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State v. Lamantia

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 8, 2018


          Argued January 9, 2018

         Procedural History

         Substitute information charging the defendant with the crimes of interfering with a police officer and tampering with a witness, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New London, geographical area twenty-one, and tried to a jury before the court, A. Hadden, J.; verdict and judgment of guilty, from which the defendant appealed to this court. Reversed in part; judgment directed; further proceedings.

          Conrad O. Seifert, for the appellant (defendant).

          Melissa L. Streeto, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Michael Regan, state's attorney, and Christa L. Baker, assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Alvord and Pellegrino, Js.


          DiPENTIMA, C. J.

         The defendant, Jasmine Lamantia, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of interfering with an officer in violation of General Statutes § 53a-167a and tampering with a witness in violation of General Statutes § 53a-151. On appeal, the defendant claims that the evidence was insufficient to support her conviction for these offenses. We agree with the defendant with respect to the interfering with an officer count, but disagree as to the tampering with a witness count. Accordingly, we reverse in part and affirm in part the judgment of the trial court.

         The jury reasonably could have found the following facts in support of the verdict.[1] On the evening of July 24, 2015, Earl F. Babcock and Jason Rajewski spent three or four hours socializing at a bar in Norwich. At that time, Rajewski was involved romantically with the defendant. At some point that evening, the defendant arrived at the bar. After midnight, Babcock and Rajewski followed the defendant to a house located at 18 Bunny Drive in Preston. At this location, some teenagers, including the defendant's son, Joshua Bivens, were having a party. Upon her arrival, the defendant parked her car and immediately ran into house. Babcock parked his car and remained outside with Rajewski.

         David Moulson, the defendant's former boyfriend, [2]drove his vehicle into the driveway, and directed the headlights at Babcock and Rajewski. Moulson, exited his car and ran toward them while swinging his arms. Babcock fell over backwards, as he was ‘‘disoriented'' by the headlights shining in his eyes. Moulson and Rajewski engaged in a verbal and physical altercation that ended with Rajewski striking Moulson with his right hand and Moulson bleeding from his face. Moulson ran into the house and called the police. Babcock and Rajewski left after hearing from the defendant about Moulson's phone call. Five minutes later, Babcock dropped Rajewski off at his house, and then proceeded home.

         Jonathan Baker, a Connecticut state trooper, received a dispatch to 18 Bunny Drive for an active disturbance at approximately 2:30 a.m. Baker spoke with Moulson in the presence of the defendant. Moulson claimed that two males, one of whom he identified as Rajewski, had assaulted him as he exited his vehicle. Baker obtained an address for Rajewski, and proceeded to that address to continue the investigation.

         At Rajewski's residence, Baker knocked on the door. Rajewski indicated that he knew why Baker was there and then presented his cell phone to Baker. Rajewski asked Baker to read the text messages that he had received from the defendant. Baker read the text conversation and concluded that the defendant had requested that Rajewski lie to him. Rajewski then received a call from Babcock and permitted Baker to answer his phone. Baker took Rajewski into custody, drove him to the state police barracks for processing, and then went to Babcock's house. Following a conversation, Baker arrested Babcock and transported him to the barracks for processing.

         Later that morning, the defendant arrived at the barracks to pick up Moulson, who also had been arrested. Baker confronted the defendant about the text messages that she had sent to Rajewski, and then placed her under arrest. The defendant subsequently was charged, tried, and convicted of interfering with a police officer in violation of § 53a-167a (a) and tampering with a witness in violation of § 53-151 (a). The court imposed a concurrent sentence for each count of one year incarceration, execution suspended, and two years of probation. This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         On appeal, the defendant claims that the evidence was insufficient to sustain her conviction. We begin by setting forth our well established standard of review. ‘‘In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction we apply a two-part test. First, we construe the evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the verdict. Second, we determine whether upon the facts so construed and the inferences reasonably drawn therefrom the [finder of fact] reasonably could have concluded that the cumulative force of the evidence established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. . . .

         ‘‘We note that the jury must find every element proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order to find the defendant guilty of the charged offense, [but] each of the basic and inferred facts underlying those conclusions need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. . . . If it is reasonable and logical for the jury to conclude that a basic fact or an inferred fact is true, the jury is permitted to consider the fact proven and may consider it in combination with other proven facts in determining whether the cumulative effect of all the evidence proves the defendant guilty of all the elements of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt. . . .

         ‘‘Moreover, it does not diminish the probative force of the evidence that it consists, in whole or in part, of evidence that is circumstantial rather than direct. . . . It is not one fact, but the cumulative impact of a multitude of facts which establishes guilt in a case involving substantial circumstantial evidence. . . . In evaluating evidence, the [finder] of fact is not required to accept as dispositive those inferences that are consistent with the defendant's innocence. . . . The [finder of fact] may draw whatever inferences from the evidence or facts established by the evidence it deems to be reasonable and logical. . . .

         ‘‘Finally, [a]s we have often noted, proof beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean proof beyond all possible doubt . . . nor does proof beyond a reasonable doubt require acceptance of every hypothesis of innocence posed by the defendant that, had it been found credible by the [finder of fact], would have resulted in an acquittal. . . . On appeal, we do not ask whether there is a reasonable view of the evidence that would support a reasonable hypothesis of innocence. We ask, instead, whether there is a reasonable view of the evidence that supports the [finder of fact's] verdict of guilty.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Crespo, 317 Conn. 1, 16-17, 115 A.3d 447 (2015); see also State v. Rodriguez, 146 Conn.App. 99, 110, 75 A.3d 798 (defendant who asserts insufficiency claim bears arduous burden), cert. denied, 310 Conn. 948, 80 A.3d 906 (2013). When a claim of insufficient evidence turns on the appropriate interpretation of a statute, however, our review is plenary. See State v. Webster, 308 Conn. 43, 51, 60 A.3d 259 (2013).


         We first address the defendant's claim that the evidence was insufficient to support her conviction of interfering with a police officer. The defendant argues that our decision in State v. Sabato, 152 Conn.App. 590, 98 A.3d 910 (2014), aff'd, 321 Conn. 729, 138 A.3d 895 (2016), controls the present appeal. Specifically, she contends that her text messages to Rajewski, a verbal communication that did not constitute fighting words, cannot form the basis for a violation of § 53a-167a. We agree with the defendant.

         Section 53a-167a (a) provides in relevant part: ‘‘A person is guilty of interfering with an officer when such person obstructs, resists, hinders or endangers any peace officer . . . in the performance of such peace officer's . . . duties.'' Accordingly, ‘‘[t]he elements of this crime . . . are (1) a person obstructs, resists, hinders, or endangers, (2) a peace officer, (3) while the officer is in the performance of his or her duties.'' State v. Wearing, 98 Conn.App. 350, 355, 908 A.2d 1134 (2006), cert. denied, 281 Conn. 905, 916 A.2d 47 (2007).

         In State v. Briggs, 94 Conn.App. 722, 728, 894 A.2d 1008, cert. denied, 278 Conn. 912, 899 A.2d 39 (2006), we noted that this statute, which is broad in scope, proscribes behavior that hampers the actions of the police in the performance of their duties. ‘‘[A]ny act intended to thwart this purpose violates the statute.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id. Additionally, ‘‘[t]his statutory provision has been interpreted to require the intention to interfere with the performance of an officer's duties as a necessary element of the offense.'' State v. Flynn, 14 Conn.App. 10, 18, 5 ...

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