STATE v. STEEVE LAFLEUR, SC 18757
Judicial District of New Haven
Criminal; Whether a Human Fist Constitutes a "Dangerous Instrument" Within the Meaning of the First Degree Assault Statute, § 53a-59 (a) (1); Whether the Defendant is Entitled to a Judgment of Acquittal on the Ground of Insufficiency of the Evidence. On August 21, 2008, the defendant attacked his former girlfriend (the victim) on the street. During the attack, the defendant punched the victim repeatedly in the face. As a result of the assault, the victim sustained several serious injuries, including extensive trauma to her right eye, fractures of multiple facial bones and a broken nose. In connection with that incident, the defendant was charged with assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-59 (a) (1), which provides in relevant part: "A person is guilty of assault in the first degree when: . . . With intent to cause serious physical injury to another person, he causes such injury to such person . . . by means of a . . . dangerous instrument . . . ." A "dangerous instrument" is defined in General Statutes § 53a-3 (7) as "any instrument, article or substance which, under the circumstances in which it is used or attempted or threatened to be used, is capable of causing death or serious physical injury . . . ." At the conclusion of the trial, the court instructed the jury that "a fist can be a dangerous instrument if you find that, under the circumstances of its use, it is readily capable of producing serious physical injury or death." The jury subsequently found the defendant guilty. On appeal, the defendant claims, among other things, that a fist, as a matter of law, does not constitute a "dangerous instrument" under § 53a-59 (a) (1), as that term is defined by § 53a-3 (7), and, therefore, the trial court's instructions to the contrary were improper. In support of his claim, the defendant argues that the only reasonable interpretation of "instrument" encompasses physical, inanimate items or substances that are external to, and separate and apart from, the body. The defendant then contends that, if a fist is not a dangerous instrument as a matter of law, it follows that the state presented insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed first degree assault.