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State v. Josephs

Supreme Court of Connecticut

January 30, 2018


          Argued October 17, 2017

          Katherine C. Essington, for the appellant (defendant).

          Nancy L. Chupak, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Brian Preleski, state's attorney, and Elizabeth M. Moseley, assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, McDonald, Robinson and D'Auria, Js.


          ROGERS, C. J.

         This case requires us to examine the meaning of language used in General Statutes § 53-247 (a), [1] a provision that criminalizes a broad range of acts of cruelty to animals. The defendant, Delano Josephs, appeals[2] from the judgment of conviction of a single violation of § 53-247 (a), stemming from his shooting of his neighbor's cat with a BB gun.[3] The defendant claims that (1) the trial court improperly concluded that the clause of § 53-247 (a) applicable to his conviction, which bars a person from ‘‘unjustifiably injur[ing]'' an animal, requires only a general intent to engage in the behavior causing the injury, (2) the phrase ‘‘unjustifiably injures'' in § 53-247 (a) is unconstitutionally vague both facially and as applied to the facts of this case and (3) the evidence was insufficient to support the defendant's conviction pursuant to § 53-247 (a). We disagree with each of these claims and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of conviction.

         The defendant was convicted after a trial to the court. The record reveals the following facts that the trial court reasonably could have found. At the time of the events in question, the defendant lived next door to Lorraine Leiner, who kept a number of cats as pets and allowed them to roam outdoors. On June 3, 2012, Peter Bombard, who was visiting one of Leiner's tenants, [4]was parked by Leiner's house when he heard three distinct noises that he identified as a BB gun being discharged. Bombard exited his car and saw a man he recognized as the defendant walking with a BB gun in his hands. Bombard testified that the man acted ‘‘like he was stalking something'' and moved ‘‘the way a hunter would walk.'' Upon noticing Bombard, the defendant cocked the gun and made ‘‘direct eye contact'' before ‘‘slowly back[ing] up out of [his] view . . . .''

         On the night of June 14, 2012, Leiner's cat, Wiggles, came inside, and, the next morning, Leiner noticed blood on Wiggles' shoulder. She brought the cat to the Animal Hospital of Berlin for treatment where Veterinarian David Hester took a radiograph of Wiggles and determined that the cat had a ‘‘metal opacity'' of about ‘‘three or four millimeters, '' consistent with a BB, located ‘‘[a]djacent to about the tenth vertebra'' of its spine. Hester treated Wiggles but did not remove the BB. At the defendant's trial, Hester testified that BB gun injuries to cats are uncommon and rarely seen.

         After Hester treated Wiggles, Leiner complained to the police that ‘‘a neighbor was shooting her cats.'' In investigating the complaint, Animal Control Officer James Russo spoke with the defendant in his driveway in late July or early August, 2012. Russo testified that the defendant ‘‘openly admitted that he does have a BB gun'' and that ‘‘he was shooting at the cats to scare them away'' from coming onto his property, although he also stated that ‘‘he had no means of hurting any cats.''

         The defendant alleged during his oral motion for a judgment of acquittal that the ‘‘unjustifiably injures'' clause of § 53-247 (a) required specific intent to ‘‘harm the animal, to shoot the animal.'' In its final ruling, the trial court rejected this argument, determining that ‘‘[t]he state [was] not required to prove the defendant intended to injure the animal'' because the crime only required a general intent to engage in the conduct in question.

         The trial court found that ‘‘the credible evidence establishes the state prove[d] the elements of the offense [of] cruelty to animals pursuant to § 53-247 (a) beyond a reasonable doubt and, therefore, [found] the defendant guilty [of one count of cruelty to animals].'' See footnote 3 of this opinion. The defendant was sentenced to thirty days incarceration, execution suspended, and six months of probation. This appeal followed.


         MENS REA

         The defendant, who was convicted pursuant to the portion of § 53-247 (a) that bars a person from ‘‘unjustifiably injur[ing]'' an animal, claims first that the trial court committed reversible error by applying the wrong mens rea for the crime. Although acknowledging that the ‘‘unjustifiably injures'' clause of § 53-247 (a)is unaccompanied by any mens rea qualifier, the defendant contends that the state must prove that he had the specific intent to injure Wiggles, rather than the general intent to do the act that led to the injury. In response, the state argues that ‘‘[t]he plain language of § 53-247 (a), its relationship to the other statutes and its legislative history all demonstrate that the legislature intended for the prohibition against unjustifiably injuring an animal to require only the general intent to engage in the action that ultimately results in injury to the animal.'' We agree with the state.

         The issue of the requisite mens rea applicable to the ‘‘unjustifiably injures'' clause of § 53-247 (a) ‘‘is a question of statutory interpretation, over which our review is plenary.'' State ex rel. Gregan v. Koczur, 287 Conn. 145, 152, 947 A.2d 282 (2008). ‘‘When construing a statute, [o]ur fundamental objective is to ascertain and give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature. . . . In other words, we seek to determine, in a reasoned manner, the meaning of the statutory language as applied to the facts of [the] case, including the question of whether the language actually does apply.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id. Pursuant to General Statutes § 1-2z, the ‘‘meaning of a statute, shall, in the first instance, be ascertained from the text of the statute itself and its relationship to other statutes. If . . . the meaning of such text is plain and unambiguous and does not yield absurd or unworkable results, extra-textual evidence of the meaning of the statute shall not be considered.'' A statute is ambiguous if, ‘‘when read in context, [it] is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Pond, 315 Conn. 451, 467, 108 A.3d 1083 (2015).

         Connecticut's case law distinguishes between general and specific intent. ‘‘In determining [whether a crime] requires proof of a general intent [or] 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.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Roy, 173 Conn. 35, 45, 376 A.2d 391 (1977); see also General Statutes § 53a-5 (‘‘[w]hen the commission of an offense . . . or some element of an offense, requires a particular mental state, such mental state is ordinarily designated in the statute defining the offense by use of the terms ‘intentionally, ' ‘knowingly, ' ‘recklessly' or ‘criminal negligence' ''). Moreover, ‘‘[w]e are not permitted to supply statutory language that the legislature may have chosen to omit.'' Vaillancourt v. New Britain Machine/Litton, 224 Conn. 382, 396, 618 A.2d 1340 (1993).

         Section 53-247 is comprised of subsections (a) through (e). Subsections (b) through (e) each include explicit specific intent terms, specifically, ‘‘maliciously and intentionally, '' ‘‘knowingly, '' and ‘‘intentionally, '' that apply to all of the acts proscribed by the particular subsection. General Statutes § 53-247 (b) through (e).[5]In contrast, ยง 53-247 (a) lacks a mens rea term that applies to every proscribed act listed therein and, instead, contains some clauses that include a specific intent term and others that do not. See footnote 1 of this opinion. This ...

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