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State v. Smith

Supreme Court of Connecticut

June 30, 2015

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
TREMAINE SMITH

Argued, April 20, 2015

Page 50

Substitute information charging the defendant with the crimes of attempt to commit robbery in the first degree and attempt to commit kidnapping in the first degree, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Waterbury and tried to the jury before Prescott, J.; verdict of guilty of attempt to commit robbery in the first degree; thereafter, the court denied the defendant's motion for a judgment of acquittal and rendered judgment in accordance with the verdict, from which the defendant appealed to the Appellate Court, Lavine, Bear and Sheldon, Js., which reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case with direction to render a judgment of acquittal on the charge of attempt to commit robbery in the first degree, and the state, on the granting of certification, appealed to this court.

SYLLABUS

The defendant appealed to the Appellate Court from his conviction of attempt to commit robbery in the first degree, claiming, inter alia, that the state had failed to prove that he did not own the property that he had been convicted of attempting to take from the complainant, C, which was an element of the crime of robbery in the first degree. While in prison on unrelated charges, the defendant sent money to C to hire an attorney for him or to obtain a bond for him. C never used the money for those purposes but, rather, kept the money herself. When the defendant was released from prison, he confronted C and attempted to force her to go with him to retrieve the money by threatening her with a knife. The defendant subsequently walked away and C gave a statement to the police regarding the incident. On appeal, the defendant claimed that the evidence was insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that he, with the intent to deprive another of property, wrongfully attempted to take, obtain or withhold such property from an owner pursuant to the larceny statute (§ 53a-119), and that the state was required to prove all of the larceny elements in order to prove the elements of attempt to commit robbery in the first degree. The Appellate Court agreed with the defendant, and reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case with direction to render judgment of acquittal on the charge of attempt to commit robbery in the first degree, and the state, on the granting of certification, appealed to this court. Held that the Appellate Court properly determined that the evidence was insufficient to convict the defendant of attempt to commit robbery in the first degree, the plain and unambiguous language of the relevant robbery and larceny statutes (§ § 53a-119, 53a-134 [a] and 53a-133) having supported that court's interpretation that a defendant cannot be convicted of any form of robbery if the defendant was the owner of the property that he took from another, and the state having conceded that the defendant here owned the property that he was accused of attempting to take from C: furthermore, the state could not prevail on its claim that requiring the state to prove that the defendant did not own the property that he attempted to take from C by force would violate the public policy against violent self-help, as the robbery statutes specifically prohibit the use or threat of physical force to commit a larceny, and where, as here, the defendant had no intent to commit a larceny, he still could be charged with other offenses, such as assault, unlawful restraint, threatening or reckless endangerment, which criminalize the use or threatened use of restraint or physical force; moreover, this court rejected the state's claim that the statute (§ 53a-21) that allows reasonable force in the defense of property somehow barred the defendant from raising the claim that he did not commit a larceny as a defense to the robbery charge, as § 53a-21 was intended to provide a justification defense to a charge involving the unlawful use of physical force and has no effect on the lawfulness of the person's conduct in taking his own property from another.

State v. Messier (16 Conn.App. 455, 549 A.2d 270), to the extent that it could be interpreted as indirectly supporting the proposition that a defendant may be convicted of an offense requiring proof of an intent to commit larceny if the defendant was the owner of the property that he was accused of taking from another, and State v. Woolfolk (8 Conn.App. 667, 514 A.2d 367, 517 A.2d 252), to the extent that it could be interpreted as holding that a person who has been accused of taking property that he owned from another could have the requisite intent to commit a robbery, overruled.

Mitchell S. Brody, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Maureen Platt, state's attorney, and Terence D. Mariani, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellant (state).

Elizabeth M. Inkster, assigned counsel, with whom was Samuel A. Greenberg, deputy assistant public defender, for the appellee (defendant).

Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Zarella, Eveleigh, McDonald, Espinosa and Robinson, Js.

OPINION

Page 51

ROGERS, C. J.

[317 Conn. 340] The issue that we are required to address in this certified appeal is whether the state is required to prove as an element of the crime of robbery in the first degree, as set forth in General Statutes § 53a-134 (a), that the defendant was not the owner of the property that he was accused of taking from another. The defendant, Tremaine Smith, was charged with attempt to commit robbery in the first [317 Conn. 341] degree in violation of General Statutes § § 53a-49 (a) (2) and 53a-134 (a) (3), and attempt to commit kidnapping in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § § 53a-49 (a) (2) and 53a-92 (a) (2) (B). The jury found the defendant guilty of attempt to commit robbery in the first degree and acquitted him of the attempted kidnapping charge, and the trial court rendered judgment in accordance with the verdict. Thereafter, the defendant appealed from the judgment of conviction to the Appellate Court claiming, among other things, that the state had failed to prove that he did not own the property that he had been convicted of attempting to take from the complainant, Shakela Cooper, and that this was an element of the crime of robbery in the first degree. State v. Smith, 148 Conn.App. 684, 694, 86 A.3d 498 (2014). The Appellate Court agreed with the defendant that the state had the burden of disproving that he owned the property; id., 706; and that it had failed to meet this burden. Id., 711. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of conviction of attempt to commit robbery in the first degree and remanded the case to the trial court with direction to render a judgment of acquittal on that charge. Id., 721. Thereafter, we granted the state's petition for certification to appeal on the following issue: " Did the Appellate Court properly determine that the defendant's conviction of attempt to commit robbery in the first degree in violation of . . . § § 53a-49 (a) (2) and 53a-134 (a) (3) must be reversed and judgment [of acquittal be] directed because there was insufficient evidence to convict him of attempt to commit robbery in the first degree?" State v. Smith, 311 Conn. 947, 91 A.3d 462 (2014). We answer the certified question in the affirmative.

The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. While the defendant was in prison in August, 2009, he mailed $294 in cash to Cooper, who was his girlfriend, and told her to use the money to hire an attorney or to obtain a bond for him. Cooper told the defendant that she would do so, but she never did. [317 Conn. 342] Instead, she kept the money. On November 30, 2009, the defendant was released from prison. At approximately 7:30 p.m. that day, the defendant was driving around the city of Waterbury with Shanika Crews. When the defendant saw Cooper, Cooper's brother and a friend of Cooper's walking toward the Waterbury Plaza, he got out of Crews' vehicle, confronted Cooper and attempted to force her to go with him to get his money by grabbing her and threatening her with a knife. The defendant ultimately told Cooper's friend that Cooper " better have my ...


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