Posts tagged with "conviction"

Despite Inconsistent Witness Statements, Other Evidence Established That Defendant Committed Assault

In an opinion issued earlier this year, the Appellate Court of Connecticut upheld a defendant’s conviction for first-degree assault, citing sufficient evidence identifying him as the perpetrator.

The case arose from an incident that occurred on February 7, 2008. The victim was employed at a market in the neighborhood in which the defendant, a frequent customer known as Espana, lived. The defendant entered the store and asked the victim for money, which was promptly given away to other customers. When asked for more the victim refused, and the defendant stated “you’re going to see what’s going to happen” before leaving the store. That night, as the victim and a coworker, W, were emptying garbage outside the store, the defendant stabbed the victim twice and ran off. Despite profuse bleeding, the victim went inside and told another employee, F, that Espana stabbed him.

Police responded, but the victim told them that two black men assaulted him. W initially conveyed he saw nothing because “he was nervous and so did not tell the police everything he had witnessed that night.” In addition, F had problems conveying to officers what the victim stated, since none of the officers were fluent in Spanish. The victim underwent emergency surgery and survived his injuries, though he was hospitalized for five weeks. Eight days later, the defendant returned to the store while intoxicated, threatened W, and told both F and W that he stabbed the victim. Police were called to the scene, where they arrested the defendant and charged him with several crimes, including assault in the first degree.

On March 19, 2008, the victim was released from the hospital and went to the police station to give a statement. He identified the defendant as his attacker, and selected the defendant’s photograph from an array of eight photographs. The victim explained that he was not initially forthcoming because he was not a U.S. citizen and used a false identity, but he became concerned when “[the defendant] went back looking for me saying that he was going to finish what he started.” At trial, the victim, F, and W all made in-court identifications of the defendant as the perpetrator, as well as testified to that fact.

The defendant was convicted and received a lengthy sentence but appealed, arguing that the State presented insufficient evidence that he was the person who assaulted the victim. He pointed to the series of inconsistent statements: “[I]n speaking to police on the night of the attack, [the victim] did not identify the defendant as the attacker, [W] denied witnessing the attack and [F] denied knowing who had stabbed [the victim].”

Under Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-59(a)(1), an individual commits first-degree assault “when… [w]ith the intent to cause serious physical injury to another person, he causes such injury to such person or to a third person by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument.” In this case, the Appellate Court determined that the jury could reasonably conclude that the defendant was the perpetrator, despite the apparent inconsistent statements. This went to witness credibility rather than sufficiency of the evidence, and “[i]t is the [jury’s] exclusive province to weigh the conflicting evidence and to determine the credibility of witnesses.”

In addition, the Court pointed to other evidence on the record that, taken together, met the State’s burden: the in-court identifications, the victim’s written statement to police, the victim’s identification of the defendant as the perpetrator, the selection of the defendant’s picture in the photographic array, and the defendant’s oral confession a week after the incident. Thus, the Court held that it was reasonable for the jury to conclude that “the cumulative force of this evidence established the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” After addressing an additional matter on appeal, the judgment was affirmed.

When faced with a charge of assault or battery, 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 Conviction for Misconduct with a Motor Vehicle Upheld; Sufficient Evidence to Establish Requisite Mental State

In a criminal law matter decided this month, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a defendant’s conviction for misconduct with a motor vehicle, finding sufficient evidence to convict and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting potentially prejudicial evidence.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on the night of December 2, 2007. Despite snow and freezing rain that day, the defendant drove with his friends to an unplowed parking lot after dinner and performed a “donut” around a light pole. Afterward, he traveled along a road where passing was not permitted, the speed limit was 45mph, and there was only one travel lane in each direction. The defendant attempted to pass a slow-moving vehicle but lost control of the vehicle. The car veered off the road and two passengers were ejected, one sustaining head injuries that led to his death.

The defendant was charged with second-degree manslaughter, third-degree assault, and reckless driving. As an alternative to the manslaughter charge, the court charged the jury with lesser included offenses, including misconduct with a motor vehicle. Defense counsel filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude testimony regarding the donut. He argued that the evidence was not relevant, involved uncharged misconduct, and the potential for prejudice far outweighed its probative value. The State countered that because the donut was performed shortly before the accident, it was probative and relevant to mental state, and served as evidence that the defendant was aware of the poor driving conditions. The trial court denied the motion, stating, “[W]hat happened a matter of minutes before the actual incident is part and parcel of the incident itself.”

