STATE v. KATHLEEN PAMELA LAVIGNE, SC 18675
Judicial District of Tolland at G.A. 19
Criminal; Jury Instructions; Larceny; Joint Bank Accounts; Whether the Trial Court, in Instructing the Jury on the Crime of Larceny in the Second Degree, Properly Stated that the Joint Owners of a Bank Account do not Necessarily have Equivalent Ownership Interests in the Account Funds. In 2002, the defendant and her eighty-seven year old aunt, Cleopatra Matlis, moved to Connecticut and opened joint bank accounts with money that had been obtained from accounts that were only in the name of Matlis. Thereafter, a Probate Court found that Matlis was incapable of managing her affairs and appointed a conservator for her estate. Subsequently, the defendant withdrew approximately $3,307 from the joint accounts while they were under the control of the Probate Court. After a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of larceny in the second degree by embezzlement from a person who is sixty years of age or older in violation of General Statutes § 53a-123 (a) (5). On appeal, the defendant argued, among other things, that the trial court improperly instructed the jury that the joint owners of a bank account do not necessarily have equivalent ownership interests in the account funds. In advancing this claim, the defendant relied on General Statutes § 36a-290, which provides that, when an account is created in the names of two or more people, "such account is deemed a joint account, and any part or all of the balance of such account . . . may be paid to any of such persons during the lifetime of all of them. . . ." The Appellate Court (121 Conn. App. 190) rejected this claim, determining that although § 36a-290 recognizes a joint account holder's right to the funds as a debt due by the bank, the statute does not establish the respective rights of the joint owners of the account. It further decided that, because Connecticut case law has not resolved the issue of whether joint account holders have identical interests in the account funds, the determination of the defendant's actual ownership rights to the funds at issue involved a question of fact. It therefore concluded that it was for the jury to decide whether the defendant, as a joint owner, had the right to withdraw the funds from the joint accounts or whether the removal of the money constituted a wrongful appropriation of the funds. Accordingly, the Appellate Court determined that the trial court's instructions did not mislead the jury. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the trial court's instructions were proper.