State v. Bitting

Citation291 A.2d 240,162 Conn. 1
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Decision Date23 November 1971
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. AL. J. BITTING.

John R. Williams, New Haven, for appellant (defendant).

Jerrold H. Barnett, Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, were Arnold Markle, State's Atty., Richard P. Sperandeo, Chief Asst. State's Atty., and David B. Salzman, Asst. State's Atty., for appellee (state).


LOISELLE, Associate Justice.

The defendant, Al Joseph Bitting, was tried before a jury on a substituted information charging him in the first count with assault with intent to kill in violation of General Statutes § 54-117, and in the second count with carrying a pistol or revolver without a permit in violation of General Statutes § 29-35. After the state rested, the defendant offered evidence to support his claims of alibi and intoxication. He then filed a written motion requesting permission to testify without being subject to impeachment based on his prior felony record. The trial court denied the motion and the defense rested without offering testimony by the defendant. Prior to submitting the case to the jury, the defendant moved for a directed verdict on both counts. The court granted the motion as to the second count but denied it as to the first count. The jury returned a verdict of guilty of aggravated assault on the first count.

The defendant assigns as error the court's refusal to charge that a specific intent in a necessary element of the crime of assault; the admission of evidence concerning possession of a dangerous weapon, one week prior to the date of the aggravated assault for which the jury found him guilty, and the denial of his motion for permission to testify without being subject to impeachment based on his prior felony record. The remaining assignments of error either have been abandoned or are considered as abandoned because they have not been pursued in the brief. Mendez v. Mendez, 160 Conn 237, 239, 278 A.2d 795; Labbadia v. Bailey, 152 Conn. 187, 190, 205 A.2d 377.

The state's claims of proof may be summarized as follows: At the time of the trial the defendant and his wife, Geneva, had been separated for four years. Mrs. Bitting had three children; the oldest was Johnny Pate, age eleven. At about midnight on August 26, 1969, Mrs. Bitting was lying on her bed with Roy Anderson, watching television. She heard two sounds which she believed to be gunshots and noted 'a smell of powder.' Anderson pushed her onto the floor and leaped through a closed window. The gunfire awakened Johnny Pate, who saw the defendant outside the broken window and spoke to him. Johnny Pate did not observe the defendant with a gun on him that evening, but he had observed him with a pistol in a holster approximately one week earlier. Officer Jefferson Lee of the New Haven police department was dispatched to Mrs. Bitting's home at approximately 12:30 a.m. on August 27, 1969. On arriving, he observed a man running down the street but was unable to apprehend him. Both the and Mrs. Bitting observed evidence of gunshots.

Among the claims of proof of the defendant are that he was in the presence of Almer Godwin continuously throughout the night of August 26, 1969, at a location removed from the incident; that he was so intoxicated he was unable to walk without assistance; and that 'he was passed out' most of the time.

The defendant assigns as error the court's refusal to charge that 'to constitute an assault, that attempt or offer must be found beyond a reasonable doubt to have been an intentional act.' The defendant requested, further that the court charge that specific intent is an essential element of the crime and that 'if the jury finds that the evidence of intoxication is sufficient to create a reasonable doubt as to whether the defendant was sober enough to form the required intent to commit the crime charged, then you must find the defendant not guilty.'

The court charged that 'no specific intent is necessary to constitute the crime of simple assault or aggravated assault as is required in the crime of assault with intent to kill, other than such as may be embodied in making an assault or aggravated assault.' Although requested by the defendant to charge the jury on the question of intoxication as a defense to assault and aggravated assault, the court did not mention it in its charge.

To ascertain the proof necessary for conviction of a statutory crime, it must be determined whether culpability under the statute requires merely that one do the proscribed act, that one do the act with general intent, or that one do the act with specific intent. If the statute does not include intent or knowledge as an element of the crime, their proof is not necessary. 'It is axiomatic that the legislature may, if it so chooses, ignore the common-law concept that criminal acts require the coupling of the evil-meaning mind with the evil-doing hand and may define crimes which depend on no mental element, but consist only of forbidden acts or omissions.' State v. Husser, 161 Conn. 513, 515, 290 A.2d 336.

When a mental element is a constitutent of a crime, the character of that element must be identified. In determining which of these crimes require proof of a general intent and which require proof of a specific intent, the language chosen by the legislature in enacting a particular statute is significant. When the elements of a crime consist of a description of a particular act and a mental element not specific in nature, the only issue is whether the defendant intended to do the proscribed act. If he did so intend, he has the requisite general intent for culpability. When the elements of a crime include a defendant's intent to achieve some result additional to the act, the additional language distinguishes the crime from those of general intent and makes it one requiring a specific intent.