The defendant was found guilty of reckless driving and misconduct with a motor vehicle, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) §§ 14-222(a) and 53a-57(a). He appealed his conviction, arguing that the State provided insufficient evidence of the requisite mental state for misconduct with a motor vehicle, and the court improperly allowed evidence of the donut into the record.

A criminal defendant is guilty of misconduct with a motor vehicle if the State proves that he caused the death of another person through criminally negligent operation of his motor vehicle.

A person acts with “criminal negligence” with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such result will occur or that such circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation… (CGS § 53a-3 (14))

A defendant does not have to be speeding in his vehicle to violate CGS § 53a-57(a). Relevant evidence makes a material fact more or less probable than it would be without such evidence. Even if relevant, evidence may be excluded where its probative value is outweighed by the danger of undue prejudice. However, mere prejudice is not enough, because “[a]ll adverse evidence is damaging to one’s case.”

In this case, the Appellate Court was not persuaded by the defendant’s arguments. It found that there was ample evidence that the defendant operated his vehicle in a criminally negligent behavior, and that he was not speeding at the time was not dispositive. Furthermore, the Court agreed that the evidence was relevant, and the probative value outweighed the danger of undue prejudice. Its admission as evidence was not an abuse of discretion by the trial court. Therefore, the judgment was affirmed.

When faced with a charge of reckless driving or misconduct with a motor vehicle, 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 Reckless Driving Conviction Was Not Inconsistent With Acquittal for Risk of Injury Due to Unique Criminal Elements

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s claim that his conviction for reckless driving was inconsistent with his acquittal for risk of injury to a child.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on the afternoon of February 10, 2007. A citizen was idling in her car at a red light, with minor children passengers, when she observed the defendant rapidly approaching her from behind in his car. He stopped within close proximity and began “honking his horn… flashing his lights and revving his car while using hand gestures urging her to proceed.” When the citizen pointed to the red light, the defendant drove his car into hers and pushed it into the middle of the intersection before proceeding past her vehicle. A passenger wrote down the license plate, which was supplied to police.

The defendant was arrested and charged with multiple counts, including reckless driving and risk of injury to a child, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes §§ 14-222 and 53-21. He was convicted of the former but acquitted on the latter and following sentencing the defendant appealed. He argued that there was insufficient evidence of reckless driving, and that the conviction was inconsistent with his acquittal on risk of injury to a child.

To be convicted of reckless driving, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant operated a motor vehicle on a public highway, “having regard to the width, traffic and use of such highway… at such a rate of speed as to endanger the life of any person other than the operator of such motor vehicle.” Conversely, for risk of injury to a child, the State must instead prove that the defendant “willfully or unlawfully causes or permits any child under the age of sixteen years to be placed in such a situation that the life or limb of such child is endangered.”

In this case, the Appellate Court determined that there was sufficient evidence of reckless driving, based on the testimony of the witness describing the events that occurred. As the ultimate arbiter of credibility, the court was free to believe this testimony, in whole or in part, and in so doing had sufficient evidence to convict. In addition, the Appellate Court stated that the conviction and acquittal were not inconsistent. In a Supreme Court of Connecticut decision in 2000, the Court stated, “If the offenses charged contain different elements, then a conviction of one offense is not inconsistent on its face with an acquittal of the other.” Looking to the elements of each crime, each offense contains unique elements not found in the other, and as the results were not inconsistent. Therefore, the Appellate Court affirmed the judgment.

When faced with a charge of reckless driving, 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.

Jury Instruction Was “Accurate,” Not Misleading: Appeals Court Affirms Evading Responsibility Judgment

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s claim that the trial court’s jury instruction regarding the elements of evasion of responsibility was misleading.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on the night of July 16, 2001, in Bridgeport, CT. The defendant consumed six beers in three and a half hours before and while eating dinner. He left the restaurant in his truck and approached the same intersection as the victim, who was on a motorcycle. Without signaling, the defendant turned into the victim’s path, and despite significant effort to avoid a collision, the victim struck the back end of the truck. The victim was thrown from his motorcycle and died from his injuries. A witness observed the accident and later testified that “the truck then stopped, the defendant stepped out of the truck, looked, got back in and took off.” Police pursued the defendant, who stopped only after he was forced to by a second police cruiser. The defendant was visibly intoxicated, and blood alcohol tests produced readings of 0.172 and 0.167, over twice the legal limit.

