Posts tagged with "sufficient evidence"

Tenured Teacher Suffering Numerous Physical, Psychological Ailments Properly Dismissed

In a matter heard in front of the Superior Court of Connecticut in New Haven, a tenured teacher unsuccessfully appealed a school board’s (Board) decision to terminate her employment. The Court determined that the Board’s decision was not arbitrary or capricious, but rather was based upon sufficient evidence.

Case Background

The plaintiff was a music teacher for many years but suffered from numerous physical and psychological medical problems that interfered with her performance abilities as an educator. As a result, “she was frequently absent from work not only on a short-term basis but also for significantly longer periods as a result of several extended leaves of absence which she sought and the Board granted.” However, despite such numerous and extensive accommodations, the plaintiff’s problems only seemed to worsen. For example:

  • She was often characterized as unfocused; disoriented; dazed; confused; exhausted; zoned out; overwhelmed; and “zombie-like.”
  • She had “difficulty leading… [her students] in an organized and flowing manner,” and frequently delegated duties and responsibilities to her paraprofessional, who was not qualified to perform such tasks (i.e. grading, planning, etc.).
  • On more than one occasion, she attempted to dismiss her classroom early due to confusion about schedules or her inability to control misbehaving students.
  • A psychiatrist indicated that the plaintiff had deficits in memory and executive functioning, which would interfere with her ability to perform essential tasks for her position.

Due to the frequency of complaints from parents and students regarding the plaintiff’s conduct, the Board initiated procedure to terminate the plaintiff’s employment, pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes § 10-151(d). It ultimately cited two reasons for termination: 1) “disability, as shown by competent medical evidence” and 2) “[for] other due and sufficient cause.” The plaintiff appealed this decision to the Superior Court, arguing that the decision was “arbitrary and capricious” because there was no evidence to support the reasons given.

The Court’s Decision

When a court considers a teacher’s appeal claiming unlawful termination, it applies the substantial evidence rule, a standard of review similar to that used in assessing jury verdicts in criminal trials. In essence, the court must decide whether the Board’s decision was supported by the evidence presented before it: “evidence is sufficient to sustain an agency finding if it affords a substantial basis of fact from which the fact in issue can be reasonably inferred.”

In this case, the Superior Court agreed with the Board: there was sufficient evidence to support both reasons given for termination. Simply based on the psychiatrist’s testimony regarding the plaintiff’s inability to perform at least four major responsibilities in her classroom, the termination was amply supported – however, the additional testimony only bolstered the Board’s decision. The court was not convinced that previous accommodations granted by the Board “compel[ed] the Board to offer additional and potentially limitless future accommodations,” for such concessions appeared ineffectual. Therefore, the Court dismissed the plaintiff’s appeal.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

If you have any questions regarding education law matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya at the Maya Murphy, P.C. Westport location in Fairfield County at (203) 221-3100 or at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

Contract Principles in Connecticut Non-Compete Agreements: Consideration and the Parol Evidence Rule

United Rentals, Inc. v. Bastanzi, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45268
Case Background

This federal case involved an employee, one Mr. Jeffrey Bastanzi that started his own company in direct competition with his employer while still in its employment, allegedly in violation of a non-compete agreement signed by both parties.  Mr. Bastanzi worked for United Rentals, Inc. from July 2003 to March 30, 2005, as a salesperson in the company’s Gainesville, Florida office.  United Rentals is a Delaware corporation with principle business operations in Connecticut that rents and sells equipment and contractor supplies (including but not limited to safety equipment, hand tools, anchoring systems, hard hats, and silk fencing).

Mr. Bastanzi was provided with United Rentals’ “Business Ethics Policy” and “Conflict of Interest Policy” on the first day of employment wherein the latter contained a clause stating “no employee shall own or have an interest, directly or indirectly, in any competing enterprise or activity, which conflicts or might conflict with United Rentals’ interests, except with the written approval of the Chief Operating Officer”.

Ten months into the job, on May 10, 2004, United Rentals had Mr. Bastanzi sign a “Confidentiality and Non-Competition Agreement” containing non-compete, non-disclosure, and non-solicitation clauses.  The covenant established a duration of twelve months, a geographical limitation of seventy-five miles in any direction of United Rentals’ Gainesville office, and stipulated that the company be entitled to injunctive relief in the event Mr. Bastanzi violated the agreement.

