Posts tagged with "requisite intent"

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.

Coconspirator’s Opinion Was Properly Admitted, As It Did Not Involve “Ultimate Issue”

In the article “Stolen Dealer Plates Found Relevant and Probative in Vehicle Retagging Scheme,” the defendant did not prevail on his arguments that the trial court improperly allowed dealer plates belonging to his previous employer into evidence. In his appeal, he also argued that the trial court abused its discretion when it allowed another member of the conspiracy to give “impermissible opinion testimony regarding an ultimate issue of fact.”

One of the coconspirators testified for the State, and the prosecutor asked this individual a series of questions about whether the defendant was “part of the group” of those arrested in Fairfield on February 4, 2008. Defense counsel objected, arguing that this involved an ultimate issue of fact, but the State countered, “I believe I asked him if he was part of this group. Whether he’s part of the conspiracy, I didn’t ask him that.” The court overruled the objection and allowed the questioning.

In essence, the coconspirator testified that if the defendant was not “part of the group,” he would not have been present while the vehicle plates were being changed or at the exchange point. The coconspirator further answered, “I imagine that if he wasn’t part of the group, he wouldn’t drive the car.” On appeal, the defendant characterized this testimony as impermissible lay opinion regarding an ultimate issue of fact, and the trial court erred by permitting it.

The Connecticut Code of Evidence § 7-1 is relevant to the Appellate Court’s conclusion in this matter. Pursuant to this section:

If a witness is not testifying as an expert, the witness may not testify in the form of an opinion, unless the opinion is rationally based on the perception of the witness and is helpful to a clear understanding of the testimony of the witness or the determination of a fact in issue.

Opinions are improper if they “embrace an ultimate issue to be decided by the trier of fact.” This includes legal opinions about whether or not the defendant is guilty.

In this case, the Appellate Court concluded that the coconspirator’s testimony was proper lay opinion. It was “rationally based on his perception of the circumstances as he perceived them on the night of February 4, 2008, and when he observed prior conduct in New York.” Such testimony was helpful to the jury in determining whether the defendant had the requisite intent for committing conspiracy. In addition:

Although it is true that evidence of association is relevant to proving participation in a conspiracy… association, by itself, does not necessarily constitute intentional participation in a conspiracy. One can be “with” a group without being a conspirator, even if others in the group are, in fact, conspirators.

The nature of the coconspirator’s testimony was not the same as giving an opinion about whether the defendant “intended to agree to engage in a larceny or whether he intended to actually commit the larceny,” which are ultimate issues in this case. Because the testimony did not encompass opinions of guilt, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing it.

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.

Defendant’s Narcotics Conviction Upheld: Breakdown of Agreement Did Not Terminate Conspiracy

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a defendant’s narcotics conspiracy conviction, noting that a failed agreement did not end the conspiracy.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on April 15, 2009. Police officers participated in a Drug Enforcement Agency task force conducting narcotics surveillance. They observed the defendant engaging in drug-related activity over an extended period of time. He was talking on his cell phone, and soon thereafter an Acura pulled up nearby and flashed its lights. The defendant walked over to the vehicle and talked to the driver for a few minutes before the car took off. Officers approached the defendant to effectuate an arrest, but he resisted and tried to run from the scene. However, officers subdued him and placed him under arrest. After being read his Miranda rights, the defendant told police that the driver of the Acura had come to “resupply” him with crack cocaine, a plan that fell through. He helped police locate the supplier, who they detained as well.

The defendant faced numerous charges, but was only convicted of conspiracy to sell narcotics by a person who is not drug-dependent and interfering with an officer. On appeal, he argued that the police provided insufficient evidence that an agreement existed between him and the driver and an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy was taken by either party.

In this case, the State had the burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant “(1) with intent that conduct constituting a crime be performed, (2) agreed with one or more persons to engage in or cause the performance of such conduct, and (3) any one of them committed an overt act in pursuance of such conspiracy.” Because a written agreement almost never exists, the existence of a conspiracy may be inferred by the conduct of the defendant. Here, the defendant’s interaction with the driver in conjunction with his own statement about being resupplied established the requisite intent for conspiracy.

An overt act need not be performed by the defendant only, but by any of the coconspirators. The act doesn’t need to be “a criminal act in and of itself” to qualify. In this case, the Appellate Court found that:

[T]he finder of fact reasonably could have concluded that [the coconspirator’s] drive to [the defendant’s location], his subsequent flashing of the Acura’s lights, the defendant’s walk to the Acura, and any discussion following between the defendant and [the coconspirator] were all overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy.