The defendant was charged with second-degree manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, and evading responsibility, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) §§ 53a-56(a)(1), 53a-56b(a), and 14-224(a), respectively. At trial, the defendant testified that “while he was turning left, after giving a signal, he felt an impact toward the rear of his truck, saw nothing and thought someone had hit his vehicle and driven off.” The defendant was convicted on the second two counts. He appealed his conviction, arguing, in part, that the trial court did not properly instruct the jury regarding the elements of evading responsibility. Specifically, he claimed:

1)      The court misled the jury by using the word “prevent” rather than “unable” with respect to reporting requirements of CGS § 14-224(a).

2)      The court improperly instructed the jury that it had to find that “some outside force caused the defendant to be unable to report the information,” rather than “the defendant’s being unable to report for any cause or reason.”

3)      The court did not instruct the jury that the defendant was legally excused from the remaining statutory requirements because he was arrested while seeking assistance for the victim.

The Appellate Court was not persuaded by any of these arguments. Because the defendant did not draw a sufficient distinction between the use of “prevent” and “unable,” the court’s use of the first word was harmless. The Court reiterated that CGS § 14-224(a) does not provide any legal excuse for failing to stop. As the legislative history indicates, “failure to stop immediately cannot be cured at some later time by an operator reporting the incident to police.” As such, a reasonable jury could find that the defendant did not immediately stop and render assistance to the victim following the collision, and by leaving the scene he was not satisfying his duties under the statute. The Appellate Court found that the jury instruction, as given, was proper and did not deprive the defendant of a fair trial.

When faced with a charge of evading responsibility, 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.

Whether Driver Intended to Hit Victim or Not, It Was Still an Accident Under Connecticut’s Evading Responsibility Statute

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed in part and reversed in part a trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion for a judgment of acquittal following his conviction on evading responsibility and reckless driving. This story focuses on the first charge.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 23, 2007. The defendant struck the victim while traveling in the wrong direction on the one-way portion of a street, but did not stop to render any assistance. The defendant was located a short distance away and subsequently charged with evading responsibility, reckless driving, and operating a vehicle the wrong direction on a one-way street. At trial, the State argued that the defendant intentionally drove his car into the victim, but the defendant countered that he never intended to strike the victim. Rather, he claimed that he “did so unintentionally after the victim leaped in front of his vehicle while he was attempting to drive past the victim.”

The defendant was convicted on all counts, but filed a motion for a judgment of acquittal, alleging insufficient evidence to prove that he evaded responsibility. He argued that “the term accident, as it is used in § 14-224(b), encompasses only unintentional conduct.” The motion was denied, and the defendant appealed.

To convict an individual of evading responsibility under General Statutes § 14-224(a), the State must prove “(1) the defendant was operating the motor vehicle, (2) the defendant was knowingly involved in an accident… (3) that accident caused the death or serious physical injury of any other person… [and] (4) that the defendant failed to stop at once to render such assistance as may have been needed…” This statute does not provide a definition of “accident.” In a previous case, the Appellate Court of Connecticut was presented with a factually similar scenario, but found “no reason to define the term ‘accident’ in § 14-224, as there [was] sufficient in the record to support the jury’s verdict under any definition of the term.”

In this case, the Appellate Court held the same conclusion and affirmed the defendant’s conviction for evading responsibility. It explained, “There was sufficient evidence in the record for the jury to conclude that the collision was the result of unintentional conduct on part of the defendant, thereby constituting an accident under any definition of the term.” The State satisfied its evidentiary burden beyond a reasonable doubt, and the Court upheld the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion with respect to this charge.

For the Appellate Court’s determination with respect to the reckless driving charge, please read “Court Considers Whether Reckless Driving Conviction Was Proper Under Revised Charge.”

When faced with a charge of evading responsibility or reckless driving, 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.

Driver Found Guilty of Evading Responsibility, Despite Not Realizing He Caused Victim’s Death

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a defendant’s conviction for evading responsibility, unconvinced that the State did not present sufficient evidence of the crime.