Breach of the Employment Agreement

United Rentals alleged that Mr. Bastanzi breached the agreement by operating his own competing business, B&S Industrial and Contractor Supplies, LLC, while still employed by the company and within the twelve months following his termination.  Mr. Bastanzi started B&S with his wife in 2004 and began contacting United Rentals’ vendors to inquire about becoming a distributor for their products.  B&S continued to grow at a steady pace and eventually Mr. Bastanzi’s co-workers informed management that he was operating a competing business on the side.

United Rentals terminated Mr. Bastanzi after it conducted an investigation into the matter and found the allegations to be true.  At this point Ms. Bastanzi began to work full time at his new company B&S, at that time making approximately $30,000.00 in monthly sales.  United Rentals proceeded to sue Mr. Bastanzi for breach of the non-compete agreement to which he offered three defenses to the court: 1) the agreement lacked consideration, 2) he signed the restrictive covenant under duress, and 3) the agreement was incomplete.

Adequate Consideration

The court found in favor of United Rentals, ordered the enforcement of the non-compete agreement, and invalidated all of Mr. Bastanzi’s defenses.  It concluded that there was indeed adequate consideration in the non-compete agreement that would make it binding upon the parties.  Mr. Bastanzi received continued employment at United Rentals at a mutually agreed upon salary plus the added benefit of a conditional severance package, while United Rentals in return received Mr. Bastanzi’s services and the benefit(s) of the restrictive covenant.  Citing a previous federal case, Sartor v. Town of Manchester (312 F. Supp.2d 238 (D. Conn. 2004)), the court stated that, “Connecticut recognizes that continued employment is adequate consideration to support non-compete covenants with at-will employees”.

Burden of Proof

Next, the court concluded that Mr. Bastanzi did not meet the burden of proof with respect to his claim that he signed the agreement under duress.  Mr. Bastanzi failed to impress upon the court that United Rentals committed any “wrongful act or threat” in conjunction with him signing the non-compete agreement.  Courts have the authority to invalidate a contract/agreement if there is sufficient evidence that one or more of the parties engaged in fraud or wrongful acts, but in the face of insufficient evidence, the court would not invalidate the agreement between United Rentals and Mr. Bastanzi.

Parol Evidence Rule

Thirdly, the court rejected Mr. Bastanzi’s claim that the non-compete agreement was an incomplete document and therefore not binding upon the parties.  To come to this conclusion, the court applied a very important contract principle, that of the Parol Evidence Rule.  The rule prohibits the use of evidence outside the content contained within the four corners of the contract/agreement concerning matters discussed and governed by the finalized document.

Mr. Bastanzi told the court that he received oral representations from management before he was hired stating he would not have to sign a non-compete agreement with United Rentals.  The finalized document signed by Mr. Bastanzi and United Rentals however did not reflect any of these oral representations and there was not sufficient evidence that the terms of the non-compete agreement were designed to render the alleged representations binding upon the parties.  Considering this and applying the parol evidence rule, the court ultimately concluded that the agreement was complete and Mr. Bastanzi’s claim lacked merit.

 

If you have any questions relating to your non-compete agreement or would like to discuss any element of your employment contract, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Defendant’s Actions Evidenced Bigotry and Bias Toward Homosexuals; Intimidation Conviction Upheld

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a defendant’s conviction for intimidation based on bigotry or bias, because the evidence established that he possessed the specific intent to intimidate or harass the victim based on actual or perceived homosexuality.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on September 12, 2005. The victim and defendant were homeless and lived in tents at a wooded campsite. That afternoon, they drank alcohol at a park with an unidentified man (man), who implied that he was homosexual. When the victim and defendant returned to the campsite, the defendant stated he did not want “fags” in their area, particularly the man. The two spent the evening drinking and got into an argument when the victim began undressing. The defendant claimed the victim must be a “fag” because “[o]nly a fag would take his clothes off in front of another man” and because he was spending time with the man.

A fight ensued, lasting at least ten minutes, when the defendant poured a bottle of vodka on the victim and tried to light him on fire. Unsuccessful in this attempt, the defendant then threatened to burn the victim with gasoline before leaving the campsite. The victim went to a local soup kitchen for help, and gave police a sworn statement about what occurred. The defendant was subsequently arrested and signed a waiver of rights before making both oral and written statements, in which he repeatedly used the word “fag.”

