STATE v. AKOV ORTIZ, SC 18946
Judicial District of Middlesex
Criminal; Whether Preventing Someone From Giving a Statement to the Police Constitutes Witness Tampering; Whether There was Sufficient Evidence to Convict the Defendant of Tampering with a Witness. The defendant was convicted of tampering with a witness in violation of General Statutes § 53a-151 after he told his former girlfriend, Kristen Quinn, that he had killed a man and subsequently threatened to harm her if she told the police. Section 53a-151 (a) provides that a person is guilty of tampering with a witness if, “believing that an official proceeding is pending or about to be instituted, he induces or attempts to induce a witness to testify falsely, withhold testimony, elude legal process summoning him to testify or absent himself from any official proceeding.” The defendant appealed, arguing that attempting to prevent someone from making statements to the police cannot violate § 53a-151 because the statute criminalizes only interference with a witness' testimony in court proceedings. In affirming the conviction, the Appellate Court (133 Conn. App. 118) concluded that the defendant's claim was foreclosed by State v. Pommer, 110 Conn. App. 608, cert. denied, 289 Conn. 951 (2008), which held that § 53a-151 is violated when a defendant, knowing he has been implicated as a participant in a crime, threatens a likely witness to that crime in order to prevent the witness from giving information to the police. The Appellate Court also rejected the defendant's claim that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction because the state did not show that he believed that an official proceeding was about to be instituted against him. The defendant argued that when he spoke with Quinn, it was likely that he no longer believed that he was a suspect because several months had passed and the police had not yet arrested him. The Appellate Court found that although the passage of time might have made it more likely that the defendant no longer was concerned about the imposition of an official proceeding, the jury was not required to reach that conclusion from the evidence presented. It stated that the evidence showed that the defendant made threats to Quinn less than two months after telling her that he killed a man, that the defendant was concerned that Quinn would report that information to the police and that the defendant threatened to put a gun to Quinn's head to scare her. It thus found that the jury reasonably could have inferred that the defendant believed that an official proceeding was about to be instituted. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will decide whether it should overrule State v. Pommer and whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that there was sufficient evidence to sustain the defendant's conviction of tampering with a witness.