Posts tagged with "safety"

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.

Where Handgun Was Stolen During Burglary, Handcuffing Suspect Prior to Pat Down Was Reasonable

In the previous article, “In Light of Reasonable Suspicion, Police Properly Detained Burglary Suspect,” the defendant unsuccessfully argued that police did not have reasonable or articulable suspicion to detain him. He also argued on appeal that the officer’s actions at the time of his detention were extreme and thus improper from the beginning of the stop.

When police detained the defendant, they immediately handcuffed him “for his and the officer’s safety.” At the suppression hearing, officers testified that they knew a handgun had been stolen during a previous burglary. As described during his testimony, an officer explained that, in light of this knowledge, “he ordered the defendant to remove his hands from his sweatshirt ‘[t]o make sure that he didn’t have a gun in his hand.’”

Police officers do not have the authority to detain and search every person they see on the street, but must have proper grounds to do so. Such a justification is a self-protective search for weapons, and the officer “must be able to point to particular facts from which he reasonably inferred that the individual was armed and dangerous.” Notably, an officer need not be certain that the individual is carrying a firearm. Instead, the question comes down to “whether a reasonably prudent man in the circumstances would be warranted in the belief that his safety or that of others was in danger.”

In this case, the Appellate Court of Connecticut credited the officer’s testimony. A handgun had been stolen during a burglary, and the suspect’s description matched the defendant’s appearance. In addition, the decision to order the defendant to remove his hands was based on this knowledge and was not arbitrary. Under these circumstances, “the police acted pursuant to a reasonably prudent belief that their safety and the safety of others—including the defendant—was in danger.” Therefore, the officers were justified and acted reasonably by patting down the defendant while he was handcuffed.

When faced with a charge of larceny or burglary, 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.

On the Use of Metal Detectors at Public Schools

On July 21, 2012, 15-year-old Keijahnae Robinson was sitting on her aunt’s front porch with friends after attending a Sweet Sixteen birthday party. She was looking forward to her own celebration, which was a week away. Unfortunately, she became the thirteenth homicide in Bridgeport this year after two gunmen “sprayed the… porch she was on, striking her in the head and wounding her two friends.”[1] The family’s planned beach party for Keijahnae “became hushed preparations for her funeral and burial.”[2] While Keijahnae’s murder prompted widespread discussion regarding juvenile curfews in the city,[3] one response that has received less attention was the decision by the Bridgeport Board of Education to install metal detectors and “implement other provisions” at several schools, with the aim of avoiding future tragedies.[4]

What prompts any given school district to utilize metal detectors varies, though it unsurprisingly it is almost always linked to acts of violence on or off school grounds. For example, personnel in Hartford public schools use handheld metal detectors “[i]n view of the escalating presence of weapons in America’s schools today.”[5] The shooting suicide of a 13-year-old student at Stillwater Junior High School (in Oklahoma) late last month has administration admitting, “The metal detector question is something we’ll talk about pretty quickly.”[6] In Bridgeport, it was the off-campus shooting death of a young girl aspiring to be the next Mariah Carey.[7]

Public opinion of the use of metal detectors in schools is naturally divided. Bridgeport parents and students were “very grateful that the school has undertaken these extra measures of security.”[8] Others question the effectiveness of detecting weapons,[9] cite insufficient data to decide either way,[10] or argue safety isn’t the real issue.[11]

However, what is of greatest import to schools is the legality of metal detector use, which at this point in time is on their side. The Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) appears to have provided its endorsement, noting that Fourth Amendment restrictions on searches and seizures still apply. As one member of CABE stated, “A school needs justifiable reasoning for implementing them such as a pattern of weapons.”[12] Courts will uphold the employment of metal detectors by school districts as a means to screen students for contraband or weapons that pose a risk of harm to the student body. Deemed a minimally intrusive search, “[t]he courts have allowed schools to use this method in order to ensure weapons are excluded from the school environment.”[13]

Students do not fully surrender their constitutional protections while at school, and as such it is important, as a parent, to understand and appreciate your child’s rights. If you believe that your child was subject to an impermissible search by school officials, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced school law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding school searches or other education law matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.


[1] “Bridgeport girl, shot after Sweet 16 party, dies,” by Stacy Davis and Michael P. Mayko. Published July 21, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/Bridgeport-girl-shot-after-Sweet-16-party-dies-3725251.php

[2] Id.

