Superior Court Denies Motion to Dismiss, Tape Recording of DUI Suspect’s Phone Call to Attorney Was Not Prejudicial State Intrusion

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut determined that the recording of a one-sided conversation between the defendant and his attorney was not a prejudicial intrusion into attorney-client protections, and as such the Court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on the evening of March 25, 2010. A police officer on route patrol observed the defendant driving his motor vehicle on the Berlin Turnpike in Wethersfield, CT. The officer suspected that the defendant was driving under the influence, so he initiated a traffic stop and administered several field sobriety tests. The defendant was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a, advised of his Miranda rights, and transported to the police station.

The defendant was placed in a booking room specific to OMVUI cases. Pursuant to its own policy, the department records everything that goes on in this room. As the officer in this case later testified, “[U]ntil the processing is complete, police policy requires the officer to keep visual observation of the defendant ‘so they don’t put anything in their mouth.’” The officer gave the defendant a notice of rights, which included information about the results of or the refusal to submit to a chemical alcohol test, and stated the defendant could contact an attorney. The defendant made telephone contact with an attorney, and police recorded the defendant’s side of this conversation, which at times was either muffled or inaudible.

After the phone call was completed, the defendant refused to take the Breathalyzer test. The officer did not use the contents of the tape in his investigation, nor did it influence the charges brought against the defendant. In addition, upon learning of the tape’s existence, the prosecutor advised defense counsel that the State also would not use it; indeed, the tape was not introduced into evidence. However, the defendant moved to dismiss the case, arguing that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated because the tape recording constituted an impermissible State invasion of the attorney-client relationship.

Under the Sixth Amendment, any communication between an attorney and his client “made in confidence for the purpose of seeking legal advice” is protected by the attorney client privilege. However, this is no reasonable expectation of confidentiality if the statements are made in the presence of a third party. Therefore, a reviewing court must consider whether or not an invasion by the State into this privilege was “so prejudicial to warrant dismissal of the charges.” There is a rebuttable presumption of prejudice, which can be overcome if the prosecutor presents clear and convincing evidence that the intrusion was nor prejudicial to the outcome of the case. In a recent opinion, the Supreme Court of Connecticut admitted that the Sixth Amendment is automatically violated where there is “mere unintentional intrusion into privileged information containing trial strategy.”

In this case, the Superior Court reviewed the content of the one-sided phone call and determined that there was nothing of strategic value discussed, such as the credibility of trial witnesses, potential evidence, what to focus on during witness examinations, or specific arguments or defenses. Rather, from the conversation we learn that the defendant was concerned with his probation status, whether to take the Breathalyzer test, the implications of a refusal, and his wife’s reaction to the arrest. Therefore, the Court found the defendant was not prejudiced by the State intrusion and denied his motion to dismiss.

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.