The Trial

A jury found the defendant guilty of attempt to commit assault in the second degree, threatening in the second degree, reckless endangerment in the second degree, intimidation based on bigotry or bias in the second degree, and disorderly conduct. The defendant appealed, arguing in part that there was insufficient evidence that he committed intimidation. He claimed that the State did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he had “the requisite specific intent to intimidate or harass [the victim] because of [the victim’s] actual or perceived sexual orientation.”

Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-181k(a) prohibits acts in which a person specifically intends to intimidate or harass another person on the basis of actual or perceived race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. “Specific intent involves a ‘conscious objective to cause [a] result,’” and is often inferred from circumstantial evidence, such as a defendant’s verbal or physical conduct.

The Court’s Decision

The Appellate Court found that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to reasonably conclude that the defendant possessed the required specific intent to violate § 53a-181k(a). Based on his oral and written statements, the jury could infer a bias toward homosexuals as well as his question as to whether the victim was homosexual as well. He stated he did not want homosexuals at the campsite and then accused the victim of being a “fag” before fighting him.

In addition, the defendant attempted to set the victim on fire, and threatened a second attempt to do so. Therefore, “the jury could have inferred that the defendant acted with intent to harass or to intimidate [the victim] because of his actual or perceived sexual orientation.” Thus, the judgment was affirmed.

When faced with a charge of assault, threatening, or intimidation, 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.

Immersing Child Into Steaming Bathwater Constitutes Reckless Assault

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s insufficiency of the evidence claim, citing ample evidence that placing a child into extremely hot bathwater was reckless conduct, constituting reckless assault charges.

The Case

This case arose from an incident that occurred on January 10, 2002 in New Haven, Connecticut. The defendant lived with his girlfriend and her three children, including two-and-a-half year old W. The defendant regularly cared for W, including bathing, without incident. On the morning in question, neighbors heard loud banging noises coming from the defendant’s apartment, as well as W crying and the defendant repeatedly yelling at W to be quiet.

Paramedics responded to a 911 call placed by the defendant. W had sustained second and third degree burns to his body up to his hands and forearms, and suffered serious medical side effects. When paramedics were treating the child, a sergeant with the police department walked into the bathroom and “noticed that there was water in the bathtub and steam rising from the water.” Two detectives returned to the apartment to re-create what occurred. They followed the defendant’s explanation of how he prepared the bath, and the thermometer produced a water temperature reading of 160 °F, which “cooled” to 120 °F after thirty minutes.

The Trial

At trial, the defendant testified that he was unaware of the bathtub’s excessive temperature. He stated that he placed W into the bathtub and left the room for at least ten minutes, at which point he returned, saw W’s skin floating in the water as well as the burns, and promptly called 911. He could not recall W screaming, yelling, or crying in the bathtub. However, W’s attending physician explained that “on the basis of the pattern of injuries and severity of the burns, W’s injuries must have been inflicted intentionally and not accidentally.” A professor of pediatrics testified that W’s injuries were a “classic, textbook case of abusive immersion burns” that were the result of an intentional “hot, quick dip.”

The defendant was convicted of first degree assault (specifically reckless assault) and risk of injury to a child, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) §§ 53a-59(a)(3) and 53-21(a)(1) respectively. On appeal, the defendant argued in part that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of the assault charge.

What Constitutes Reckless Conduct?

Under CGS § 53a-59(a)(3), a person commits reckless assault when with extreme indifference to human life, he or she “recklessly engages in conduct which creates a risk of death to another person,” but instead causes serious physical injury to that person. “Reckless” conduct is that which shows the actor knew of but consciously disregarded a substantial or unjustifiable risk, which is of such a nature that disregarding it “constitutes a gross deviation” from a reasonable person’s conduct under the circumstances.

In this case, the question is whether or not dipping a child into scalding bathwater is reckless conduct creating a risk of death. The Appellate Court held that the jury could reasonably have found that the defendant immersed W into extremely hot water, and this conduct was a gross deviation from what is considered reasonable. Because the defendant’s conduct “constituted a conscious disregard for the risk of serious physical injury to W,” there was sufficient evidence to convict him of reckless assault.

When faced with a charge of assault or risk of injury to a child, 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.

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

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a 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.

Case Background

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.

Intent Inferred

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.

Court Rejects Defendant’s Claims

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.

