STATE v. SHARON R. PATTERSON, SC 18868
Judicial District of New Haven
Criminal; Whether There was Insufficient Evidence to Support Defendant's Convictions in Light of her Cognitive Disability. For a period of time in 2008, the defendant took care of a two year old boy, who was the child of a family friend. During that time, the defendant decided to give the child little or nothing to drink in an effort to prevent him from wetting his bed and to encourage him to consume solid food. After restricting the child's access to fluids for four days, the defendant discovered one morning that he had stopped breathing. During her subsequent 911 telephone call, the defendant stated that the child was dehydrated. It was later determined that the child had died due to an insufficient intake of fluids. Thereafter, the defendant was convicted of criminally negligent homicide, risk of injury to a child and cruelty to persons. On appeal, the defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to support her convictions in light of the fact that she possessed a cognitive disability, namely, she had an IQ of 61, which placed her within the bottom one half of one percent of the population. The Appellate Court (131 Conn. App. 65) first addressed the defendant's conviction of criminally negligent homicide, determining that, even if the defendant was mentally incapable of perceiving that her actions created a substantial risk that the child would die of dehydration, it could not consider the defendant's diminished mental capacity because the applicable standard was an objective one. Accordingly, the court concluded that the defendant's conviction of criminally negligent homicide was supported by sufficient evidence because a reasonable factfinder could have concluded that the defendant failed to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk and that this failure constituted a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would have observed in the same situation. With regard to the cruelty to persons conviction, the court decided that, notwithstanding the defendant's claim to the contrary, this crime only requires proof of a general intent to do the proscribed acts, such as depriving a child of certain necessaries, not a specific intent to achieve some result in addition to those acts. It therefore held that the evidence that the defendant intentionally withheld fluids from the child in order to modify his behavior supported the conclusion that she possessed the requisite mental state for a conviction of cruelty to persons. The court also concluded that the defendant's conviction of risk of injury to a child was proper because the evidence indicated that she was aware that withholding liquids from the child could cause him harm and yet she consciously disregarded that risk. It explained that the defendant's reference to the child's dehydration during the 911 telephone call demonstrated that when she decided to deprive him of fluids for four days, she understood that he could become dehydrated. In light of the foregoing, the court affirmed the defendant's convictions. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will decide whether the evidence was sufficient to support the defendant's convictions.