Posts tagged with "§ 14-227a(a)(1)"

Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Denied, as DUI Convict’s Claims Lacked Merit

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut considered a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, in which the petitioner claimed that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of DUI and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on the evening of December 24, 2005. State troopers on routine patrol observed the petitioner driving his vehicle erratically and initiated a traffic stop. The petitioner admitted that he consumed a few beers, but would not answer any follow-up questions. He smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech and glassy eyes, and had trouble handling his license and papers. Because the petitioner had one leg, troopers could only administer the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, which the petitioner failed. He was arrested and transported to barracks, where he was belligerent and argumentative. In the processing room, the petitioner was seen slumped over his chair.

The petitioner was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(1). At trial, he was represented by the Chief Public Defender, a veteran in the practice of law. The petitioner wanted a bench trial for reasons of expediency, even though defense counsel both advised against this decision and explained the ramifications of waiver. In formulating a defense strategy, counsel chose to minimize the testimony regarding the HGN test. He was not convinced that asserting a head injury would discredit such testimony, and felt a motion to suppress would be unsuccessful. Defense counsel robustly cross-examined all of the troopers, and the petitioner agreed to testify on his own behalf regarding his head injury.

Nonetheless, the petitioner was convicted of OMVUI and sentenced to two years incarceration, one year probation, and 500 hours of community service. However, he did not appeal his decision and instead filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The petitioner argued that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of OMVUI, that his constitutional right to a jury trial was violated, and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, among other claims.

In a bench ruling, the Superior Court was not persuaded by any of the petitioner’s claims and denied his petition. It noted that even absent the HGN test evidence, there was sufficient evidence to prove the petitioner committed OMVUI. The petitioner knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his right to a jury trial: indeed, it was the petitioner who insisted on a bench trial, and defense counsel properly explained the consequences of going this route. Finally, the Court believed that petitioner failed to prove the existence of deficient performance by counsel and prejudice in the outcome of his case. Defense counsel employed sound trial strategy and zealously advocated on behalf of his client. As the Court explained, “An analysis of the record below indicates an experienced trial attorney who was not successful when faced with a strong case presented by the state.”

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or license suspension, 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.

Appellate Court Finds Sufficient Evidence to Convict, Declines Review of Other Claims Due to Inadequate Briefing

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut was not persuaded by a defendant’s claims of insufficient evidence to establish DUI and would not review his claim of prosecutorial impropriety because his appellate brief was inadequate.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at 7pm in Wilton on December 19, 2007. A citizen saw the defendant driving very slowly, hitting the right curb repeatedly, and nearly colliding with three cars in the opposite lane. This citizen and others boxed in the defendant after he came to a stop in the wrong lane. Police soon arrived and observed the smell of alcohol, the defendant’s slurred speech, and what appeared to be a red wine stain on his shirt. They administered the standard field sobriety tests, but the defendant failed one and then refused to perform the other two. He was arrested and brought to police headquarters, where he refused to submit to a breath test. The defendant admitted to consuming multiple drinks in his vehicle starting one hour before he was stopped.

The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a(a)(1). During closing arguments, the prosecutor stated, “What bigger piece of circumstantial evidence would there be if the defendant was under the influence other than his refusal to take the test?” The defendant was subsequently convicted, though he appealed on multiple grounds. He argued that the evidence was insufficient to prove OMVUI. He further claimed that prosecutorial impropriety deprived him of a fair trial, because the prosecutor’s statement constituted compulsory self-incrimination.

To convict a defendant of OMVUI, the State must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he operated a motor vehicle on a public highway while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. When a reviewing court adjudicates a sufficiency of the evidence claim, it construes the evidence so as to favor sustaining the verdict. It then determines whether, based on the facts and attendant inferences, a reasonable jury would have found that “the cumulative effect of the evidence established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” A jury may consider, pursuant to CGS § 14-227a(e), any inference regarding a defendant’s refusal to submit to a chemical alcohol test. In this case, the Appellate Court found ample evidence that the defendant committed OMVUI, based on his appearance and behavior, the field sobriety tests, and his refusal to submit to a breath test. Therefore, the Court rejected this claim.

