State v. Williams

Citation521 A.2d 150,202 Conn. 349
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Decision Date24 February 1987
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Michael D. WILLIAMS.

Temmy Ann Pieszak, Asst. Public Defender, with whom, on the brief, was Joette Katz, Public Defender, for the appellant (defendant).

F. Patrick O'Sullivan, Sp. Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, was John A. Connelly, State's Atty., for the appellee (state).



The defendant, Michael D. Williams, was found guilty by a jury of robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-134(a)(1). 1 In his appeal from the judgment 2 of conviction, he claims that (1) the evidence was insufficient to support the finding of guilt made by the jury, (2) the trial court gave instructions upon statutory alternatives which were not supported by evidence as a basis for finding the defendant had committed robbery, 3 and (3) the trial court's instructions explaining the crime of robbery in the charge were inadequate and misleading. We find error and remand for a new trial.

From the evidence presented in the state's case-in-chief, the jury could reasonably have found the following background circumstances. On November 25, 1980, at approximately 10 p.m., the victim, a fifty-nine year old woman, was at a gas station on the corner of West Main Street and Thomaston Avenue, Waterbury, getting gasoline for her car. After the victim had replaced the hose on the pump, had paid for her gas, and was walking toward her car, she felt a "tug" on her pocketbook, a leather shoulder purse suspended by a long strap from her shoulder. After the "tug," her next recollections were of being lifted up, there being people around her, and that she was in an ambulance. 4 She first noticed that her pocketbook was missing when she was being transferred from the ambulance to the hospital emergency room. She did not see the person who had taken her pocketbook, but believed he had approached her from behind.

Several witnesses heard a noise or noises, variously described as "an exclamation," "a scream," a "loud slap," "lady noises" like "hi" or "a sort of a yell," and a "woman's voice, and then there was a loud noise like something hitting a car" which attracted their attention. Four of the five witnesses who described these sounds saw a man, subsequently identified as the defendant, with a purse in his hand, running swiftly from the gas pumping area where the victim was found lying on the ground. The victim was obviously injured in that she was disoriented, there was blood coming from the side of her nose, and there was a lump on the left side of her head. She had an "enormous, almost like an orange, bump on her forehead and she was ... totally, completely disoriented."

A short time after the incident, the defendant was apprehended approximately one-half mile from the gas station. At that time, he was breathing hard. The defendant was brought back to the scene of the crime by the police, and several witnesses identified the defendant as the same person whom they previously had seen running from the gas station.

The state also presented the testimony of a physician who had treated the victim. He testified that the victim had suffered a large bump on her forehead which was accompanied by swelling and discoloration around the left eye. He posited that the injury had probably been caused by "some type of blunt instrument or a fist." He testified further that he meant by the term "blunt instrument" such objects as the "hard surface of the ground," "a gasoline island," or "the side of a car or something of that nature."


The defendant's first claim of error is that the evidence was insufficient to support the finding of guilt made by the jury. The defendant does not contest the sufficiency of the evidence to support the verdict in respect to the identification of him as the person who had taken the victim's purse. Similarly, he does not question the adequacy of the medical testimony concerning the aggravating element of causing "serious physical injury" to a victim, as required for a conviction of robbery in the first degree. General Statutes § 53a-1324(a)(1). The focus of his insufficiency claim is based wholly upon the evidence related to proof of the essential element of robbery, that the actor must use or threaten "the 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 ... to deliver up the property or to engage in other conduct which aids in the commission of the larceny." General Statutes § 53a-133. 5 The state concedes that the evidence was not sufficient to sustain a conviction under the second subsection, but maintains that it was adequate to satisfy the alternative definition of robbery contained in the first subsection. Considering the evidence in a light most favorable to sustaining the verdict as we must; State v. Crump, 201 Conn. 489, 491, 518 A.2d 378 (1986); we conclude that the state has met its burden and that the jury could reasonably have concluded that the defendant was guilty of the crime of robbery in violation of § 53a-134(a)(1).