Definition of “Public Housing Project” Adequately Defined for Purposes of Drug Distribution Statute

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s attacks on the statutory definition of “public housing project” for purposes of State narcotics distribution statutes.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on September 13, 2007. Police officers went to the defendant’s residence to execute a valid search and seizure warrant related to narcotics activity. When officers identified themselves, the defendant ran inside and locked the door. Once the officers gained entry using a battering ram, they heard a toilet flush and saw the defendant leaving the bathroom. The defendant refused to comply with orders and resisted officer attempts to place him under arrest. Officers discovered two rocks of crack cocaine and assorted pills, digital scales, plastic baggies used in the packaging of drugs, and in excess of $1,400 cash.

The defendant was charged with and convicted of possession of cocaine, possession of narcotics with intent to sell within 1500 feet of a housing project, and interfering with an officer. On appeal, he claimed that the State did not present sufficient evidence establishing nearby residential housing as a public housing project.

Defendant Contests Classification as a “Public Housing Project”

Under Connecticut General Statutes § 21a-278a(b), a person is prohibited from transporting or possessing with the intent to sell or dispense controlled substances within fifteen-hundred feet of a designated public housing project. Pursuant to this statute, public housing project means “dwelling accommodations operated as a state or federally subsidized multi-family housing project by a housing authority, nonprofit corporation or municipal developer.”

At trial, one officer testified that the residential housing was “a federally subsidized, elderly/disabled housing complex” that was run by the city’s housing authority. Another officer explained that the neighborhood was “an elderly apartment complex owned and operated by the [city’s] Housing Authority.” In stark contrast, nothing on the record suggested that the property in question was “anything other than a public housing project.” Therefore, the defendant’s claim failed.

Defendant Claims Unconstitutional Vagueness

The defendant further contested that the statute’s definition of “public housing project” was unconstitutionally vague. To prevail on a void for vagueness claim, the defendant has to show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that “[he] had inadequate notice of what was prohibited or that [he was] the victim of arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.” A defendant need only prove one or the other, not both.

The Appellate Court disagreed with this challenge, stating that the statutory definition “by its plain terms, afforded the defendant notice that the statute applied to public housing projects where elderly or disabled people reside.” Particularly telling, it pointed out that the statute doesn’t require the prosecution to show that the defendant knew he was within fifteen-hundred feet at the time of the narcotics transaction. Therefore, the defendant failed to prove that a constitutional violation had taken place.

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.

Deli Robber’s Conviction Upheld, as State Presented Sufficient Evidence to Establish Requisite Guilt

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut held that the State presented sufficient evidence to convict the defendant of charges arising from the robbery of a deli.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on February 26, 2005. The defendant wore a half mask as he entered a deli, pulled a handgun from his jacket pocket, and pointed it at the cashier while demanding money. When the cashier went to get his wallet from his coat, located behind a glass deli case, the defendant fired at him twice. Both shots missed, and the defendant escaped with a paltry $38 cash.

One month after the robbery, police presented a photographic array to the cashier, who chose the defendant but needed a recently-taken picture to be sure. Four days later, a newspaper article with a more recent picture of the defendant appeared, linking him with another robbery. The cashier promptly called police and stated the man in the newspaper photograph (the defendant) was the same man who robbed him at the deli, then made a positive identification (ID) of the defendant in a second photographic array. However, the gun used to perpetrate this crime was never recovered.

Sufficient Evidence For Robbery, Larceny, and Attempt to Commit Assault Found

The defendant was charged with a convicted of robbery in the first degree, larceny in the sixth degree, attempt to commit assault in the first degree, and carrying a pistol without a permit. On appeal, he argued that the State presented insufficient evidence identifying him as the robber. The defendant claimed that the cashier’s ID was unreliable because the perpetrator wore a mask. He cited the cashier’s initial inability to positively identify the defendant in the first photographic array and the passage of time between the incident and the second photographic array.

The Appellate Court was not convinced, citing a plethora of trial evidence upon which the jury could reasonably conclude the defendant as the robber. The cashier saw the defendant for an extended period of time in a brightly lit area at close proximity. According to testimony, the mask itself was particularly thin, allowing the cashier to see features through it, and was only a half mask, which does not cover one’s mouth, nose, forehead, eyes, and sections of hair.

Finally, in contrast to the defendant’s assertion, the cashier was “100 percent sure that the defendant was the [perpetrator]” and made an in-court identification during trial. It was up to the jury, as the arbiter of credibility, to decide what testimony to believe. Thus, this aspect of the defendant’s insufficiency of the evidence claim failed.

Sufficient Evidence for Carrying a Pistol without a Permit Found

In Connecticut, a person may not carry a pistol or revolver outside of their home or place of business without a permit to do so. A pistol or revolver that falls under this statute must have a barrel length of less than twelve inches. Without the gun itself presented into evidence, the defendant argued that the State did not sufficiently establish the length of the barrel on the firearm used in the robbery. As such, a conviction for this charge was improper.