Courts are under no duty to review claims that are inadequately briefed. As the Appellate Court discussed in a previous case, “Where a claim is asserted in the statement of issues but thereafter receives only cursory attention in the brief without substantive discussion or citation of authorities, it is deemed to be abandoned.” In this case, the Appellate Court declined to review the defendant’s claim of prosecutorial impropriety because his brief was not adequate. He did not provide “any analysis, or cite any legal authority, to explain how his fifth amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination is implicated by the prosecutor’s statement in the present case.” After reviewing one additional claim on review, the Appellate Court affirmed the judgment.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or license suspension, 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.

Despite Trial Court’s Abuse of Discretion, Defendant Failed to Prove Specific Harm Warranting Reversal

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed judgment after a defendant, convicted of DUI, unsuccessfully claimed that his constitutional rights were violated when the trial court arbitrarily denied his motion for a minor continuance.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on November 22, 2003, in Stratford. The defendant crashed his vehicle into an unoccupied parked car, and responding officers noticed visible signs of intoxication. The defendant failed several field sobriety tests and was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(1). The defendant wanted a jury trial, and during jury selection, the defendant used up all his peremptory challenges. When Juror T was selected as the alternate, defense counsel challenged him for cause. The reason given was because Juror T’s vehicle had been rear-ended by an intoxicated driver, he had been the passenger of an intoxicated driver, and he managed an alcoholic employee. The court would not excuse Juror T for cause, and defense counsel did not seek any additional peremptory challenges.

Due to a miscommunication, a regular juror did not appear at court on the scheduled trial date. However, because the alternate was present, the court stated that the trial would proceed that afternoon. Defense counsel immediately objected and requested a continuance to the next morning, when the regular juror would be available. The court denied the request “without giving any reason… other than that the alternate juror was selected in the same manner as the regular jurors were selected.” The defendant was convicted of OMVUI and thereafter appealed, arguing that the court abused its discretion when it denied the motion, therefore depriving him of the right to an impartial jury.

Trial courts have wide discretion in deciding whether or not to grant a motion for a continuance. These decisions will not be overturned on appeal unless the appellant shows that the denial of this motion was arbitrary. A reviewing court will consider a number of non-exclusive factors:

[T]he timeliness of the request for continuance; the likely length of the delay; the age and complexity of the case; the granting of other continuances in the past; the impact of delay on the litigants, witnesses, opposing counsel and the court; the perceived legitimacy of the reasons proffered in support of the request; [and] the defendant’s personal responsibility for the timing of the request.

State v. Coney, 266 Conn. 787, 801 (2003). Even if the Appellate Court finds that the trial court acted arbitrarily, it must also determine that the denial was harmful, a burden placed on the appellant. If the denial implicates the violation of a constitutional right, prejudice is presumed. In addition, with respect to alternate jurors, they must have “the same qualifications and be selected in the same manner as regular jurors.” General Statutes § 54-82h(a).

In this case, the Appellate Court considered the factors listed above and came to the conclusion that the trial court’s denial of the motion for a continuance was “unreasonable and arbitrary under the unique circumstances of the case.” However, though the defendant cited a deprivation of his Sixth Amendment protections, he did not cite any case law or provide any analysis in support of his claim. As such, prejudice was not presumed, and the defendant had to show he was harmed by Juror T sitting on the jury. The defendant failed to demonstrate specific harm, and the Appellate Court declined to presume that Juror T was not “an impartial juror under these circumstances.” Therefore, the judgment was affirmed.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or license suspension, 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.

Appellate Court Declines to Review DUI Convict’s Unpreserved Claims

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut declined to review the defendant’s unpreserved claims of instructional error and evidentiary impropriety.

In this case, the defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI), in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(1), along with other charges. At trial, the State called to the witness stand an optometrist (witness), who was also an expert in field sobriety testing. The prosecutor posed a hypothetical and asked the witness whether, based on the facts given, he would believe the person was under the influence. Defense counsel objected, arguing that the question was beyond the witness’s area of expertise. However, the court overruled, stating that the witness had “additional qualifications beyond the optometry field.” In addition, the court instructed the jury that they could find the defendant guilty if he was “driving while impaired,” though defense counsel did not object to this charge.