[3] See, e.g., “Relatives of shooting victim call for curfew,” by Stacy Davis. Published July 24, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/Relatives-of-shooting-victim-call-for-curfew-3729055.php

[4] “Spike In Violence Prompts Bridgeport To Install Metal Detectors,” by Tikeyah Whittle. Published Spetember 11, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/spike_in_violence_prompts_bridgeport_school_to_install_metal_detectors/

[5] “Hartford Public School Board of Education Policies and Regulations.” Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.noahwebstermicrosociety.org/Board%20of%20Ed%20Rules%20Reg.pdf

[6] “Oklahoma teen suicide mourned,” by Christine Roberts. Published September 27, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012: http://articles.nydailynews.com/2012-09-27/news/34131892_1_memorial-service-metal-detectors-prayer-service

[7] See Footnote 1.

[8] See Footnote 4.

[9] “Expert: Metal detectors aren’t guarantee,” by Brian Troutman. Published September 17, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.abc2news.com/dpp/news/education/expert-metal-detectors-arent-guarantee

[10] “Impacts of Metal Detector Use in Schools: Insights From 15 Years of Research,” by Abigail Hankin, Marci Hertz, and Thomas Simon. Journal of School Health, Vol. 81, No.2 pp.100-106. Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.edweek.org/media/hankin-02security.pdf

[11] “The issue isn’t ‘safety,’ it’s guns,” by Lori K. Brown. Published September 19, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012: http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2012-09-19/news/bs-ed-schools-guns-20120919_1_gun-owners-school-gun-incidents-metal-detectors

[12] See Footnote 4.

[13] “Advocating on Your Child’s Behalf: A Parent’s Guide to Connecticut School Law,” by Joseph C. Maya, Esq., pp.62.

Arson Convict Loses His Appeal: Evidence Pointed to Intent to Destroy Building in Suicide Attempt

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut declined to reverse a defendant’s arson convictions, finding sufficient evidence to establish the essential elements of the crime.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on October 13, 2006. Police responded to the multi-resident apartment building where the defendant lived, following a report that the defendant was threatening to commit suicide. After they arrived, another resident was seen leaving the building because she was “nervous” about the defendant’s conduct. Officers were unsuccessful in communicating with the defendant, who refused to speak with them.

Smoke soon appeared in the building, and though the defendant climbed onto the fire escape, he reentered the building when officers asked him to come down. The fire intensified but responders could not enter the building because they feared for their safety in light of the defendant’s behavior. The defendant fell from a third-story window and was apprehended with effort, and firefighters promptly attempted to suppress the fire. However, a portion of the roof collapsed and they had to exit the building. The fire was eventually put out but nonetheless caused severe structural damage. The fire marshal did not find an accidental cause for the fire and placed its origin in the defendant’s apartment, but was not definitive on the cause.

The defendant was charged with and convicted of two counts of arson in the first degree (under different subsections to address risk of injury to other occupants and the firefighters) and interfering with an officer. On appeal, the defendant argued that the State provided insufficient evidence that he “intentionally started the fire,… specifically intended to destroy or damage the building and… had reason to believe that the building was or may have been occupied or inhabited at the time the fire started.”

Intent is often inferred from circumstantial evidence where direct evidence is lacking. In arson cases, it is permissible to use the lack of evidence that the fire was caused accidentally, in light of other evidence bearing on intent, to infer that the fire was instead intentionally started. In this case, the Appellate Court cited numerous pieces of circumstantial evidence supporting the jury’s findings: the origin of the fire, the fire marshal’s conclusions, the defendant’s destructive emotional instability, and the fact that no one else left the building after the fire began other than the defendant. Therefore, a jury could reasonably infer that the defendant intended to start the fire.

The defendant next argued that his conduct “indicated recklessness or indifference to the damage [the fire] would cause, not specific intent to damage or destroy the building.” However, the Appellate Court was not persuaded, arguing that even if suicide was the primary goal, the jury could reasonably infer that “he intended to damage the building as a means to that goal.” Therefore, as with the previous argument posed by the defendant, this one equally failed.

Finally, the defendant claimed he had no reason to believe anyone else was in the building at the time he started the fire. However, the evidence worked against him: another resident left the building shortly before it was started. At trial, this individual testified that she typically stays home during the daytime. In addition, another resident’s vehicle was located on the scene. Therefore, a jury could reasonably have inferred that “the defendant had reason to believe that one or more tenants may have been in the building during the incident.” Therefore, the Appellate Court affirmed the judgment.

When faced with a charge of arson, 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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