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.