In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut found that a trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting into evidence 911 recordings that the defendant characterized as inadmissible hearsay.
On the date of the incident in question, a citizen informant called police to report a person, later identified as the defendant, he believed was driving under the influence. The informant provided information describing the car’s appearance, location, and direction of travel. When he crossed paths with a police officer, the informant conveyed this to the dispatcher, and the officer confirmed this statement. Before the officer initiated a traffic stop, he asked whether the informant was identifiable, though the dispatcher stated it was obtaining the information at that time.
The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a. At an evidentiary hearing, prosecutors sought to admit into evidence the 911 call between the informant and dispatcher, but the defendant objected, arguing it was inadmissible testimonial hearsay. The court overruled the objection, stating the 911 call was admissible under the business record exception to the rule against hearsay. The defendant entered a conditional plea of nolo contendere and then appealed, arguing, in part, that admission of the 911 tape constituted harmful error.
“Hearsay” is an out-of-court statement offered for the truth of the matter asserted. It is generally inadmissible unless it falls under one of the limited exceptions, including business records. To be admitted under this exception, the record must meet three conditions: 1) the record was made “in the regular course of business;” 2) it was “the regular course of such business to make such a record;” and 3) the record was made “at the time of the act described in the report, or within a reasonable time thereafter.” However, in a previous case, the Supreme Court of Connecticut admonished a trial court’s decision to use the business records exception to admit a police report containing the hearsay statement of an anonymous informant. It noted that because citizens do not have a duty to report, “a recorded statement by a citizen must satisfy a separate hearsay exception.”
Eighteen years later, however, the Supreme Court of Connecticut concluded that a complainant’s statements in a 911 call were “admissible as spontaneous utterances pursuant to § 8-3 (2) of the Connecticut Code of Evidence.” This exception applies where: “(1) the declaration follows a startling occurrence, (2) the declaration refers to the occurrence, (3) the declarant observed the occurrence, and (4) the declaration is made under circumstances that negate the opportunity for deliberation and fabrication by the declarant.” In this case, the Appellate Court determined that all four conditions were satisfied: the informant was startled by the defendant’s erratic driving, relayed to dispatch what he personally observed “in the course of an ongoing urgent situation.” This lessened the likelihood that the informant contrived and misrepresented what he saw. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the 911 tapes.
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.