verdict and reversed judgment.

When faced with a charge of risk of injury to a child or reckless endangerment, 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.