"In determining whether the evidence is sufficient to sustain a verdict, 'the issue is whether the jury could have reasonably concluded, upon the facts established and the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, that the cumulative effect of the evidence was sufficient to justify the verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.' ... '[T]he evidence presented at trial must be given a construction most favorable to sustaining the jury's verdict.' " State v. Giguere, 184 Conn. 400, 402-403, 439 A.2d 1040 (1981); see Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318-19, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2788-89, 61 L.Ed.2d 560, reh. denied, 444 U.S. 890, 100 S.Ct. 195, 62 L.Ed.2d 126 (1979); State v. Kish, 186 Conn. 757, 767, 443 A.2d 1274 (1982). "Each essential element of the crime charged must be established by proof beyond a reasonable doubt"; State v. Stankowski, 184 Conn. 121, 126, 439 A.2d 918, cert. denied, 454 U.S. 1052, 102 S.Ct. 596, 70 L.Ed.2d 588 (1981); and " 'although it is within the province of the jury to draw reasonable logical inferences from the facts proven, they may not resort to speculation and conjecture.' " State v. Gaynor, 182 Conn. 501, 503, 438 A.2d 749 (1980); State v. Little, 194 Conn. 665, 671-72, 485 A.2d 913 (1984); State v. Gabriel, 192 Conn. 405, 421-22, 473 A.2d 300 (1984).

At the outset, we recognize the importance of circumstantial evidence in this case. "There is, of course, no legal distinction between direct and circumstantial evidence as far as probative force is concerned. State v. Wilson, 178 Conn. 427, 434, 423 A.2d 72 (1979)." State v. Crump, supra, 201 Conn. at 495, 518 A.2d 378. "The 'process of inference is peculiarly a jury function, the raison d'etre of the jury system.' Pierce v. Albanese, 144 Conn. 241, 256, 129 A.2d 606, appeal dismissed, 355 U.S. 15, 78 S.Ct. 36, 2 L.Ed.2d 21 (1957); see also State v. Tatem, 194 Conn. 594, 483 A.2d 1087 (1984). It is within the province of the trier of fact to draw reasonable and logical inferences from the facts proven, but it may not resort to speculation and conjecture. State v. Kish, 186 Conn. 757, 768, 443 A.2d 1274 (1982); State v. Tucker, 181 Conn. 406, 418, 435 A.2d 986 (1980). Any inferences drawn must be rational and founded upon the evidence. State v. Clemons, 168 Conn. 395, 401, 363 A.2d 33, cert. denied, 423 U.S. 855, 96 S.Ct. 104, 46 L.Ed.2d 80 (1975). The jury may base an inference on facts it finds as the result of other inferences. State v. Gabriel, supra, 192 Conn. at 425, 473 A.2d 300; State v. McGinnis, 158 Conn. 124, 130, 256 A.2d 241 (1969); State v. Gonski, 155 Conn. 463, 468, 232 A.2d 483 (1967); State v. Hayes, 127 Conn. 543, 555, 18 A.2d 895 (1941). In reviewing inferences which the jury drew, our inquiry 'is directed to whether, on the facts established and the inferences reasonably to be drawn therefrom, the verdict can be supported.' State v. Avcollie, 178 Conn. 450, 470, 423 A.2d 118 (1979), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 1015, 100 S.Ct. 667, 62 L.Ed.2d 645 (1980); State v. Benton, 161 Conn. 404, 410, 288 A.2d 411 (1971); State v. Hayes, supra.... In reviewing the jury verdict, it is well to remember that '[j]urors are not "expected to lay aside matters of common knowledge or their own observation and experience of the affairs of life, but, on the contrary, to apply them to the evidence or facts in hand, to the end that their action may be intelligent and their conclusions correct." ' (Citations omitted.) State v. Scielzo, 190 Conn. 191, 198 n. 11, 460 A.2d 951 (1983), quoting Frankovitch v. Burton, 185 Conn. 14, 22, 440 A.2d 254 (1981)." State v. Little, supra, 194 Conn. at 673-74, 485 A.2d 913.

The defendant concedes that the jury was justified in finding that physical force was used to remove the victim's purse from her shoulder and that "[i]t may also fairly be inferred that the force of that removal caused her to lose her balance and fall...." He also concedes that the victim's injuries "can be said to have resulted from the use of physical force" and that her injuries "might demonstrate excessive force was used to remove the purse." (Emphasis added.) The defendant argues, however, that the jury was not justified in concluding that the force was used "for the purpose of ... [p]reventing or overcoming resistance...." General Statutes § 53a-133(1). "[T]he word 'purpose' is synonymous with 'object' and 'intent.' " State v. Kurvin, 186 Conn. 555, 567, 442 A.2d 1327 (1982). Thus, the statute requires that the state prove that physical force was used by the defendant with the conscious objective or intention of preventing or overcoming resistance.

"The state of...

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