Because Curative Instructions were Properly Administered, Defendant Did Not Suffer Harmful Error in Her DUI Conviction

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered rejected a defendant’s claims that there was insufficient evidence to convict her of DUI, and that she was harmed by an improper limiting instruction.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 17, 2005. A state police trooper observed the defendant’s vehicle weaving and leaving the traffic lane three times along Route 8 in Trumbull, so he conducted a traffic stop. The trooper noticed the defendant had bloodshot eyes and detected the strong odor of alcohol, and the defendant stated she had two glasses of wine at a restaurant in Fairfield. The trooper administered three field sobriety tests, all of which the defendant failed, so she was placed under arrest and brought to state police barracks. During questioning, the defendant stated she had two vodka drinks at a restaurant in Bridgeport. She submitted to an Intoxilyzer test twice, which reported a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.159 and 0.143, both of which were above the legal limit of 0.08.

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 director of controlled substances in the toxicology laboratory for the Department of Public Safety extrapolated the defendant’s BAC to 0.185 at the time she was operating her car. The court instructed the jury that the chemical test results could not be considered as evidence of the defendant’s guilt with respect to the behavioral count. “That evidence was offered for a limited purpose only and is admissible only with respect to the allegations contained in [the per se count] of the information.” The jury convicted the defendant and she appealed, arguing insufficiency of the evidence to convict, and that the jury impermissibly considered the toxicologist’s testimony “regarding the result of the Intoxylizer tests” in deciding upon the behavioral count.

When a reviewing court considers a claim of “evidentiary impropriety,” if the issue affects a constitutional right, the state must prove the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. However, if the purported improper ruling is not constitutional in nature, the defendant must prove that the error was harmful. In cases, such as this one, where the defendant is charged under both subsections of § 14-227a(a), “appropriate limiting instructions regarding the use of chemical analysis serve as the proper safeguard.” Thus, if a defendant does not show evidence indicating otherwise, a jury presumably followed the curative instructions given by the trial court.

In this case, the Appellate Court found that the defendant did not prove that the jury failed to follow the court’s limiting instruction. Therefore, she failed her burden in establishing harmful error. In addition, the Court agreed that there was plenty of evidence to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt with respect to the OMVUI charge. It noted the defendant’s appearance on the scene, the failed field sobriety tests, as well as the inconsistent stories she provided. Therefore, the Appellate Court affirmed judgment.

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.