Intent Element of Conspiracy Established Where Weapon Used in Robbery Was Obtained in Victim’s Home

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut upheld a defendant’s conviction for conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree, since use of a knife obtained the victim’s home furthered the scheme.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on January 22, 2005. The defendant and another man were armed and wearing masks when they broke into the victim’s apartment. They bound the victim and began to beat him, demanding money and rummaging through his personal belongings. One of the men found a knife in the kitchen and heated it on the stove, then they used it to repeatedly burn the victim in hopes that he would reveal where more money was located. In total, the duo took over $12,000 worth of property and cash from the victim’s residence.

The victim was taken from his home and brought to other locations where additional money may have been located. Despite numerous threats to kill the victim, he was released in a high school parking lot in a neighboring town. The perpetrators left the victim with his cell phone and even called 911 on his behalf before departing. The victim conveyed to the operator that he knew the identity of one of the perpetrators, the defendant, from a previous business transaction. After the victim received treatment for his injuries at a local hospital, he identified the defendant in a police photographic array.

The defendant was subsequently charged with numerous counts and convicted of conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes §§ 53a-48(a) and 53a-134(a). He was sentenced to eighteen years of incarceration but appealed, arguing in part that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction.

Under Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-133, a person commits a robbery when, during the commission of a larceny, he uses or threatens to use physical force against the victim for one of two purposes: to counter resistance to the taking of property, or to coerce the delivery of property. To qualify for robbery in the first degree, one of four scenarios must be met, including the use or threatened use of a dangerous instrument.

On the other hand, a conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime, and one of them commits an overt act in the furtherance of the conspiracy. For the State to secure a conviction, it must show beyond a reasonable doubt “(1) that a defendant intended that conduct constituting a crime be performed [and] (2) that he agreed with one or more persons to engage in or cause the performance of such conduct.” Rarely is a conspiracy proven through direct evidence; thus, the use of circumstantial evidence has become commonplace.

In this case, the Appellate Court determined that there was sufficient evidence to convict the defendant of this crime. The victim testified as to the use of the knife, a “dangerous instrument,” during and in furtherance of the robbery itself. Intent is not diminished simply because the knife was found at the apartment: “As long as the defendant had time to reflect and to deliberate on his actions, he can be held culpable for the requisite specific intent to commit a crime.” Therefore, the conviction was upheld.

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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Jury Reasonably Concluded Threat of Force Was Made During Course of Robbery; Absence of Firearm Immaterial

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s claims that the State provided insufficient evidence to convict her of robbery and conspiracy.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on February 29, 2004. A loss prevention supervisor at the J.C. Penney in Danbury observed the defendant and her friend taking a foot massager from the store without paying for it. He pursued them into the mall and requested that they return with him; both refused and claimed they purchased the item. The defendant then threatened that she would blow the supervisor’s brains out if he touched the friend, who was presently holding the massager. The friend dropped the item as they walked away.

The defendant was subsequently convicted on numerous counts, including robbery in the third degree and conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree. Following sentencing, she appealed and argued in part that there was insufficient evidence to convict. She claimed that the statement was not made for the purpose of retaining possession of the foot massager. The defendant further stated that at the time the threat was made, she made no action indicating she actually had a firearm in her possession.

Under Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-133, a person commits a robbery:

[W]hen, in the course of committing a larceny, he uses or threatens to use immediate use of physical force upon another person for the purpose of: (1) Preventing or overcoming resistance to the taking of the property or to the retention thereof immediately after the taking; or (2) compelling the owner of such property or another person to deliver up the property or to engage in other conduct which aids in the commission of the larceny.

A jury must consider whether the use or threatened use of force takes place “during the continuous sequence of events surrounding the taking or attempted taking.” If the jury answers in the affirmative, the use in question “is considered to be in the course of the robbery or attempted robbery within the meaning of the statute.” In this case, the Appellate Court determined that the jury had authority to conclude that the threat made by the defendant – blowing the supervisor’s brains out – was made “during the continuous sequence of events surrounding the taking of the foot massager.” Indeed, it was stated while the friend was holding onto the massager after they had only just left the store.

The Appellate Court rejected the defendant’s argument regarding the significance of an absent firearm. Third degree robbery requires mere physical force, while robbery in the first degree includes “[threatened] use of what he represents by his words or actions to be a pistol, revolver, rifle, shotgun, machine gun or other firearm.” In other words, the State need not prove that the defendant in question actually had a gun at the time he made the threat. Therefore, with respect to this aspect of the appeal, the Court agreed that the State provided sufficient evidence to convict on both counts.

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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Guilty Plea Found Invalid Where Defendant Was Left in Dark Regarding What Constituted a Larceny and Robbery

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut reversed and remanded a case where the defendant did not knowingly and voluntarily enter into a plea agreement.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 20, 2004. A man robbed a bank at knifepoint, securing $15,000 in cash, before escaping in a vehicle driven by the defendant. Police soon located the duo along with the stolen money. The defendant was charged with conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree and larceny in the first degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-48, 53a-134(a)(2), and 53a-122.

On February 21, 2006, the defendant sought to enter a guilty plea to these charges. During a plea canvass conducted by the judge, the defendant stated that her defense attorney did not discuss the nature and elements of the charges she faced: “No, I don’t think I heard about what the state had to prove.” The defense attorney did not refute this contention, and the court did not seek from the defendant’s attorney “any assurance that he had, in fact, explained to the defendant the elements of the crimes to which she was pleading guilty.” Though the court adequately read to the defendant the elements of conspiracy, it failed to properly set out the elements of both larceny and robbery. Nonetheless, the court accepted the defendant’s guilty plea and sentenced her to twelve years of incarceration, suspended after seven years, with five years of probation. The defendant appealed, arguing that she did not knowingly and voluntarily enter into her plea agreement.

When a defendant decides to plead guilty, he or she waives numerous constitutional rights, such as the right to a trial by jury. Therefore, a critical due process requirement is that a guilty plea must be made knowingly and voluntarily, which includes apprising the defendant not just of the rights being waived but also the essential criminal elements of the charges faced. Defense counsel is “generally presumed to have informed the defendant of the charges against him,” though this presumption may be overcome if the record shows that counsel failed to so inform. Should this presumption not apply, proper waiver may still be established if the court itself explained all of the elements.

In this case, the Appellate Court found that the record showed “some positive suggestion that the defendant’s attorney had not informed the defendant of the elements of the crimes to which she was pleading guilty.” It noted that during the canvass, the defendant said she did not know what the State had to prove, and her counsel did not counter this statement. As such, the presumption was not applicable. The Appellate Court further held that the trial court failed to apprise the defendant of the essential elements of larceny and robbery. Though the court did read to the defendant what first-degree larceny and first-degree robbery encompassed, but failed to explain what acts constituted a robbery or larceny under Connecticut law. Therefore, the case was reversed and remanded with directions to the lower court to withdraw the guilty pleas.

When faced with a charge of conspiracy, larceny, or robbery, 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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