Posts tagged with "violation of probation"

Because Assault Victim Did Not Show Intent To Inflict Harm, Defendant’s Self-Defense Claim Failed

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut held that a trial court properly concluded that a defendant did not act in self-defense, following an assault stemming from a residential burglary.

The Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on July 26, 2007. The defendant was burglarizing a residence when the tenant caught him in the act. The defendant fled and attempted to hide in a garage on the property, but the landlord’s son, the victim, located him and began to chase him with a baseball bat. While running away from the victim, the defendant turned around and hit him in the head with a tire iron in his possession, causing severe injury.

The defendant was quickly located by police and placed under arrest. He provided a written statement about the burglary and assault, in which he stated that the victim hit him with a baseball bat in the garage before the flight from the property. The defendant claimed he grabbed a pipe in the garage and used that to hit the victim when he got too close during the flight.

The Trial

At trial, a neighbor, L, testified that he saw the victim running after the defendant past his house. Approximately two-and-a-half houses down the road, the defendant “turned around and popped [the victim] in the back of the head with the crowbar.” L insisted that he did not see the victim hit the defendant or swing the bat.

A second neighbor, T, stated that he was five to seven houses away when he saw the victim take a swing at the defendant, who turned and struck the victim. In stark contrast to his written statement, the defendant claimed that the victim attempted to strike him with the bat during the chase, so he turned and threw the pipe at the victim. He argued that he did not read the contents of the written statement, which he nonetheless signed.

Self-Defense Claim

The defendant was subsequently convicted of burglary in the first degree, assault in the first degree, and violation of probation. On appeal, he argued that the State failed to disprove his theory of self-defense: “when the defendant swung the tire iron at the victim, he reasonably believed that the victim was about to inflict great bodily harm against him.”

Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-19(a) is our State’s self-defense statute. Using this justification defense, the defendant argues that his otherwise illegal conduct was legally justified and not criminal in nature. “[I]n order to invoke the defense of self-defense, one must reasonably believe that an individual is going to use deadly force or inflict great bodily harm against him.” When a defendant asserts this defense, he need not do more to assert his claim: it becomes the burden of the State to disprove the defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Court’s Decision

In this case, the Appellate Court held that the trial court properly determined that the defendant lacked the subjective belief that deadly physical force was necessary. The victim never acted in such a way as to indicate he intended to cause the defendant great bodily harm. It was reasonable for the court to give greater weight to L’s testimony, as he was in closer proximity to the victim and defendant than T was.

The Court noted that at the time of the incident, the defendant never told police that the victim swung the bat during the chase, that he acted in self-defense, or that he feared for his safety. Indeed, because the defendant provided conflicting accounts of the events, it was within the court’s province as the arbiter of credibility to conclude that the defendant was not a credible witness. Therefore, there was sufficient evidence for the court to decide that the defendant did not act in self-defense, and the assault conviction was proper.

When faced with a charge of assault 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.

When ATVs are Driven on Public Highways, They Are “Motor Vehicles” for Purposes of State Suspension Laws

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut affirmed a trial court’s revocation of a defendant’s probation after he operated his all-terrain vehicle (ATV) on public roads while his driver’s license was suspended.

In this case, the defendant pled guilty to driving under the influence as a third-time offender. He was sentenced to three years’ incarceration, execution suspended after one year, with three years’ probation. The following conditions of probation were imposed: a general condition prohibiting the violation of any state criminal statute, and a special condition prohibiting the operation of a motor vehicle with a suspended license. The Department of Motor Vehicles permanently suspended the defendant’s driver’s license due to his history of suspensions. The defendant served the one unsuspended year in jail, then began his probation. Before the term expired, he received two criminal citations after he operated an ATV in the travel lanes of town roads. Therefore, he was subsequently charged with operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license in violation of CGS § 14-215, as well as violation of probation.

A probation revocation hearing was held, where the trial court determined that the defendant violated the general and special conditions. His probation was revoked, and he was ordered to serve the remaining two years of his suspended sentence. The defendant appealed, arguing that CGS § 14-215(c) was unconstitutionally vague with respect to application to ATV usage. As he emphasized, “a person of ordinary intelligence could not reasonably have been expected to know that the term ‘motor vehicle’ included an ATV.”

Everyone is presumed to know the law, and ignorance is no excuse from criminal punishment. However, laws must be drafted so that “ordinary people understand what conduct is prohibited and in a manner that does not encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.” So long as the meaning of the statute can be fairly ascertained, it won’t be struck down as void for vagueness. In this case, the burden rested with the defendant to “demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that [CGS § 14-215(c)], as applied to him, deprived him of adequate notice of what conduct the statute proscribed or that he fell victim to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”

CGS § 14-215(c) makes it a crime for a person to operate a motor vehicle while their driver’s license is under suspension. This statute is located in Chapter 248, which defines “motor vehicle” as including “all vehicles used on public highways.” In CGS § 14-212(9), “vehicle” is synonymous with “motor vehicle,” so the Supreme Court opined that if an ATV qualifies as a vehicle, it is a motor vehicle for purposes of the suspension law. The Court considered the definitions of ATV under other statutes, which use the language “a self-propelled vehicle” and “motorized vehicle.” CGS §§ 14-379 and 23-26a. Thus, for purposes of CGS § 14-215(c), an ATV was a motor vehicle when used on a public highway.

With this statutory framework in mind, the Supreme Court determined that the defendant failed to meet his burden. Rather, CGS § 14-215(c) “affords a person of ordinary intelligence with fair warning that he is prohibited from operating an ATV on a public highway while his license is suspended.” The Court found that the statute was not unconstitutionally vague, and the trial court did not err in revoking the defendant’s probation.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or operation under suspension, 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.