Posts tagged with "jury"

Jury Could Reasonably Infer That Defendant Withheld Fact She Participated in Robbery In Order To Receive State Benefits

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed the judgment of an individual who fraudulently received worker’s compensation benefits following a staged robbery.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on March 3, 2002. The defendant was the general cashier and income auditor of a Hilton Hotel, and appeared to be the victim of a robbery at that location. The perpetrator escaped with over $100,000 in cash and checks. Subsequently, the defendant sought medical treatment for anxiety, insomnia, muscle spasms, and other conditions that seemed to stem from this event. She filed for worker’s compensation, receiving over $5,500 in medical and indemnity benefits. As police investigated the robbery, they began to realize that the defendant was actually a willing participant and, in fact, suffered no injuries. Therefore, she was arrested and charged with fraudulent receipt of worker’s compensation benefits in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 31-290c(a).

At trial, the State did not offer the defendant’s claim form into the record, which prompted defense counsel to file a motion for a judgment of acquittal (MJOA) at the close of evidence. It argued that unless the jury actually saw the form or statements the defendant made to the worker’s compensation board, it would need to speculate as to whether or not the defendant misrepresented or omitted important material information. The State argued that there was sufficient evidence on the record, upon which a reasonable inference could be made that the defendant did not truthfully describe the circumstances of the robbery and her part in it.

The court denied the motion, as well as the renewed MJOA after the defendant was convicted. It found that the jury did not need to speculate in order to reach a verdict in this case. Following sentencing, the defendant appealed, arguing once more that because the State did not submit the written claim into evidence, the jury was left in the position to guess whether the defendant omitted material facts in her claim.

The use of inferences, based on proven facts and circumstances, to establish knowledge has become commonplace in our justice system. In determining whether an inference made by the jury was proper, a reviewing court will consider “whether the circumstances of the particular case form a basis for a sound inference as to the knowledge of the accused in the transaction under inquiry.” In this case, with respect to the second MJOA, the Court engaged in the following discussion with defense counsel regarding why the jury did not have to speculate to reach their decision:

The Court: I understand that juries are not supposed to speculate, but is it speculation that she withheld the fact that this was a staged robbery?

[Defense Counsel]: Yes. We don’t know the circumstances she claimed the injury occurred in or what the injury was.

The Court: If you write to the [workers’] compensation commission and say I staged a robbery at the hotel, I took $ 114,000 worth of money and checks and credit card slips or whatever they use there, and I got hurt during a robbery that I conspired to create and participate in, and falsify, they’re still going to give you [compensation]?

[Defense Counsel]: I wouldn’t think so.

The Court: I wouldn’t think so, either. Here, I do not think that the jury had to engage in speculation. […]

The Appellate Court agreed that the inference drawn by the jury was reasonable based on the evidence presented. “It was the jury’s right to infer that no workers’ compensation benefits would have been paid to the defendant if she had disclosed that she had participated in the staged robbery.” Therefore, this aspect of the defendant’s claims on appeal failed, and ultimately the judgment was 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.

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.

Perpetrator Not “Beamed There By Martians” – Court Upholds Defendant’s Accessory Conviction

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s claim that the State presented insufficient evidence that she participated in a plot to steal nearly a quarter of a million dollars from her employer.

This case involved the February 22, 2005 theft of approximately $248,000 in cash from a bank located in New Britain. The interior of the location has little public access, and employees must first be buzzed into or use their key to access a “mantrap” before proceeding through another door to the employee area. This section of the store contains a bathroom and the safe room, and the only exit is to proceed back through the mantrap.

The defendant was a store manager at the bank and was working alone for five and a half hours prior to closing. An hour before leaving the store, she received a phone call from a former district manager (former manager), who had been fired following a previous unsolved robbery at the bank years earlier. The defendant counted the money in the safe, after which she closed down the store and set the alarm. Approximately thirty minutes later, motion sensors and alarms were rapidly triggered in reverse order from the safe room to the front door. The bank owners called the defendant, who was in the vicinity of the bank, and asked her to allow police into the building. When police arrived, they found no evidence of forced entry, but the money was gone and the defendant did not look or act surprised.

Telephone records revealed that the phone call received by the defendant prior to closing the bank was made from a cell phone in New Britain. She received two more calls from numbers belonging to the former manager: the first from a landline in Manhattan only minutes after the incident; the second twenty minutes thereafter once again from the cell phone, this time placed from the New Haven area.

The defendant was subsequently arrested for accessory to larceny in the first degree, conspiracy to commit larceny in the first degree, and accessory to burglary in the third degree, in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-8, 53a-122(a)(2), 53a-48, and 53a-103. The State’s theory of the case was that the defendant knowingly permitted someone to stay behind in the employee area prior to her departure. The defendant argued that one of the employees working earlier that day “could have let someone into the bathroom unbeknownst to [her].” The prosecutor countered that this was unreasonable: “The idea of somebody sitting in this bathroom for five and one-half hours, waiting for business to close, is as ludicrous as saying that they were beamed there by Martians.” The defendant was convicted on all counts and appealed, arguing that the State presented insufficient evidence identifying her as a participant, and therefore the jury convicted her “on the basis of mere speculation.”

When a jury considers the facts presented in a case, they are permitted to make reasonable and rational inferences stemming from those facts. “When we infer, we derive a conclusion from proven facts because such considerations as experience, or history, or science have demonstrated that there is a likely correlation between those facts and the conclusion.” The more strained the correlation, the less reasonable the inference will be. In this case, the Appellate Court admitted that the evidence presented was scant, but still sufficient to support the convictions. The jury could reasonably infer that the defendant was knowingly involved in the scheme to steal the money from the bank, permitting someone to remain behind after she set the alarm and left for the night. Therefore, the Appellate Court affirmed the judgment.

When faced with a charge of larceny, burglary, conspiracy, or accessory, 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.

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