This case arose from an incident that occurred shortly before midnight on June 3, 2008. A tractor trailer struck a motorcycle driven by the victim, who was killed instantly. However, the driver of the truck did not stop to render any assistance, but instead drove off. Subsequently, the defendant, a tractor-trailer truck driver, was arrested and charged with evading responsibility in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-224(a).

At trial, the State presented testimony from two witnesses. The first saw the accident and testified that she observed two working headlights on the tractor-trailer truck just prior to the collision. A second witness observed a tractor-trailer truck parked a short distance from the accident. This witness “saw the driver get out of the cab of the truck, walk around to its front, and then get back into the cab and drive away.” This witness further noted that the truck’s left headlight was not lit, and both witnesses described unique features and characteristics that were present on the defendant’s tractor-trailer truck.

The State also submitted a sworn police statement given by the defendant. He stated that he was driving at the intersection at the time of the incident when “he heard a ‘bang.’ He stated that he assumed something had become ‘hung up between the truck and the trailer’ and therefore stopped only briefly before leaving the scene of the accident.” The defendant further claimed that the headlight that was out was in that condition earlier that night. The jury found the defendant guilty, and he was sentenced to forty-four months of incarceration. The defendant appealed, arguing that the State provided insufficient evidence that he was the driver of the truck that killed the motorcyclist, and that he knew he was involved in an accident.

To convict an individual under CGS § 14-224(a), the State must prove “(1) the defendant was operating the motor vehicle, (2) the defendant was knowingly involved in an accident… (3) that accident caused the death or serious physical injury of any other person… [and] (4) that the defendant failed to stop at once to render such assistance as may have been needed…” Particularly important, however, is the interaction between the second and third elements: a defendant doesn’t have to know that the accident actually caused an injury.

In this case, the Appellate Court believed that based on the evidence presented, the jury could have reasonably concluded that the defendant was the driver in question. Furthermore, that the defendant did not know he caused an injury was not dispositive. “[W]hether a defendant had knowledge that an accident caused injury… is irrelevant to the crime of evading responsibility.” Because the first three elements were satisfied and the defendant did not stop to render assistance to the victim, the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he violated CGS § 14-224(a). After addressing and rejecting additional matters on appeal, the Appellate Court affirmed judgment.

When faced with a charge of evading responsibility, 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.

“Intention Was Not to Summon Help, but Rather to Escape Detention”: Appellate Court Upholds Evading Responsibility Conviction

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered a defendant’s sufficiency of the evidence claim following his conviction for evasion of responsibility in the operation of a motor vehicle (evading responsibility) in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-224(b).

This case arose from an incident that occurred shortly before midnight on March 5, 2005 near the Bethel-Danbury town line. The defendant was driving with two passengers when he lost control of his car, struck a telephone pole, and landed sideways on an embankment. All three safely exited the vehicle, and despite the close proximity of houses from which to seek help, the defendant and Passenger One ran into a nearby wooded area, leaving Passenger Two behind. Police responded to the scene, where they observed that the pole was “leaning dangerously low to the ground in such a way that the wires could be brought down by a passing vehicle.” In addition, they found Passenger Two, who was disoriented, bleeding, and in need of medical attention. Soon thereafter, the defendant and Passenger One were located at the latter’s house, which was located fairly nearby. Along their route were at least ten houses, but neither the defendant nor Passenger One stopped at any of these so they could contact the police or seek help. Neither sought help once they arrived at Passenger One’s residence.

The defendant was charged with two counts of evading responsibility: one for Passenger Two’s injuries, the other for the downed telephone pole. After subsequent conviction, the defendant appealed, arguing that he rendered assistance in compliance with CGS § 14-224(b), because Passenger Two’s injuries were only minor and he left the scene to get help. In addition, he argued that “[t]here was no assistance that [he] could have safely provided” with respect to the downed telephone pole.

To convict a criminal defendant of evading responsibility, the State must first prove: “(1) the defendant was operating a motor vehicle, (2) the defendant was knowingly involved in an accident and (3) the accident caused physical injury to any other person or damage to property.” When these threshold elements are established beyond a reasonable doubt, the State must establish one or more of the following: failure to (4) immediately stop and render necessary assistance; (5) provide identifying information with the person injured or owner of damaged property; or (6) if unable to satisfy (5), call police and leave such identifying information with them. In this case, the defendant did not contest the threshold inquiries, but argued that the State did not provide sufficient evidence, for both counts, the existence of the fourth element.