The defendant was subsequently convicted on all counts and appealed. He argued, for the first time, that the trial court’s jury instruction was deficient because it “dilut[ed] the state’s burden of proof.” Furthermore, the defendant claimed that the court improperly allowed a witness to express an opinion “with regard to an ultimate issue in the case.”

When a party raises a claim for the first time not at trial but instead on appeal, the Appellate Court is limited to review “under either the plain error doctrine… or the doctrine set forth in State v. Golding.” If a party fails to brief or argue either doctrine, the Court will decline to afford such review. In addition, “[a]ppellate review of evidentiary rulings is ordinarily limited to the specific legal [ground] raised by the objection of trial counsel.”

In this case, the Appellate Court declined to review both of the defendant’s claims. It reasoned that the defendant did not submit a written request to change the jury instruction, nor did defense counsel object when it was given. With respect to the witness’s testimony, defense counsel objected to the specific hypothetical question posed as being beyond the witness’ expertise. However, on appeal, the defendant presented a different ground for appeal, and extraordinary circumstances did not exist to as to permit review of the unpreserved claim.

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.

Lower Court Did Not Abuse Its Discretion in Termination of Cross-Examination, Since Evidence Was Not Relevant in Suppression Hearing

In a recent criminal law matter, the defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of § 14-227a(a)(1). He filed a motion to suppress the arrest due to lack of probable cause, and a hearing was held. The State asked the arresting officer, who was their only witness, to describe his police training and what happened on the night of the defendant’s arrest. The prosecutor asked the officer questions related to his return to the defendant’s vehicle after the initial traffic stop. However, the court interjected, stating this line of questioning was beyond the scope of the motion. The prosecutor agreed, and defense counsel began his cross-examination, repeatedly asking about the officer’s training. The court once more interrupted, stating the officer’s training and what occurred beyond the initial stop concerned questions of fact for the jury. Although defense counsel vehemently objected, he did not make a proffer “of other evidence he wanted to adduce during the cross-examination.”

The motion to suppress was denied and the defendant was subsequently convicted following a jury trial. On appeal, the defendant argued, in part, that the court abused its discretion when it cut off his counsel’s cross-examination during the suppression hearing. He stated that he was entitled to a “full and fair cross-examination of the state’s sole witness,” and the court’s action constituted a deprivation of his Sixth Amendment protections.

The right of confrontation is a cornerstone principle of the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. A criminal defendant has a right to cross-examination, which “requires that the defendant be allowed to present the [fact finder] with facts from which it could appropriately draw inferences relating to the witness’ reliability.” In other words, during cross-examination, the defendant has the opportunity through counsel to expose a witness’ motive, interest, bias, or prejudice. However, a defendant is not permitted to present “every piece of evidence he wishes,” and courts generally have considerable discretion in controlling matters discussed during cross-examination. When a defendant claims a violation of his right to cross-examine, a reviewing court will consider: “The nature of the excluded inquiry, whether the field of inquiry was adequately covered by other questions that were allowed, and the overall quality of the cross-examination viewed in relation to the issues actually litigated at trial.”

In this case, the Appellate Court of Connecticut agreed that the court erred in determining that what happened after the initial traffic stop was a question for the jury and thus outside the scope of the suppression hearing. Nonetheless, it found that the court did not abuse its discretion because the officer’s training was not relevant and the defense counsel proffered no other evidence he sought to discuss during cross-examination. In addition, counsel had ample opportunity at trial to extensively cross-examine the officer, but “nothing in it… could have affected the validity of the court’s ultimate ruling on the motion to suppress.” Because the evidence of the officer’s training was not relevant, the defendant’s confrontations rights were not violated. Therefore, the lower court properly excluded the evidence.

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.

