Defendant Argued Concussion Led to Failed Field Sobriety Tests

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed the Appellate Court’s decision that the State did not prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol at the time he was involved in an accident.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on January 21, 2004, in Westport, Connecticut. The defendant consumed at least two alcoholic beverages between 4pm and 5pm, and was involved in an accident with another vehicle at approximately 6:15pm. The other driver stated that she noticed the defendant’s truck “accelerate rapidly toward her,” and there were no skid marks on the road, indicating the defendant did not attempt to apply his brakes. When police officers arrived, they observed the defendant bleeding from the nose, swaying and having difficulty standing, and one officer smelled alcohol on the defendant’s body and breath. The defendant became belligerent when the officers administered three field sobriety tests, all of which he failed. At the police station, the defendant refused to submit to a Breathalyzer test, and only partially filled out a refusal form.

The defendant requested medical attention and was brought to Norwalk Hospital. Doctors diagnosed him with bilateral nasal bone fractures, but not a concussion. The CT scan did not show any “cranial abnormalities,” and the defendant did not exhibit any of the common symptoms of a concussion. Furthermore, the doctors did not discharge the defendant with “instructions consistent with an individual suffering from a concussion.” The defendant was subsequently charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of State law.

At trial, the defendant had two doctors testify that he suffered a concussion as a result of the accident, which explained why he failed the field sobriety tests. The trial court was not persuaded, stating that while the testimony “raised the specter that the defendant may have suffered a concussion, [it] did no more.” The court relied on additional evidence indicating intoxication and the nonexistence of a concussion, and the defendant was thereafter convicted. However, the Appellate Court viewed the testimony of the doctors differently: it stated that one of the doctors “remained firm in rendering his expert medical opinion that the defendant had suffered a concussion.” Therefore, the Appellate Court reversed the conviction, citing insufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant was intoxicated when the accident occurred. The State appealed this decision.

The trier of fact, be it a judge or jury, is “free either to accept or reject, in whole or in part,” testimony of the defendant’s witnesses, especially when subject to cross-examination by the State. However, there is no mandate that trial courts must accept un-contradicted expert testimony. Appellate courts will defer to trial court rulings “[a]s long as evidence existed from which the [trier of fact] reasonably could have found the facts and drawn the inferences leading to its guilty verdict.”

In this case, the Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that there was ample evidence to support a conviction of OMVUI. It noted the various findings of the trial court and stated that each was supported by the record. The Supreme Court further wrote that the trial court was “free to weigh the credibility and reliability of the two experts,” and its rejection of their testimony was not clearly erroneous. Therefore, the judgment of the Appellate Court was reversed and the case remanded.

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.