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State v. Steinmann

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

January 30, 1990

STATE of Connecticut

Argued Nov. 16, 1989.

Page 558

[20 Conn.App. 600] Timothy C. Moynahan, with whom, on the brief, was Theresa M. Dalton, Waterbury, for appellant (defendant).

Vincent J. Dooley, Deputy Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, were Frank S. Maco, State's Atty., and Andrew M. Wittstein, Asst. State's Atty., for appellee (state).



The defendant appeals his convictions, after a trial to the court, of simple trespass in violation[20 Conn.App. 601] of General Statutes § 53a-110a. He claims the trial court erred (1) in finding that there was sufficient evidence for conviction, (2) in failing to find the simple trespass statute to be unconstitutional, and (3) in failing to find that the state's decision not to prosecute for criminal trespass deprived the defendant of his equal protection rights.

The court could reasonably have found the following facts. A conflict arose in the spring of 1987 between the defendant, John Steinmann, and the First Congregational Church in the town of Washington. Because the defendant allegedly was bothering women parishoners and using the church for personal meetings, the church pastor, the Reverend Richard Sears, sent a letter to the defendant in April, 1987, asking that he stop attending church services. In November, 1987, Sears again told the defendant that he was not welcome on church property. Sears conveyed this decision, approved by the church board of deacons, to the defendant in the presence of three church officials and Trooper Robert Tomlinson of the state police. The defendant informed Sears that he understood the proscription. Tomlinson was satisfied that the defendant understood the church's order barring him from entry.

On Saturday, December 12, 1987, the defendant called Tomlinson and, after a lengthy conversation, asserted that he planned to attend church services and, despite Tomlinson's admonitions, attended the morning service the next day. He was issued a misdemeanor summons for criminal trespass as he left the service. On Saturday, March 12, 1988, the defendant visited Tomlinson's office to say that he was unhappy with the church's decision and that he would continue to attend church services. Again, Tomlinson informed the defendant that he was not welcome on church property. The defendant nevertheless entered the church property and attended services on March 13, 1988. Upon issue [20 Conn.App. 602] of a second misdemeanor summons for criminal trespass later that day, the defendant remarked, "I thought I got away with it this time." The final incident occurred on March 20, 1988, when the defendant attended Sunday services. At this time, he was taken into custody, issued another summons for criminal trespass and released on his promise to appear.

The defendant was originally charged with three counts of criminal trespass in

Page 559

the first degree. The state subsequently filed substitute informations charging the defendant with three counts of simple trespass in violation of General Statutes § 53a-110a. [1] After a trial to the court, the defendant was found guilty and fined on each count. This appeal followed.

The defendant first contests the court's denial of his pretrial motion to dismiss pursuant to Practice Book § 815(5), [2] and his motions for judgment of acquittal made at the close of the state's case and at the close of all the evidence. He claims that the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he had the requisite knowledge that he was not licensed or privileged to enter church property or to be present at public worship services. This claim is without merit.

The appropriate standard of review with respect to a sufficiency claim "is whether the [court] could have [20 Conn.App. 603] 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." State v. Bember, 183 Conn. 394, 397, 439 A.2d 387 (1981). The evidence produced at trial must be given a construction most favorable to sustaining the verdict. State v. Ruth, 16 Conn.App. 148, 154-55, 547 A.2d 548 (1988), cert. denied, 209 Conn. 827, 552 A.2d 434 (1989).

Here, there was ample evidence Before the court that the defendant entered church property, on the three occasions charged, as a knowing trespasser. The record reveals that the defendant had been unequivocally informed and understood that his privilege to attend church services had been revoked. We cannot say that a rational trier of fact could not have found evidence for each essential element of the crime of simple trespass, and the verdict must stand. See State v. Kelly, 208 Conn. 365, 386, 545 A.2d 1048 (1988).

The defendant also argues that State v. Mention, 12 Conn.App. 258, 530 A.2d 645, cert. denied, 205 Conn. 809, 532 A.2d 78 (1987), the only case construing § 53a-110a, stands for the proposition that the statute does not apply to premises open to the public. In reversing the conviction for simple trespass of a disruptive shopping mall patron, the court in Mention found that " § 53a-110a does not provide for revocation of the status of business invitee." Id., 12 Conn.App. at 261, 530 A.2d 645. The defendant analogizes himself as a "public invitee" to a public religious service.

The defendant misreads Mention. The court in that case held that a business invitee cannot be charged with simple trespass in areas open to the public without evidence that he entered with knowledge that he was not privileged to do so. "The language of General Statutes [20 Conn.App. 604] § 53a-110a does not create a strict liability crime. The statute requires knowledge on the part of the accused that he is entering without license or privilege." Id., at 260, 530 A.2d 645. Unlike the record in Mention, the record here is replete with evidence that this defendant knew that he was trespassing upon church property and was unwelcome at services.

Moreover, the critical issue in Mention was the defendant's state of mind, rather than the nature of the premises. Id. Property does not lose its private character merely because the public is generally invited to use it for designated purposes. Lloyd Corporation v. Tanner, 407 U.S. 551, 569, ...

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