STATE v. TREMAINE SMITH, SC 19314

Judicial District of Waterbury

 

Criminal; Whether Evidence was Insufficient to Convict Defendant of Attempted Robbery; Whether Defendant Lacked Felonious Intent in Seeking to Retake his Property Under a Bona Fide Claim of Right. The defendant, while being held in prison, mailed the complainant $294 in cash, asking her to hire a lawyer for him or obtain a bail bond. The complainant kept the money. Shortly thereafter, the defendant was released from prison, and he encountered the complainant on the street. An argument and struggle ensued, during which the defendant displayed a pocketknife and demanded the return of his money. The defendant eventually walked away, and the complainant gave a statement to the police. The defendant was convicted of attempt to commit robbery in the first degree and he appealed, claiming that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction. Specifically, the defendant claimed that the state failed to prove the intent element of larceny, and that the state was required to establish all the elements of larceny in order to prove the elements of attempt to commit robbery in the first degree. The larceny statute provides that [a] person commits larceny when, with intent to deprive another of property . . . he wrongfully takes, obtains or withholds such property from an owner. . . ." The defendant contended that he believed in good faith that he owned the specific bills constituting the $294 being held by the complainant. The state argued that it was not required to prove that the complainant had a superior possessory interest in the money in order to prove the attempted robbery charge. It maintained that, by virtue of General Statutes 53a-21, which addresses the use of force in regaining one's property, the legislature intended that the elements of robbery are satisfied when one intentionally retakes his own property using unreasonable force or violence, irrespective of lack of intent to steal and ownership of the property. The Appellate Court (148 Conn. App. 684) rejected that argument, concluding that the state was required to prove all the elements of larceny, including the "property of another" element, in order to prove the attempted robbery charge. The court then determined that the evidence was insufficient to establish that the complainant was the "owner" of the $294 or that the defendant sought to retake anything other than the specific $294 that he had mailed the complainant. It concluded that the state failed to prove the defendant's intent to take the complainant's property, as opposed to his own property, and therefore that the intent element of attempt to commit robbery in the first degree was not established. The Supreme Court will now decide whether the Appellate Court properly determined that the defendant's conviction of attempt to commit robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes 53a-49 (a) (2) and 53a-134 (a) (3) must be reversed and judgment directed because there was insufficient evidence to convict him of that crime.