Posts tagged with "probative"

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.

Conviction of DUI Requires Operating a Motor Vehicle, Not Driving Erratically

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered whether there was insufficient evidence to convict the defendant of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(1), because officers did not testify that the defendant was operating his vehicle in an erratic manner.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at 1am on May 8, 2005. A Brookfield police officer observed the defendant’s vehicle moving back and forth within his travel lane and cross the center solid yellow lines. He initiated a traffic stop, and noticed the defendant had red and glossy eyes, slurred speech, and smelled of alcohol. The defendant stated that he drank two or three alcoholic beverages only thirty minutes earlier. A back-up officer arrived, and field sobriety tests were administered. The defendant failed the two tests given, and the officers decided to arrest him. At this point, the defendant resisted arrest, but was ultimately handcuffed and secured.

The defendant was tried and convicted of OMVUI (and sentenced as a repeat offender) as well as interfering with an officer in violation of § 53a-167a. He appealed his judgment, arguing in part that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of OMVUI because officers could not testify that he was operating his car erratically before they pulled him over. Put differently, the defendant argued that the State must prove that he actually had difficulty driving the car because of the alcohol he consumed.

To convict a defendant of OMVUI, the State must prove three elements beyond a reasonable doubt: operation of a motor vehicle on a public highway (or other designated area) while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. “Operation” within the meaning § 14-227a does not require that the defendant is actually driving the car; the court will determine if the defendant’s conduct facilitated use of the “motive power of the vehicle.”

In this case, the Appellate Court stated that the defendant had “misplaced” emphasis on evidentiary insufficiency of erratic driving. Operation, not driving, is a required element of OMVUI, and the jury had sufficient evidence to establish that the defendant (and no one else) operated his car on a public road while under the influence of alcohol. In addition, the Court rejected a corollary of the defendant’s argument that the observations made by police regarding his post-stop conduct and appearance were irrelevant. Criminal jurisprudence allows the admission of evidence after a crime has been committed to prove guilt so long as it is probative and not remotely acquired. The Court credited the police officer’s description of the defendant’s appearance and demeanor as probative, and thus rejected the defendant’s claims that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of OMVUI.

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.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Appellate Court Considers Whether Evidence of Previously-Set Fire Was Improperly Admitted in Arson Trial

In “Double Jeopardy Not Implicated in Case Where Man Purposefully Burned Down His Home to Collect Nearly $400,000 in Insurance Payments,” the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s claims that his constitutional protections against double jeopardy were violated when he was convicted of both larceny in the first degree and insurance fraud. The Court considered other matters on his appeal, including whether or not the court improperly admitted testimony.

In her sworn statement, the defendant’s daughter informed police that the defendant had purposefully set her car on fire during the summer of 2001. She explained that she did not want to have to continue making her car payments, so the defendant “told [her] that he was going to start a fire in the car and make it look like an electrical fire so that she could collect the insurance and pay off the automobile loan.” His effort was a success: police determined the damage was accidental, the car was deemed a total loss, and the insurance company, as expected, paid her claim.

Prior to the defendant’s trial for arson, insurance fraud, and larceny, he filed a motion seeking to exclude any evidence related to car fire. He argued that he did not receive any of the proceeds, was never charged for a crime, and the evidence was more prejudicial than probative. The State countered that this evidence of misconduct was admissible because it was relevant in establishing intent as to whether the house fire was accidental and showed a common scheme. The court denied the motion but issued a jury instruction that the purpose of the evidence was to establish “a method or plan or scheme… in the commission of criminal acts or the existence of intent or the absence of accident.”

Generally, evidence of a defendant’s prior bad acts is inadmissible to prove guilt on a present charge. However, “evidence of crimes so connected as to tend directly to prove the commission of the charged crime is admissible.” Such evidence will be admitted only if it is relevant to a statutory exception, such as proving intent, and the probative value outweighs the prejudicial effect. In this case, the Appellate Court agreed with the defendant that the daughter’s statement was inadmissible to show a common scheme or plan because the car fire occurred more than a year before the house fire. However, the Court sided with the State and found the evidence was admissible “to prove the closely related issues of intent… lack of accident or mistake.” As the Court elaborated:

The evidence that the defendant started a fire in the automobile in order that his daughter might recover insurance proceeds tended to prove that he knew how to start a fire that appeared to be accidental in nature and that he intentionally set the fire to his residence to recover insurance proceeds.

Whether or not the house fire was accidental in nature became an issue in the case, so the evidence regarding the car fire made “utterly limpid his subsequent intent to burn down his house… to recover the insurance proceeds.” After determining the evidence would not “shock the sensibilities” of the jury, resulting in undue prejudice to the defendant, the Appellate Court affirmed judgment as to this aspect of the defendant’s appeal.

When faced with a charge of arson, fraud, or larceny, 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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