Appellate Court Upholds Admission of Expert Testimony Used to Refute Defendant’s Claimed Amount of Alcohol Consumed

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered the admissibility of a State toxicologist’s testimony regarding the amount of alcohol the defendant had to have consumed to reach a blood alcohol content (BAC) level above the legal limit.

This case arose from an incident that occurred after midnight on July 29, 2004. A Greenwich police officer was on duty when he heard the defendant’s car screech off the road and watched as it swerved over a yellow line multiple times before coming to a stop in a parking lot. The officer conducted a traffic stop, during which he made the following observations: the defendant smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech, and his eyes were watery and glassy. The defendant told police that he only had four shots of gin between 5pm and 9pm the night before. Based on the defendant’s appearance and performance on the field sobriety tests, he was arrested and transported to the police station. He agreed to submit to two Intoxilyzer tests, which returned BAC readings of 0.138 and 0.143 at 12:29am and 1:04am, respectively.

The defendant was charged with violating General Statutes §§ 14-227a(a)(1) and (2): operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of an intoxicating liquor and while having an elevated blood alcohol content. At trial, the State sought to refute the defendant’s claim that he only had four shots of gin. A Department of Public Safety toxicologist testified that if the defendant drank four shots of gin in the time period stated, it would have fully metabolized by 10pm, two hours before the incident in question. He estimated that given the defendant’s size, every alcoholic drink would produce 0.02 BAC. Therefore, to generate a BAC of 0.143 at 1:04am, the defendant had to have consumed at least seven alcoholic drinks. The defendant was convicted on both subdivisions, and because of a previous OMVUI offense, he was charged as a second offender and subject to enhanced penalties. The defendant appealed his conviction on multiple grounds, including, in part, that the toxicologist’s testimony was irrelevant and it was improper for the trial court to allow it into evidence.

Evidence is relevant, and thus admissible, if it has the “tendency to establish the existence of a material fact.” Decisions to exclude or admit evidence on the basis of relevance will only be overturned upon the showing of a clear abuse of discretion by the trial court. Upon review of the applicable case law, the Appellate Court stated that expert testimony regarding how many alcoholic drinks a defendant needed to consume to reach a particular BAC level has not been deemed irrelevant. Therefore, because the substance of the toxicologist’s testimony encompassed this very subject matter, the trial court did not clearly abuse its discretion by allowing it into evidence.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence), an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.