The Appellate Court was not persuaded by the defendant’s claims that he offered the requisite assistance prescribed in CGS § 14-224(b)(4). Passenger Two was clearly in need of medical attention, yet the defendant attempted to minimize the injuries. “A defendant cannot avoid his obligations under § 14-224 by engaging in post hoc speculation as to whether his assistance would have been necessary.” In addition, the Appellate Court found the defendant could have provided assistance regarding the downed telephone pole. At the very least, he could have called police or “alerted other motorists, who might have passed by, of the unsafe roadway condition from a position on the side of the road.” The trial court was free to reject the defendant’s arguments, and could have “reasonably inferred that the defendant’s intention was not to summon help, but rather to escape detection.” Therefore, the Appellate Court affirmed the judgment.

When faced with a charge of evading responsibility, 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.

Sentencing Review Division Affirms Sentence of Remorseless DUI Driver with Rare Disease

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut affirmed the sentence of a petitioner following his conviction for a DUI-related fatality.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on night of July 28, 1998. The petitioner suffered from Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2), a rare illness that can cause deafness, blindness, or even death. That morning, he underwent a radiation treatment, and then attended a farewell party that evening. At the party, the petitioner drank nine to twelve ounces of scotch and was visibly intoxicated by the time he left alone. He traveled various highways in the wrong direction and then entered a northbound ramp going southbound. The petitioner drove into an oncoming vehicle, which resulted in a fatality. He was transported to a nearby hospital for treatment, and blood tests revealed that he had a blood alcohol content of 0.210, over two-and-a-half times the legal limit.

The petitioner was charged with reckless manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol. At his jury trial, he argued that he was not intoxicated at the time of the accident; rather, a defense expert testified that the defendant “lost consciousness as a result of a seizure caused by his NF2 disease.” The jury was not convinced and convicted the petitioner on all counts, and he was sentenced to fifteen years execution suspended after ten years, with five years’ probation and a $21,000 fine.

The petitioner asked the Sentencing Review Division of the Superior Court to reduce the non-suspended part of his sentence for three reasons. He first argued that the sentence imposed was inappropriate and disproportionate, as those similarly situated received lighter sentences. Second, he argued that the trial court did not consider his health problems when determining his sentence, and that he was receiving inadequate treatment by the Department of Corrections. Finally the petitioner stated that because was “a person of good moral character” who accepted responsibility for his crime, modification was warranted.

The Superior Court rejected all of the petitioner’s arguments for sentence reduction. It noted that despite claiming that individuals convicted of similar crimes received lighter sentences, the petitioner provided little to no information about those cases that would facilitate a proper comparative analysis. Furthermore, the Court acknowledged that the sentencing court was “fully aware of his health issues,” and the sentence was made after appropriate consideration of the petitioner’s health. In addition, the Court would not address the petitioner’s DOC complaint, because it “may only consider matters which were before the sentencing court at the time of sentencing.” Finally, the sentencing court considered the petitioner’s background and history, and found that he was “in denial regarding the role that alcohol played [in] his crime, failed to show any empathy for the suffering caused by the victim’s family and posed a danger to society.” Therefore, the Superior Court affirmed the sentence because it was neither inappropriate nor disproportionate.

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 Prosecutorial Impropriety, Closing Argument Comment Did Not Deprive Defendant of a Fair Trial

In the previous article, I discussed how the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s claim that the trial court improperly admitted allegedly prejudicial evidence. This article focuses on the defendant’s second claim on review: prosecutorial impropriety.

As previously noted, the defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol and operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license. At trial, the State admitted into evidence an A-44 form, which is used by police when they report an arrest related to OMVUI. This form indicated that the defendant “refused to perform” two field sobriety tests, but on direct examination, the officer who filled out this form stated that no field sobriety tests were performed because the defendant appeared too intoxicated to safely perform them. On cross-examination, defense counsel questioned the disparity, and during closing arguments repeatedly highlighted the discrepancy to call into question the witness’s credibility. In its rebuttal argument, the prosecutor stated that the A-44 form was a standardized form voted on by the Connecticut legislature. However, this cited evidence that was never entered into the record, though defense counsel did not object when the statement was made.

