Porter Hearing Not Required Where Accident Reconstructionists’ Testimonies Were Based on Principles of Dynamics and the Law of Motion

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut found that a trial court did not err in denying a defendant’s motion to strike the expert testimony of two State witnesses.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at 10:00pm on September 2, 2003. The defendant became intoxicated at a bar and was asked by the bartender to leave. Two patrons attempted to persuade the defendant to allow them to drive him home, but abandoned their efforts once the defendant started to become violent. The defendant got into his truck and drove southbound on Route 85 in Hebron when he struck a car in the northbound lane. The other driver was pronounced dead at the scene and the defendant was transported to the hospital, where he registered a blood alcohol content of 0.248.

The defendant was charged with first-degree manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, and two counts of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol. He filed a motion in limine, requesting that any and all evidence related to accident reconstruction be excluded because “the state would be unable to establish the scientific validity of the methodologies utilized by the state’s reconstructionists [State experts] under State v. Porter.” This motion was denied, though the defendant would have the option of filing a motion to strike after the State experts testified.

At trial, the State experts rendered their opinions as to how the accident collision occurred. They stated that their methods of reconstruction are “generally accepted and used throughout the nation” and did not involve “new material.” Each reached conclusions that the accident could not have occurred in the lane in which the defendant was traveling due to the “[p]rincipal direction of force and momentum” and because “[t]he vehicle dynamics don’t allow that.” As such, they opined that the defendant’s truck crossed the center yellow line and struck the other driver’s car.

Defense counsel moved to strike the State experts’ testimonies, arguing that the methods used were scientifically unreliable. The State countered that “[t]he subject of the testimony… is no[t] new, novel science” but were based on principles of physics “that had been put forth centuries ago.” The court denied the defendant’s motion to strike testimony because the testimony was sufficiently reliable and did not require a Porter hearing. The defendant was subsequently convicted on three counts and appealed, arguing, in part, that the trial court erred in denying his motion to strike.

In the landmark case Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals, the U.S. Supreme Court described the manner in which scientific evidence will be admissible in a trial. Connecticut adopted this analysis in State v. Porter, where a court will hold a so-called Porter hearing to determine whether the proffered evidence is reliable and relevant. However, some scientific principles are so well established that it is unnecessary to review evidence under an explicit Daubert analysis. Therefore, scientific evidence derived under these principles that would “clearly withstand a Daubert analysis” will be admissible at trial upon a showing a relevance.

In this case, the Appellate Court concluded that the methods used by the State experts in reconstructing the accident and reaching their conclusions were not new and original. Rather, when the State experts determined where the accident occurred, they applied “principles and theories that have been in the recognized literature and have been taught at training academies for decades.” Therefore, a Porter hearing was not required prior to their testimony and the court’s subsequent refusal to grant the defendant’s motion to strike was proper.

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.