Posts tagged with "insufficient evidence"

Where Defense Counsel Invited Error, He Could Not Then Demand a Mistrial

In the previous article “Jury Could Reasonably Infer That Defendant Withheld Fact She Participated in Robbery In Order To Receive State Benefits,” the defendant did not succeed in her claim that the State presented insufficient evidence to convict her of fraudulent receipt of worker’s compensation benefits. In her appeal, she additionally argued that because an officer improperly referenced the defendant’s request for counsel during his testimony, the court should have declared a mistrial but failed to do so.

During cross-examination, defense counsel pressed the officer regarding whether he had taken a statement from the defendant following the robbery, asking variants of the same question. The officer consistently stated he did not take a statement, and upon repeat questioning, clarified that he had not done so because the defendant asked for an attorney. Defense counsel did not object to this testimony, and it was the judge who pointed out, outside the presence of the jury, the potential constitutional issue of referencing the counsel request. At this point, defense counsel made an oral motion for a mistrial, arguing that the statement was improper and nonresponsive. The court denied the motion, finding that the officer’s testimony was “sort of responsive,” and instead instructed the jury to disregard the officer’s testimony about the defendant’s request for counsel.

Declaring a mistrial is an extreme measure granted in very few situations, such as prejudice undermining the right to a fair trial. If the court can implement a curative action to counter the prejudice, oftentimes through a jury instruction, this is the preferred course of action. It is within the trial court’s discretion to grant or deny a motion for a mistrial, and the defendant “bears the burden of establishing that there was irreparable prejudice to the defendant’s case such that it denied him a fair trial.” However, if the error claimed by the defendant resulted from questioning on his part during cross-examination, “[s]o long as the answer is clearly responsive to the question asked, the questioner may not later secure a reversal on the basis of any invited error.”

In this case, the Appellate Court determined that defense counsel invited the error. By repeatedly asking the officer whether he had taken a statement from the defendant, despite consistent negative answers, defense counsel “opened the door for [the officer] to explain why there was no statement.” In addition, the defendant failed to show how she was denied a fair trial. The judge gave a curative instruction to disregard the statement, and “[a]bsent evidence to the contrary, we presume that the jury followed the court’s limiting instruction.” The Court further noted the strength of circumstantial evidence against the defendant. Therefore, this argument on appeal was rejected as well, and the judgment affirmed.

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.

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

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

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.

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].”

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.

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.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Defendant’s Refusal to Comply with Officer’s Legitimate Identification Request Constituted Interference with the Officer’s Duties

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed the Appellate Court’s decision to vacate a criminal defendant’s conviction for interfering with a police officer, because the State provided sufficient evidence of the essential elements.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 14, 2002. The defendant had a history of trespassing on a business’ property, and an employee discovered the defendant apparently tampering with pumping equipment. The defendant urged the employee to call police, and when they responded, an officer asked the defendant to identify himself. The defendant failed to do so immediately, claiming that “he did not need to produce identification, that he was on public property and that ‘this isn’t Russia. I’m not showing you any [identification].’”

The defendant was arrested and subsequently convicted of interfering with a police officer in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-167a, as well as other charges. When asked how the State provided sufficient evidence, the court responded that police were “acting within the scope of their duties in investigating the defendant’s alleged trespass,” and the defendant knew why he was being asked for identification.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the State provided insufficient evidence that he hindered the investigation by failing to promptly identify himself, and that his conduct was outside the scope of § 53a-167a. The State countered that the statute prohibits both verbal and nonverbal conduct calculated to interfere with the completion of an officer’s duties. In addition, the State contended that “a refusal to comply with a legitimate police request is equivalent to interfering with an officer,” thus there was sufficient evidence to convict. The Appellate Court agreed with the defendant and overturned his conviction. The State appealed this ruling, arguing that where a police officer makes “a legitimate investigatory stop under Terry, the person subject to the Terry stop must honor the officer’s reasonable demand for identification.” It stated that in this case, the officer had reasonable suspicion that the defendant was engaged or had engaged in criminal activity, and his refusal to promptly identify himself “provided a sufficient factual basis for the defendant’s conviction.”

Upon review of the statute, the Supreme Court noted that the words used are broad in scope, indicating that the legislature “intended to prohibit any act which would amount to meddling in or hampering the activities of police in the performance of their duties.” The Court agreed with the State that a refusal to provide identification in conjunction with a Terry stop “may hamper or impede a police investigation into apparent criminal activity,” regardless of whether the offending conduct is active, passive, aggressive, or peaceable. The Court explained that because § 53a-167a was drafted in such a way as “to encompass a wide range of conduct,” it is unreasonable to determine that because the legislature did not explicitly include refusals to identification requests, such conduct is exempt.

