Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.
In a previous article, the defendant failed to convince the Appellate Court that the State provided insufficient evidence to convict him of numerous charges arising from a robbery incident. He further contended that the trial court misinstructed the jury regarding attempt to commit assault in the first degree, and its failure to do so constituted harmful error that deprived him of his right to fair notice of the charges against him.
The defendant was charged for attempted assault under Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-59(a)(1), which requires a showing of attempted serious physical injury by use of a deadly weapon. However, the judge instructed the jury by the language of § 53a-59(a)(5), which only requires intent to cause physical injury by means of discharging a firearm. Because of this error, the defendant argued that the court improperly gave the jury a “legally inadequate theory of liability.”
What is Considered ‘Harmless Error’?
It is harmless error for a court to give an instruction that improperly omits an essential criminal element “if a reviewing court concludes beyond a reasonable doubt that the omitted element was uncontested and supported by overwhelming evidence, such that the jury verdict would have been the same absent the error.” This concept goes hand-in-hand with another principle of appellate review of jury instructions: “[T]he test of a court’s charge is… whether it fairly represents the case to the jury in such a way that injustice is not done to either party.”
In this case, the Appellate Court found that with respect to the element describing the type of weapon, the jury was not misled. It received a written copy of the jury charge for deliberation purposes, and within this document was the definition of “deadly weapon.” In addition, the jury found the defendant guilty of robbery in the first degree, which requires that the defendant be armed with a dangerous weapon while committing the crime.
In addition, the element regarding the seriousness of the attempted injury was satisfied by the evidence. It was undisputed that the perpetrator aimed for the cashier’s midsection while firing at close range. As the Court explained, “There can be no doubt that such action ‘creates a substantial risk of death, or… serious disfigurement… impairment of health… loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.” The defendant never contested this evidence at trial, only his identification as the perpetrator. Therefore, the Court found that the misinstruction was, beyond a reasonable doubt, harmless error and did not mislead the jury.
When faced with a charge of larceny, burglary, robbery, 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.