Police recovered two spent .45 caliber shell casings and two spent bullets, the latter located behind the deli case. At trial, State experts testified that only a handful of companies create the weapons that can fire this ammunition, and “none… manufactured firearms with a barrel length of more than twelve inches capable of discharging the kind of spent casings and bullets found at the scene of the robbery.”

In addition, the cashier provided testimony that the firearm was pulled from a jacket pocket and held with just one hand, facts from which inferences are permitted that would suggest the barrel is only twelve inches or less in length. Therefore, the Appellate Court found that the jury could reasonably infer that all elements of the carrying without a permit charge were supported by sufficient evidence.

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.

State Supplied Sufficient Evidence for Jury to Infer Defendant Knew About Child’s Injury but Failed to Act

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed the Appellate Court’s finding, ruling that the State provided sufficient evidence to convict the defendant for risk of injury to a minor child.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on January 12, 2003. A mother, U, got ready for a birthday party but forgot to turn off her hair straightener before leaving at 11:30pm. She left her four-month-old child (the victim) in the defendant’s care. U returned at 1:15am and sat with her older son in the living room until 3:30am, during which time she did not hear the victim cry.

When U then began to play with the victim, she saw that the child’s left hand was “extremely swollen and had formed a large blister” and promptly called 911. The defendant and U both told responding officers that the victim’s hand was not injured before U left earlier that night, and the defendant acknowledged that while he had been with the victim all night, he did not know what caused the injury.

The defendant was charged with risk of injury to a child “for his willful delay in seeking medical attention for the victim” in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53-21(a)(1). At trial, the treating physician testified that the victim would have “screamed bloody murder” when burned; likewise, the child’s pediatrician testified the screaming would have lasted up to fifteen minutes. Because U did not hear the victim crying when she returned, the State argued that the child suffered the injury sometime between 11:30pm and 1:15am – at least two hours forty-five minutes before 911 was notified.

Appellate Court Ruling

A jury found the defendant guilty, but on appeal the conviction was reversed. In reviewing the defendant’s insufficiency of the evidence claim, the Appellate Court found that the State failed to provide direct evidence on the age of the injury. As such, the jury’s inference that the defendant was aware of the burn was “too speculative” to support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. On appeal, the State argued that the Appellate Court failed to consider circumstantial evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the verdict.

To secure a conviction under the “situation prong” of § 53-21(a)(1), the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant “willfully or unlawfully caused or permitted a [minor] child to be placed in a situation where… the health of the child was likely to be injured…” If a defendant was under a legal duty to act and his failure to act “cause[d] a dangerous situation to exist or continue,” this may be sufficient evidence for conviction under the statute. Thus, a defendant may act willfully where he became aware of the victim’s injury but thereafter purposefully delayed seeking medical attention.

Supreme Court of Connecticut Ruling

In this case, the Supreme Court agreed that there was substantial circumstantial evidence supporting the jury’s inferences that the injury occurred while U was not home, and that the defendant was aware of the injury’s severity. At the time the victim was injured, the defendant would have heard the screaming and seen that the child’s hand was “grotesquely charred and blistered.” Therefore, the Court held that the Appellate Court erred in concluding there was insufficient evidence supporting the verdict and reversed judgment.

When faced with a charge of risk of injury to a child or reckless endangerment, 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.

Captured Fugitive Could Not “Reap the Benefit” of His Status When Appealing Burglary Conviction

Supreme Court of Connecticut: Criminal Law Matter

In a criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut held that the fugitive felon disentitlement doctrine applies not just to fugitives in flight, but also those who are arrested prior to filing their appeals.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on April 27, 1999. The victim arrived at his workplace and discovered the unauthorized presence of the defendant, who immediately ran off. Police found that two computers were unplugged with their keyboards in the garbage. The defendant was charged and convicted of burglary in the third degree and attempt to commit larceny in the first degree.

However, prior to sentencing in December 2000, the defendant posted bond and fled to England, though he was rearrested and extradited to Connecticut. He once more posted bond and fled the country prior to his second sentencing date, was rearrested, and finally sentenced in November 2008. The defendant appealed his conviction, in part claiming insufficient evidence to convict for attempted larceny. However, the State argued that the defendant’s appeal should be wholesale dismissed because of the fugitive felon disentitlement doctrine.

