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.