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Court Looks at Intent in Criminal Assault Case

Sometimes, the cases that reach the Supreme Court on appeal represent a question of law that is similar among several cases. When this happens, the cases are grouped into one with several cases included. One such composite case involved a defendant who was indicted for attempted murder in the second degree, assault in the first degree, and criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. A New York Criminal Lawyer said he was arrested for shooting a man with whom he had gotten into a disagreement. They had known each other for many years before the disagreement turned violent. The only witness to the altercation was the victim himself. The victim had originally told the police that he did not know who had shot him. It was not until later that he identified his acquaintance as the perpetrator of the assault. The defense attorney for the defendant attempted to have expert testimony presented in court on the inadequacies of eyewitness identifications. The trial court denied his request.

The judge instructed the jury that the defendant could only be convicted of the charge of first degree assault if he caused serious physical injury to the man by means of a deadly weapon with the intent to cause serious physical injury. They were charged that to convict him of second degree weapon possession, they had to prove that the defendant possessed the loaded gun, that he possessed it knowingly, that the gun was operable, and that he had the intent to use it with unlawful intent against the man who was shot. The jury acquitted the defendant of attempted murder and second degree possession of a weapon. He was convicted of first degree assault. A New York Criminal Lawyer said the defense attorney objected to the verdict in court because he maintains that the fact that the defendant was acquitted on the weapon possession count that he could not be convicted for the assault with that weapon.

The trial court rejected the argument of the defense because they claimed that it was not contradictory for the defendant to have possessed the weapon without an intent to use it illegally. He had possession of the weapon without intent to assault anyone earlier in the day before he decided to use it to shoot the victim. The Appellate court agreed on the appeal and upheld the conviction.

The joined case that was compiled into this motion for legal clarification, involved a man who was arrested for hitting another man on the head with a hammer. The victim was a friend of his who was at his house visiting. The victim allegedly spilled an ashtray and a beer on the defendant’s sofa. He became enraged and attacked his guest with a hammer.

Again, the trial court found this defendant guilty of the assault with the hammer and not guilty of the possession of the hammer. The defense counsel made the same argument that it was not possible to be convicted for assaulting with a hammer that you were found not guilty of possessing. A New York Drug Possession Lawyer said the court again disagreed and the case went to appeal. The appeals court again determined that it was possible to possess the weapon without the intent to use it illegally until the very moment that it is used offensively against another person.

The argument at hand deals primarily with the issue of intent. The charge of assault with a deadly weapon or assault in the first degree involves only the intent to cause serious bodily injury to the victim. It does not raise a question of the intent behind acquiring the weapon. The weapon could be something as mundane as a shoe that was possessed legally by the defendant until the moment that he used it to bludgeon another person to death. The issue of intent for assault in the first degree is not the intent at the time that the person bought the shoe. Clearly, the intent in that case would be to wear it legally. It only changed into a means to commit an assault when the defendant chose to use it offensively against another person with an intent to harm that person. The intent involved in this crime, is the intent to inflict serious bodily harm or death. The question of intent involves only that mental state to cause immediate harm to that other person.

The intent that must be proved in order to obtain a conviction for criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, the intent spelled out in the statute is different. The intent described in the statute for criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree involves an intent that is formed at the time that the weapon is obtained. That intent at the time of acquisition is to use the weapon for a criminal purpose. It is not possible to obtain a conviction under this statute, if the defendant obtained the weapon for a legal purpose before it was used illegally. Because the question of intent is based only on the state of mind of the defendant at the time that the item that was used for a weapon was first acquired, it calls for a different finding under intent. It is not that the weapon was eventually used to commit an illegal act, but rather that at the time that it was first obtained, it was with the intent to use it in an illegal act.

So the question of law depends on a timing issue with the juries who heard these cases. The Supreme Court discussed this timing issue in great detail. They discussed the fact that no matter how long a person possesses the weapon, criminal intent can occur minutes before the item is used as a weapon against another person. The facts when viewed in that light, make the timing issue irrelevant in that the criminal intent is proven by the actions that the person took. If a person acts with illegal intent against another person, even if the act is not premeditated, it proves the intent to use the object illegally to cause harm to the other person. Viewed from this perspective, the argument becomes more convoluted.

The Supreme Court maintains that the trial court judge has the power to reject a verdict in his court if he finds that the verdict is inconsistent with the evidence that has been presented. A New York Sex Crimes Lawyer said the judge may then instruct the jury that it is not consistent and require them to return to deliberations so that they can correct their mistake and present a verdict that is consistent. However, they also stressed that it is a trial judge’s discretion to make this decision. If the trial judge decides not to reject the decision, it would still not be considered an abuse of the power of discretion since the court allows that jury decisions are often made based on mercy, confusion, or mistakes. Just because a jury determines that a merciful outcome is more fitting with the goal of justice in a case, does not mean that it would be appropriate for an appeals court to overturn it.

At Stephen Bilkis & Associates, criminal lawyers, are available in one of several offices located throughout New York and the Metropolitan area. Our criminal Attorneys will guide you in the event that you have to file a lawsuit.