Conviction of DUI Requires Operating a Motor Vehicle, Not Driving Erratically

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered whether there was insufficient evidence to convict the defendant of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(1), because officers did not testify that the defendant was operating his vehicle in an erratic manner.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at 1am on May 8, 2005. A Brookfield police officer observed the defendant’s vehicle moving back and forth within his travel lane and cross the center solid yellow lines. He initiated a traffic stop, and noticed the defendant had red and glossy eyes, slurred speech, and smelled of alcohol. The defendant stated that he drank two or three alcoholic beverages only thirty minutes earlier. A back-up officer arrived, and field sobriety tests were administered. The defendant failed the two tests given, and the officers decided to arrest him. At this point, the defendant resisted arrest, but was ultimately handcuffed and secured.

The defendant was tried and convicted of OMVUI (and sentenced as a repeat offender) as well as interfering with an officer in violation of § 53a-167a. He appealed his judgment, arguing in part that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of OMVUI because officers could not testify that he was operating his car erratically before they pulled him over. Put differently, the defendant argued that the State must prove that he actually had difficulty driving the car because of the alcohol he consumed.

To convict a defendant of OMVUI, the State must prove three elements beyond a reasonable doubt: operation of a motor vehicle on a public highway (or other designated area) while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. “Operation” within the meaning § 14-227a does not require that the defendant is actually driving the car; the court will determine if the defendant’s conduct facilitated use of the “motive power of the vehicle.”

In this case, the Appellate Court stated that the defendant had “misplaced” emphasis on evidentiary insufficiency of erratic driving. Operation, not driving, is a required element of OMVUI, and the jury had sufficient evidence to establish that the defendant (and no one else) operated his car on a public road while under the influence of alcohol. In addition, the Court rejected a corollary of the defendant’s argument that the observations made by police regarding his post-stop conduct and appearance were irrelevant. Criminal jurisprudence allows the admission of evidence after a crime has been committed to prove guilt so long as it is probative and not remotely acquired. The Court credited the police officer’s description of the defendant’s appearance and demeanor as probative, and thus rejected the defendant’s claims that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of OMVUI.

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.

Defendant’s Double Jeopardy Protections Violated When Charged With and Convicted Under Both Subsections of State DUI Statute

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut reversed, in part, a defendant’s conviction of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) under both General Statutes §§ 14-227a(a)(1) and (2).

This case arose from an incident that occurred on April 6, 2005. The defendant was involved in a car accident that resulted in one fatality. He was charged and convicted of four counts: second degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, second degree manslaughter, OMVUI in violation of § 14-227a(a)(1), and OMVUI in violation of § 14-227a(a)(2). The defendant appealed his conviction, claiming a violation of his protection against double jeopardy.

Under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, criminal defendants cannot receive two punishments for two crimes, which he asserts to be a single crime, arising from the same transaction and prosecuted in a single trial. To be entitled to this protection, a criminal defendant must show that the charges arise from the same act or transaction and that the charged crimes are, in fact, the same offense. In reviewing a defendant’s double jeopardy claim, a court will use the Blockburger test to determine whether one criminal statute has an element of proof that the other does not. Blockburger v. U.S., 284 U.S. 299 (1932). However, the protection against double jeopardy is not absolute where the legislature intended cumulative punishment under two statutes, and this intent is articulated either on the face of the statute or through legislative history.

In this case, the Appellate Court did not agree that the defendant’s protections against double jeopardy were violated with respect to the manslaughter charges. The Court noted that each offense required proof of an element the other did not have, “namely, being under the influence of alcohol in count one and reckless conduct in count two.” The Court was not persuaded that driving under the influence is similar to reckless conduct, and noted that the legislature intended that defendants could be charged with and convicted of both of these crimes.

However, the Court agreed, and the State conceded, that the defendant’s constitutional rights were violated by the two OMVUI counts. Even though each had an element of proof the other did not – operation under the influence and an elevated blood alcohol content – it was not the legislature’s intent for a defendant to be charged with both in the same case. The two subsections of § 14-227a(a) are meant to be “alternative means of committing the same offense” and provide for “different methods of proof.” The legislature clearly indicated a defendant could not be punished under both subsections.

The Appellate Court concluded that the defendant’s double jeopardy protection was violated with respect to the OMVUI counts. Therefore, it reversed and remanded the case and instructed the trial court to combine these into a single OMVUI count and resentence the defendant accordingly. The judgment was otherwise affirmed.

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.

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.