Though Defendant’s Statement Was Not A “Model of English Grammar and Spelling,” It Was Voluntarily Made

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress a written statement, claiming his Miranda waiver was not properly made.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 4, 2004 in Danbury, Connecticut. Following a roadway altercation, two victims were subject to a brutal beating inflicted by the defendant and his friends. One victim was repeatedly punched and kicked in the head, resulting in very significant head-related injuries, the need for an abdominal feeding tube for two months, and extensive physical, speech, and occupational therapy. The defendant was later apprehended in Rhode Island by federal authorities. En route to Connecticut, Danbury officers transporting the defendant stopped at a McDonald’s restaurant to get him food. There, the defendant wished to give a statement, which was taken after he was given his Miranda warnings and signed a waiver of rights form.

Prior to trial, the defendant moved to suppress his statement. He claimed that he drank roughly one gallon of Hennessy cognac with a codefendant twenty hours before being arrested. The defendant argued he was still intoxicated at the time he gave the written statement, so his waiver was not voluntary. To bolster his position, he cited the statement, “which was replete with typographical and grammatical errors, evincing that he merely wrote what the police instructed him to write.”

The State countered that due to the passage of time, the defendant was not under the influence at the time he gave his statement. One Danbury officer testified that the defendant did not appear as such at the McDonald’s, and that he had eaten two meals while in custody prior to giving the statement. The trial court denied the motion, agreeing with the State’s argument. It noted the defendant’s express interest in giving the statement and that he voluntarily signed the form, among other findings. In addition, the court stated that the statement was “clear and not reflective of someone who was under the influence of alcohol.” Though it was not a “model of English grammar and spelling,” the statement was comprehensible.

The defendant was subsequently convicted of assault in the first degree, conspiracy to commit assault in the first degree, and two counts assault in the first degree as an accessory. Post-sentencing he appealed, arguing in part that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the motion to suppress. The defendant reiterated his previous arguments that the statement was not voluntarily made.

A waiver of Miranda rights must be made voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently. It is the burden of the State to prove a valid waiver by the preponderance of the evidence, and a reviewing court will look at the totality of the circumstances to determine whether the waiver is valid. In this case, the Appellate Court determined that there was substantial evidence supporting the trial court’s findings that the statement was voluntary and the waiver valid. As such, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress the written statement.

When faced with a charge of assault or conspiracy, 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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Defendant Unsuccessfully Contests Jury Instructions on Intent, But Succeeds With Double Jeopardy Claim

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut reversed in part and affirmed in part a defendant’s multi-count conviction following a coordinated ambush that left numerous victims with serious injuries.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 2, 2004. An individual “orchestrated a plan” to exact retribution against a group who attacked him a week earlier, recruiting approximately twenty relatives and friends, including the defendant, for an ambush at an enclosed basketball court. The plan was successful, and the defendant shot one victim twice and stabbed another multiple times in the back.

The defendant was subsequently arrested and charged with ten counts: two for conspiracy to commit assault in the first degree, six for assault in the first degree as an accessory, and two for assault in the first degree. Before specifically instructing the jury as to the elements of each offense, the court first gave an instruction “as to the concept of intent generally.” The defendant stated he had no objections to the instructions as given. The defendant was convicted on nine of ten counts (including both conspiracy charges) and sentenced to twenty-nine years’ incarceration.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the general intent instruction misled the jury because it allowed them to convict based on “intent to engage in the prohibited conduct without determining that he specifically intended to cause serious physical injury.” He further contended that his convictions for two counts of conspiracy, for which he received two sentences, violated double jeopardy protections because they were one crime arising from a single incident.

When a court reviews the appropriateness of a jury instruction, it must decide whether the charge in its entirety, rather than a section in isolation, properly presents the case to the jury. The Supreme Court of Connecticut has consistently held that “[a] trial court’s repeated instruction that specific intent was an element of the crime charged eliminated any possibility that the jurors reasonably could have mistakenly believed that the defendant could properly have been found guilty based on a finding of only general intent.”

In this case, the Appellate Court reviewed the trial transcripts and counted the phrase “intended to cause serious physical injury to another person” twenty times, while “specific intent” was used seven times. In stark contrast, the general intent instruction was only referred to three times, and its inclusion may have actually assisted the jury in understanding the meaning of specific intent. The Court determined that the trial court “unmistakably conveyed to the jury that specific intent was an element of the assault charges against the defendant.” Thus, this aspect of the defendant’s appeal failed.

The defendant, however, succeeded on his second claim regarding double jeopardy, with which the State agreed. An individual cannot receive cumulative punishments for two or more crimes, which he asserts instead comprise of a single crime, arising out of the same transaction or occurrence. Typically, a court will look at the statutes to determine if one requires proof of an element the other does not possess. In this case, however, it was quite clear that there were two conspiracy convictions stemming from a single agreement – the ambush. Therefore, the Court reversed the convictions and ordered the trial court to merge the conviction on these two counts while vacating the sentence for one of them.

When faced with a charge of assault, conspiracy, or accessory, 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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