General Statutes § 53-16 defines aggravated assault as simply 'an assault upon another with any deadly . . . weapon.' It contains no language of intent, as do other classifications, such as General Statutes § 53-15, assault with acid on other burning substance; § 53-28, assault with intent to rob; § 53-239, assault with intent to commit rape; § 53-240, assault with intent to carnally know a female child. The repeated references to intent in several sections relating to different crimes, and its omission in § 53-16, does not indicate a legislative intent that aggravated assault be characterized as a specific intent crime. Aggravated assault is simply a common-law assault which is committed with the use of a deadly weapon. Thus, the mental element required for a common-law assault is controlling. At common law, an essential element of assault is an intent either to frighten or harm. Such an intent is general in nature and not specific to achieve any particular kind of result or degree of injury. See People v. Hood, 1 Cal.3d 444, 82 Cal.Rptr. 618, 462 P.2d 370; Parker v. United States, 123 U.S.App.D.C. 343, 359 F.2d 1009; note, 92 A.L.R.2d 635.

The defendant claims that, although courts give lip service to the doctrine that general intent is all that is needed to support a conviction of aggravated assault, this court, in State v. Pallanck, 146 Conn. 527, 530, 152 A.2d 633, and again in State v. Smith, 157 Conn. 351, 354, 254 A.2d 447, recognized that the crime requires a specific criminal intent to do the proscribed act. In the Pallanck case, there was evidence of an intent to frighten and, in the Smith case, there was evidence of an intent to frighten and injure. In both cases, we held that the evidence of intent present was sufficient to support conviction. There is no basis for inferring that this court referred to such intents as other than proof of general intent, i.e., proof of general intent to do an act is established if there is proof of an intent to cause fear or harm by means of the act. The appropriateness of such evidence to a determination of guilt rests in the fact that general intent to do the act described in § 53-16 is necessary for conviction. In the Smith case, for example, the defendants claimed that their closing a trunk lid on a policeman's head was purely accidental. If that were the case, no general intent would be present. Thus, evidence of intent to cause fear or harm is necessary to show the requisite general intent, thereby negating a defense of accident or negligence.

Considering that only general intent need be proven under General Statutes § 53-16, it would have been error to charge that a showing of specific intent was necessary.

Because voluntary intoxication is relevant only to show an absence of specific intent, it has no relevance to the presence or absence of the general intent required by the statute under discussion. There was, therefore, no error in refusing the defendant's request to charge with respect to his intoxication. State v. Dennis, 150 Conn. 245, 250, 188 A.2d 65; State v. Fiske, 63...

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  • State v. Miller
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • April 13, 1982
    ...assault, this statutory crime requires proof of the specific intent to achieve a serious degree of physical injury. State v. Bitting, 162 Conn. 1, 6, 291 A.2d 240 (1971). Intent is statutorily defined as a "conscious objective ... to cause (a) result ...." General Statutes § cause serious p......
  • State v. Binet
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • April 10, 1984
    ...invokes the exercise of a sound judicial discretion. See State v. Nardini, supra, 187 Conn. 521-22, 447 A.2d 396; State v. Bitting, 162 Conn. 1, 10, 291 A.2d 240 (1971); State v. Marquez, 160 Conn. 47, 52, 273 A.2d 689 (1970). A trial court's decision denying a motion to exclude a witness' ......
  • State v. Hines
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • May 25, 1982
    ...crime. "When a mental element is a constituent of a crime, the character of that element must be identified." State v. Bitting, 162 Conn. 1, 5, 291 A.2d 240 (1971). "Intent to commit the crime" would ordinarily be understood to refer to the general intent to do the proscribed act, the physi......
  • State v. Nardini
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • July 13, 1982
    ...pistol without a permit, one of the offenses involved here; State v. Miller, 186 Conn. 654, 443 A.2d 906 (1982); see State v. Bitting, 162 Conn. 1, 8, 291 A.2d 240 (1971); and carrying a dangerous weapon. State v. Jones, 167 Conn. 228, 236, 355 A.2d 95 (1974). We have referred to "the legis......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Just say no excuse: the rise and fall of the intoxication defense.
    • United States
    • Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Vol. 87 No. 2, January 1997
    • January 1, 1997
    ...a reasonable person would observe in the actor's situation. Model Penal Code [Sections] 2.02 (1962). (63.) See, eg., State v. Bitting, 291 A.2d 240, 243 (Conn. (64.) 462 P.2d 370, 377-78 (Cal. 1969). (65.) Id. at 378. (66.) Id. (67.) Id. (68.) Id. (69.) The Hood court recognized the technic......

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