State Supreme Court overturns conviction for man who used violence to reclaim his property
WATERBURY–The state Supreme Court has issued a ruling that could have a wide impact.
According to the Connecticut Law Tribune, the court overturned a conviction for a man who was charged with first-degree attempted robbery after attacking his ex-girlfriend, who he said had stolen his money. Though he used violence, the court ruled that the state did not properly prove he had attempted to rob his ex-girlfriend because he was trying to reclaim his own money, not take hers.
According to court documents, in 2009 Tremaine Smith, 35, was in prison and mailed $294 to the woman he had been dating before going to jail. The money, he told her, was for her to hire him a lawyer or pay the bail bond.
Smith says she failed to do either, and instead kept the money. A witness told police that Smith said on the phone he was going to beat his ex-girlfriend up for keeping the money.
When Smith got out of jail he sought out his ex, who was with her brother walking down the street near Waterbury Plaza. The brother said Smith was calm at first, but the ex said he then became angry. She said he demanded she retrieve his money from her sister’s house, but she refused. She said she intended to repay him, but not while he was holding a pocketknife and acting “crazy.”
Smith is then said to have grabbed her by the hair, neck and arm and chased her, threatening her with the knife.
When the incident ended and she got away, Smith went to police to report what happened. He was charged with first-degree attempted robbery.
The suit says that a few days later she gave him some of his money back while she attempted to get the rest.
While an appellate court in 2014, and now the state Supreme Court have both overturned Smith’s conviction, he remains behind bars until the decision becomes final on June 30. Both sides have 10 days to file a motion to re-argue the case.
During the trial, Smith argued that he had not tried to rob anybody, and that the state couldn’t prove he did. The larceny statute states that a “person commits larceny when, with intent to deprive another of property, he wrongfully takes, obtains or withholds such property from an owner.” Since he believed the money was his own, he wasn’t trying to take hers away.
The Connecticut Law Tribune reports that the prosecutor in the case argued that the intent to steal was irrelevant, and that he used unreasonable force or violence to try and retake his property. He also said if the court decided in Smith’s favor would send a message that it’s okay to use violence to reclaim your property.
“The decisions of courts in other states reflect the modern trend of charging robbery to punish reclaiming one’s own property by force, based on the public policy of thwarting the personal and societal violence that ordinarily accompanies such self-help measures,” the prosecutor argued in court documents. “The trial court here made this same point in observing that ‘we live in a civilized society,’ and the ‘law here’ in Connecticut is not the ‘law in the Wild West.'”
Here was part of the court’s decision:
A person who takes his own property from another simply has not committed a larceny. Accordingly … a defendant who used unreasonable force to take his own property (or, indeed, a third person’s property) from another person in order to prevent an attempted larceny could not be charged with robbery in the first instance, but could be charged only with an offense involving the use or threatened use of physical force, such as assault or unlawful restraint.
The prosecutors only charged Smith with attempted robbery, so there wasn’t another issue to argue.
In this case, prosecutors only pursued the attempted robbery charge.