In order to effectuate an investigation, it is only natural that officers ask questions, and “questions concerning a suspect’s identity are a routine and accepted part of many Terry stops.” The government has several legitimate interests in ascertaining a suspect’s identity, and “[t]he request for identity has an immediate relation to the purpose, rationale, and practical demands of a Terry stop.” The Supreme Court agreed with the State that the defendant’s conduct fell within the purview of § 53a-167a, and was left to determine whether the elements of the offense were satisfied: namely, whether the defendant intentionally hindered the investigation. The Court agreed that there was sufficient evidence to convict: the defendant’s refusal delayed the police investigation “to [an] appreciable degree.” The delay need not be substantial. In addition, the defendant knew why the police were present, and his refusal “reflected an intent by the defendant to hinder, delay or impede the police.” Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment with respect to this charge and remanded the case to affirm the judgment of conviction.

When faced with a charge of interfering with a police officer, 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.

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.

State’s High Court Finds Drug Offense Convictions Proper Where Defendant Constructively Possessed Narcotics and Cannabis in His Wife’s Car

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut held, in part, that the State presented sufficient evidence to convict the defendant of drug possession charges under the theory of constructive possession.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on September 18, 2007. Narcotics officers initiated a valid traffic stop of the defendant, who was driving his wife’s vehicle with a friend in the passenger seat. The defendant avoided answering questions and “began nervously placing his hands inside his sweatshirt pockets and under his clothing.” The officer became concerned for his safety and ordered the defendant to keep his hands visible, but the defendant refused and a physical altercation ensued. During the struggle, a white package fell from the defendant’s pocket to the ground. It contained five wax folds that held a white powdery substance consistent with heroin.

The defendant was placed under arrest, and a subsequent search of his person revealed rolling papers and $552 in cash. While being brought to the patrol car, the defendant twisted out of the officers’ grip, lunged for the package and swallowed it, then “laughed at the officers and said, ‘gotcha.’” After both the defendant and his friend were placed in the cruisers, a search of the vehicle revealed two bags of crack cocaine and three bags of marijuana located in the center console.

The defendant was subsequently convicted of possession of narcotics, possession of a controlled substance, interfering with an officer, and tampering with physical evidence, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes §§ 21a-179(a), 21a-279(c), 53a-167a, and 53a-155. On appeal, the defendant argued, in part, that the court “improperly applied the doctrine of nonexclusive possession,” resulting in insufficient evidence to convict him of the possessory offenses.

In a case where the State cannot provide direct evidence of drug ownership, they must present a theory of nonexclusive possession. In other words, to prove illegal possession, the State must establish that “the defendant knew the character of the substance, knew of its presence and exercised dominion and control over it.” This theory is most often set forth where the drugs were not located on the defendant’s body, but in other areas, such as his home or vehicle. However, where the defendant is not in exclusive control of the premises (for example, there are other vehicle occupants), it is improper to infer that the defendant “knew of the presence of [the substances] and had control of them, unless there are other incriminating statements or circumstances tending to buttress such an inference.”

In this case, the Supreme Court determined that the theory of nonexclusive possession was properly exercised, and a jury could have reasonably concluded that the drugs belonged to the defendant. The defendant was driving the vehicle belonging to his wife, which made it more likely that he, not the passenger, was aware of the drugs in the center console. Drugs and related items were found on his person, making it more likely the cocaine and heroin belonged to him rather than his wife or the passenger. Finally, medical records revealed that on the day of the incident, a urinalysis revealed the presence of cocaine and opiates in his system. Therefore, there was sufficient evidence to convict the defendant of the possessory counts, and the judgment was affirmed.

When faced with a charge for possession or distribution of controlled substances, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-211-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

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.

Defendant’s Reckless Driving Conviction Was Not Inconsistent With Acquittal for Risk of Injury Due to Unique Criminal Elements

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s claim that his conviction for reckless driving was inconsistent with his acquittal for risk of injury to a child.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on the afternoon of February 10, 2007. A citizen was idling in her car at a red light, with minor children passengers, when she observed the defendant rapidly approaching her from behind in his car. He stopped within close proximity and began “honking his horn… flashing his lights and revving his car while using hand gestures urging her to proceed.” When the citizen pointed to the red light, the defendant drove his car into hers and pushed it into the middle of the intersection before proceeding past her vehicle. A passenger wrote down the license plate, which was supplied to police.

The defendant was arrested and charged with multiple counts, including reckless driving and risk of injury to a child, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes §§ 14-222 and 53-21. He was convicted of the former but acquitted on the latter and following sentencing the defendant appealed. He argued that there was insufficient evidence of reckless driving, and that the conviction was inconsistent with his acquittal on risk of injury to a child.

