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.