State v. Lavigne
Decades of jurisprudence establish that the ownership of a joint account, as between its co-holders, is not controlled by statute, but, rather, is a question of fact dependent on the intent of the joint account holders and all of the circumstances surrounding the joint account's creation and maintenance. Kathleen Lavigne brought her 87-year-old aunt, Cleopatra Matlis, from New Hampshire to live with Lavigne in Connecticut. Lavigne made certain transactions including transferring funds held solely by Matlis to joint accounts in both of their names. The state alleged that Matlis' spending habits changed dramatically. Matlis was diagnosed with primary degenerative dementia. An attorney was appointed temporary conservator of Matlis' estate. Thereafter, Lavigne allegedly withdrew approximately $3307 from the jointly held accounts. Following a jury trial, Lavigne was convicted of larceny in the second degree by embezzlement from a person who is 60 years of age or older in violation of C.G.S. §53a-123(a)(5). Lavigne appealed claiming, relevantly, that she could not be held criminally liable under C.G.S. §53a-123(a)(5) because she was a joint holder of the bank account from which she was accused of making illegal withdrawals and the trial court improperly instructed the jury to the contrary. The Appellate Court affirmed the conviction. Lavigne appealed claiming that the Appellate Court improperly upheld the jury instructions. The Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Court's judgment. The unpreserved claim of instructional error was reviewed under the 1989 Connecticut Supreme Court case of State v. Golding. But, the alleged constitutional violation did not clearly exist or deprive the defendant of a fair trial. The trial court properly instructed the jury that the issue of the ownership of the funds in joint accounts from which the defendant was accused of embezzling was a factual one for the jury's determination and that C.G.S. §36a-290, "recognizes account holders' rights to money as a debt due by the bank. It does not recognize account holders' rights to the mone[eys] as between holders. That is your responsibility as a jury." Precedent establishes that the ownership of a jointly held bank account, while account holders are living, is a question of fact to be determined by examining the intent of the account holders and the totality of the circumstances surrounding the creation and maintenance of the joint account.