That the agreement itself failed to materialize was not relevant. As the Court explained, “a breakdown of an agreement does not end the conspiracy” and is not a recognized defense. Therefore, 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.

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Requisite Intent for Assaulting an Officer is to Prevent Performance of Duties, Not to Cause Injury

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut declined to reverse a defendant’s conviction for assault of a peace officer because there was sufficient evidence for a jury to return a guilty verdict.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at 1:00am on January 13, 2006, in Norwalk. The defendant was engaged in a high-speed chase with police when he lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a guardrail. He attempted to flee from the scene when an officer tackled him from behind, causing both to fall to the ground. The defendant “violently fought bad kicked [the officer],” who attempted numerous times to subdue the defendant with his Taser gun. Only when other officers arrived was the defendant successfully handcuffed and placed under arrest. Afterwards, the officer realized that he had “bloodied both knees … [and] had an ankle injury which required doctor’s attention.” In addition, the officer suffered a tear to his Achilles tendon that required him to file a worker’s compensation claim and take several days off from work.

The defendant was charged for numerous offenses, including assault of a peace officer in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 35a-167c(a)(1). On appeal, the defendant argued, in part, that the evidence offered by the State was insufficient to convict him. Specifically, he claimed that the State failed to show that he had the requisite specific intent to injure the officer, and that the officer was injured by the defendant’s actions.

To secure a conviction for assault of a peace officer, the State must offer proof establishing, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant “with intent to prevent a reasonably identifiable peace officer… from performing his or her duties, and while such peace officer… is acting in the performance of his duties… causes physical injury to such peace officer.” However, the intent required is to prevent the performance of duties, not the intent to cause injury.

In this case, the Appellate Court found that a jury could reasonably find that the defendant committed the offense. It noted there was sufficient evidence presented to the jury that “the defendant had the requisite intent to prevent [the officer] from performing his duties, and the defendant’s actions were a proximate cause of the [officer’s] injuries.” Therefore, the defendant’s insufficiency of the evidence claim was rejected.

When faced with a charge of interfering with a police officer or assault of a peace 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.

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State Presented Sufficient Evidence that Defendant “Intended to Convert the Property to His Use Without Paying For It”

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed the defendant’s conviction for sixth degree larceny, as he had the requisite intent to commit the crime.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on May 5, 2005. The defendant purchased a foam poster board from Staples in Fairfield, but as he was exiting the main store into the foyer, he was not carrying it. Instead, he was observed scooting a box with an item he did not pay for along the floor beneath the theft detection sensors located adjacent to the exit doors. The defendant scooped it up and proceeded outside, with store employees in pursuit. When one yelled at him to “drop the box,” the defendant placed it on a nearby dolly and quickly left the area. Inside the box was “a Uniden telephone, in its original packaging, that was offered for sale” at the store.

Another Staples customer observed the defendant getting into a vehicle and driving off. She informed the store manager, who wrote down the license plate and called police. Officers identified the owner as the defendant’s girlfriend and proceeded to her residence, where they located the car (which had signs of recent use) but not the defendant. Soon thereafter, the defendant turned himself in and provided police with a signed written statement in which he accepted responsibility for his actions.

The defendant was charged with larceny in the sixth degree by shoplifting, and for being a persistent larceny offender. At trial, the defendant testified that he came across the box inside the store and immediately returned it to a sales associate. He denied leaving the store with the box or having knowledge of its contents, and stated he never intended to leave the store without paying for it. The sales associate and store manager provided a much different version of the events. The jury returned a guilty verdict on the larceny count, and the defendant pled guilty to the second, resulting in three years’ incarceration. On appeal, the defendant contended that the State provided insufficient evidence that he had the requisite intent to commit larceny.

Under Connecticut General Statute (CGS) § 53a-119, “[a] person commits larceny when, with the intent to [permanently] deprive another of property or to appropriate the same to himself or a third person, he wrongfully takes, obtains, or withholds such property from an owner.” Larceny is considered a specific intent crime, so the State must provide direct or circumstantial evidence (most often the latter) that the defendant possessed a “subjective desire or knowledge that his actions constituted stealing” at the time of the crime.

In this case, the Appellate Court determined that the defendant confused sufficiency and credibility issues. He appeared to argue that all of the testimony was identical. However, this is an inaccurate reading of the trial court record, for there were vast discrepancies between the testimonies given by the defendant and State’s witnesses. It is the province of the jury to weigh the credibility of witness testimony and believe all of it, some of it, or none of it. Thus, the jury was within its right to credit the testimony of the State witnesses, and such testimony, along with the defendant’s written statement, provided sufficient evidence that the defendant intended to take the phone without paying for it.

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.

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