To be convicted of reckless driving, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant operated a motor vehicle on a public highway, “having regard to the width, traffic and use of such highway… at such a rate of speed as to endanger the life of any person other than the operator of such motor vehicle.” Conversely, for risk of injury to a child, the State must instead prove that the defendant “willfully or unlawfully causes or permits any child under the age of sixteen years to be placed in such a situation that the life or limb of such child is endangered.”

In this case, the Appellate Court determined that there was sufficient evidence of reckless driving, based on the testimony of the witness describing the events that occurred. As the ultimate arbiter of credibility, the court was free to believe this testimony, in whole or in part, and in so doing had sufficient evidence to convict. In addition, the Appellate Court stated that the conviction and acquittal were not inconsistent. In a Supreme Court of Connecticut decision in 2000, the Court stated, “If the offenses charged contain different elements, then a conviction of one offense is not inconsistent on its face with an acquittal of the other.” Looking to the elements of each crime, each offense contains unique elements not found in the other, and as the results were not inconsistent. Therefore, the Appellate Court affirmed the judgment.

When faced with a charge of reckless driving, 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 Considers Whether Reckless Driving Conviction Was Proper Under Revised Charge

In “Whether Driver Intended to Hit Victim or Not, It Was Still an Accident Under Connecticut’s Evading Responsibility Statute,” we learned that the intent of the defendant was not relevant to the meaning of “accident” for purposes of the evading responsibility statute. Regardless of which story the jury chose to believe, there was sufficient evidence that the defendant unintentionally struck the victim with his car.

This article focuses on whether or not the defendant succeeded on his claim that the trial court erred in denying his post-conviction motion on the charge of reckless driving. For an individual to be convicted of reckless driving in violation of General Statutes § 14-222(a), the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant drove in a reckless manner on highways, roads, school properties, and parking areas. However, in its substitute information, the State charged the defendant with reckless driving on a municipal road. As a result, the judge specifically instructed the jury, “In order for you to find the defendant guilty of reckless driving, the state must prove that… the defendant operated a motor vehicle on a municipal road…”

During the trial, the State offered an aerial map of the city in which the accident occurred, but this map did not indicate “what entity owned or maintained the streets it depicted, or whether the streets are private or open to the public.” In addition, there was no information on the map that would assist the jury with inferring such facts. Additional officer testimony left in question who maintained the road on which the accident occurred.

On appeal, the defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to convict him on the revised charge of reckless driving, and the Appellate Court agreed. “The record… does not contain any evidence from which the jury, without resorting to speculation and conjecture, could infer that [the one-way street] was a municipal road.” Therefore, the Court found the trial court improperly denied the defendant’s motion for a judgment of acquittal and reversed the reckless driving conviction.

When faced with a charge of evading responsibility or reckless driving, 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.

Whether Driver Intended to Hit Victim or Not, It Was Still an Accident Under Connecticut’s Evading Responsibility Statute

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed in part and reversed in part a trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion for a judgment of acquittal following his conviction on evading responsibility and reckless driving. This story focuses on the first charge.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 23, 2007. The defendant struck the victim while traveling in the wrong direction on the one-way portion of a street, but did not stop to render any assistance. The defendant was located a short distance away and subsequently charged with evading responsibility, reckless driving, and operating a vehicle the wrong direction on a one-way street. At trial, the State argued that the defendant intentionally drove his car into the victim, but the defendant countered that he never intended to strike the victim. Rather, he claimed that he “did so unintentionally after the victim leaped in front of his vehicle while he was attempting to drive past the victim.”

The defendant was convicted on all counts, but filed a motion for a judgment of acquittal, alleging insufficient evidence to prove that he evaded responsibility. He argued that “the term accident, as it is used in § 14-224(b), encompasses only unintentional conduct.” The motion was denied, and the defendant appealed.

To convict an individual of evading responsibility under General Statutes § 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…” This statute does not provide a definition of “accident.” In a previous case, the Appellate Court of Connecticut was presented with a factually similar scenario, but found “no reason to define the term ‘accident’ in § 14-224, as there [was] sufficient in the record to support the jury’s verdict under any definition of the term.”

In this case, the Appellate Court held the same conclusion and affirmed the defendant’s conviction for evading responsibility. It explained, “There was sufficient evidence in the record for the jury to conclude that the collision was the result of unintentional conduct on part of the defendant, thereby constituting an accident under any definition of the term.” The State satisfied its evidentiary burden beyond a reasonable doubt, and the Court upheld the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion with respect to this charge.

For the Appellate Court’s determination with respect to the reckless driving charge, please read “Court Considers Whether Reckless Driving Conviction Was Proper Under Revised Charge.”

When faced with a charge of evading responsibility or reckless driving, 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.