Court’s Authority

The doctrine of fugitive felon disentitlement gives the court authority to dismiss a fugitive defendant’s appeal under certain circumstances. It is not accepted in all U.S. jurisdictions, and Connecticut has only addressed the doctrine in three cases where the fugitive filed his appeal while still on the run. Therefore, the Supreme Court set to the task of determining whether the doctrine applied to a fugitive who filed an appeal after being arrested, and if so, the scope of its application.

There are several rationales for the doctrine, only one of which applied in this context: “the promotion and protection of the dignified and efficient operation of the appellate system.” Courts want to ensure that defendants do not game the system through their fugitive status “by gaining unfair advantages due to the passage of time at the expense of the integrity of the appellate process.” In this case, the Supreme Court held that a fugitive’s post-arrest appeal may be dismissed if his conduct undermined the appellate process.

Thus, if the State seeks to assert the doctrine, it must show specific instances of prejudice caused by the fugitive’s flight, such as the loss of evidence or witness-related issues. If the State meets this burden, it is then shifted to the defendant, who must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that his flight was not prejudicial.

Court Decision

The Supreme Court found that in this case the State alleged sufficient evidence that the defendant could not rebut. “The appellate process has been prejudiced by the loss of trial exhibits and by the effect that the passage of time has had on the availability and reliability of witnesses.” Therefore, all of the defendant’s claims on appeal, including insufficiency of the evidence, were not reviewable because the doctrine applied.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

When faced with a charge of larceny, burglary, 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.

Trial Court Did Not Err in Rejecting Irrelevant Evidence; Appellate Court Upholds Conviction

Appellate Court of Connecticut

In a criminal law matter involving irrelevant evidence, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a defendant’s convictions following a traffic stop that revealed reckless driving.

Case Details

This case arose from an incident that occurred on March 14, 2006. Bethel police initiated a traffic stop to investigate the defendant’s dump truck and trailer for properly displayed plates. The plates were present but obscured, and officers immediately noticed a wire hanging from the rear of the trailer. Upon further inspection of the trailer, officers determined that the wire was disconnected, from the trailer’s independent braking system.

Furthermore, it did not appear to be connected to the dump truck or “any other source that could have provided power to the trailer’s brakes.” Officers requested that the defendant demonstrate whether or not the trailer’s brakes operated, but the defendant refused to comply. Officers cited the defendant for reckless driving, driving with obscured license plates, and failing to carry a valid insurance card. Upon the arrival of a tow truck, the defendant relinquished his keys and stated to the tow-truck driver, “There’s still no brakes [on the trailer] with you towing it.”

The Defendant’s Motion

The defendant submitted a motion seeking to introduce Connecticut statutes and agency regulations as evidence that the officers lacked authority to inspect his trailer’s brakes. He also proffered evidence that “demonstrated a sense of bias against the defendant among [other] officers that had filtered throughout the Bethel police department and affected the credibility of the officers who were at the scene and who testified during the state’s case-in-chief.” The trial court denied the motion, saying the evidence was irrelevant. Subsequently, the defendant was convicted of the three cited charges as well as interfering with an officer. He appealed, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion.

Connecticut Police Officers

In Connecticut, police officers have the duty to enforce our laws and preserve the peace. “If [an officer] is acting under a good faith belief that he is carrying out that duty, and if his actions are reasonably designed to that end, he is acting in the performance of his duties.” Quite notably, such duties are not merely restricted to the arrest function. In this case, the Appellate Court reviewed the statutes and regulations offered by the defendant but was not persuaded that the officers did not have authority to inspect the brakes on his trailer. Therefore, it concluded that preclusion of this evidence was not an abuse of discretion by the trial court.

Importance of Evidence 

Evidence is relevant if it makes the existence of a material fact more or less probable, so long as it is neither unduly prejudicial nor cumulative. However, it is the duty of the proffering party to establish relevance with a proper foundation. In the context of impeachment evidence, this may be accomplished in one of three ways: an offer of proof, independent establishment by the record itself, or statement of good faith believe that the inquiry is justified by an adequate factual basis.

In this case, the defendant failed to provide any connection between evidence of bias and the lack of credibility of the officers involved in this case. Rather, his claims were purely speculative, and “[i]t is entirely proper for a court to deny a request to present certain testimony that will further nothing more than a fishing expedition… or result in a wild goose chase.” Therefore, the judgments were affirmed.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

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.