State v. LaFleur
As a matter of law, a fist is not a dangerous instrument under Connecticut's statutory scheme. On two informations joined for trial, a jury found Steeve LaFleur guilty, in one case concerning Larrisha Washington, of third degree assault and counts of violating a protective order. In the second case concerning Diana Hazard, LaFleur was found guilty of assault in the first degree and violating conditions of release. He pleaded guilty to a persistent dangerous felony offender charge and appealed. The Supreme Court agreed with LaFleur that his conviction of assault in the first degree under C.G.S. §53a-59(a)(1) concerning Hazard must be reversed, because the jury was improperly instructed that a fist can be a dangerous instrument under C.G.S. §53a-59(a)(1). To violate C.G.S. §53a-59(a)(1), the defendant must have intended to cause serious physical injury to Hazard and caused such injury with a dangerous instrument. The method of inflicting injury alleged was "punching…with his fists." Consequently, the jury had to conclude that LaFleur's fists were a dangerous instrument. The difference between C.G.S. §53a-59(a)(1) and C.G.S. §53a-60(a)(1), assault in the second degree, is whether the accused used a dangerous instrument or deadly weapon to inflict serious physical injury. If every means by which serious physical injury may be caused could be a "dangerous instrument," then the mere presence of a serious physical injury would establish that a dangerous instrument caused it. This construction rendered the apparent aggravating factor in C.G.S. §53a-59(a)(1) meaningless and superfluous and merged the two crimes. The statutory definition of "dangerous instrument" in C.G.S. §53a-3(7) and the term's usage in other statutes, clearly indicated that the legislature intended dangerous instrument to mean a tool, implement or device that is external to, separate and apart from, the perpetrator's body. The panel majority remanded the Hazard case with direction to render judgment of acquittal on all counts. The majority declined to modify the judgment to reflect a conviction on the lesser included offense of assault in the second degree, distinguishing the 2009 case of State v. Sanseverino and suspecting that the state opted against a jury instruction on that offense as a strategic decision. The judgment regarding Washington was affirmed, the sentence vacated and remanded for resentencing. Justice Palmer, with Justices Zarella and McLachlan, dissented disagreeing with the refusal to modify the Hazard judgment.