STATE v. RICHARD TAYLOR, SC 18916
Judicial District of New London
Criminal; Conspiracy; Whether Court Properly Instructed as to Agreement Element of Crime of Conspiracy that it was Sufficient for State to Show "that the Parties Knowingly Engaged in a Mutual Plan to do a Criminal Act." The state charged the defendant with, among other things, cheating during gambling, conspiracy to cheat during gambling, larceny and conspiracy to commit larceny. At trial, the defendant admitted that he was aware that there was a conspiracy to cheat Foxwoods Casino out of money by placing late bets at craps but that he did not participate in the conspiracy. The jury found the defendant guilty of the aforesaid crimes, and the court sentenced him accordingly. The defendant then appealed to the Appellate Court (132 Conn. App. 357), which affirmed the trial court's judgment. The Appellate Court rejected the defendant's claim that the trial court's jury instructions on conspiracy were improper. The defendant specifically claimed that the instructions regarding an essential element of conspiracy, i.e., that there was an agreement with one or more persons to engage in the underlying crimes, erroneously implied that the state needed to prove only that the parties "knowingly engaged" in a mutual plan to do a criminal act. He argued that requiring the state to prove knowing engagement in a criminal plan, rather than intentional engagement, improperly diluted the state's burden of proof. The Appellate Court found that, based on its review of the entire jury charge, it was not reasonably possible that the jury was led to believe that the defendant's mere knowledge of the conspiracy was sufficient to satisfy the element of agreement. Finally, the court noted that the challenged jury instruction was in keeping with decades of Connecticut Supreme Court precedent and that, as an intermediate appellate court, it was not at liberty to discard or modify that precedent. The Supreme Court will now determine whether the Appellate Court properly ruled that, in a conspiracy case, it is sufficient for the trial court to instruct the jury that, with respect to the essential element of an agreement, "it is sufficient to show that the parties knowingly engaged in a mutual plan to do a criminal act."