When the defendant appealed his conviction, his second ground for appeal was that the prosecutor’s statement during closing arguments constituted an impropriety that deprived him of a fair trial. He argued that “the state impermissibly bolstered [the officer’s] testimony by improperly referring to evidence that was not in the record during closing argument.”

A reviewing court applies a two-step process when assessing a claim of prosecutorial impropriety. First, the court must determine whether an impropriety even occurred. Although counsel are generally allowed “generous latitude” with respect to their arguments, a prosecutor may forcefully argue his case so long as it is done so fairly based on facts within the evidence and attendant inferences. In this case, the Appellate Court concluded that the prosecutor’s statement amounted to an impropriety. He made reference to evidence that was not admitted, and because “the comment amounts to unsworn testimony… [it was] not proper in closing argument.”

However, the inquiry does not stop at a mere finding of impropriety. In the second step, the court must consider “whether that impropriety, or the cumulative effect of multiple improprieties, deprived the defendant of his due process right to a fair trial.” The court will consider the following six factors in the context of the entire trial:

[T]he extent to which the impropriety was invited by defense conduct, the severity of the impropriety, the frequency of the impropriety, the centrality of the impropriety to the critical issues in the case, the effectiveness of the curative measures adopted and the strength of the state’s case.

State v. Jordan, 117 Conn. App. 160, 164 (2009). In this case, the Appellate Court only found the first factor in the defendant’s favor. It noted that the comment was not sufficiently egregious and only occurred once. In addition, attribution to the legislature is not a central issue in an OMVUI case, and the court instructed the jury that counsel’s arguments were not evidence and thus could not be considered. The defendant provided no evidence that the jury disregarded this instruction. Finally, the State’s OMVUI case was sufficiently strong with ample supporting evidence. Therefore, the Appellate Court found that despite the impropriety, the comment did not deprive the defendant of a fair trial.

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.

State Supreme Court Addresses Whether DMV License Suspensions Constitute “Convictions” That Bar Subsequent OMVUI Prosecutions

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut upheld a lower court’s ruling that an administrative license suspension does not constitute a “conviction” under our statutes for purposes of double jeopardy protections.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on January 13, 2006. Police officers pulled over the defendant under suspicion that he was driving under the influence, and arrested him after he failed several field sobriety tests. The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a. The Department of Motor Vehicles held an administrative hearing and the hearing officer ordered that the defendant’s driver’s license be suspended for ten months.

The defendant moved to dismiss all charges against him. He argued that “he already had been ‘convicted’ of the same offense in the administrative proceedings,” so to prosecute him for OMVUI would amount to double jeopardy in violation of state and federal constitutional protections. The trial court denied his motion, stating that an administrative license suspension under CGS § 14-227b was not a punishment, thus the defendant’s rights against double jeopardy were not violated by subsequent prosecution for OMVUI. The defendant entered a conditional plea of nolo contendere before promptly appealing his conviction.

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, “No person shall… be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” Double jeopardy, as it is commonly referred to, encompasses several protections, including against “a second prosecution for the same offense after conviction.” Connecticut does not have an explicit comparable statute, though double jeopardy protections are implicit through our due process statutes. Our courts have determined that civil or administrative sanctions that serve “a legitimate remedial purpose” and are “rationally related to that purpose” do not constitute double jeopardy violations, even if the sanction has an attendant deterrent or retributive effect. In essence, “prosecutions or convictions for double jeopardy purposes arise only from proceedings that are essentially criminal.”

In this case, the Supreme Court reviewed cases under which administrative hearings were found “sufficiently remedial” so as to not bar subsequent prosecution. In looking into the legislative history of CGS § 14-227b, the Court noted that the “principle purpose [of the statute] was to protect the public by removing potentially dangerous drivers from the state’s roadways.” License suspension hearings subsequent to OMVUI arrests facilitate that purpose. In addition, the language of CGS §§ 14-227b and 14-1 (21), which defines “conviction,” do not reveal an intent that “an administrative suspension forecloses future criminal proceedings against the defendant for the same offense.” The Supreme Court was thus not persuaded by the defendant’s argument that the suspension was a criminal “conviction” that would bar an OMVUI prosecution, and 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.