Posts tagged with "field sobriety test"

High Court of Connecticut Sustains DUI Conviction, Noting Field Sobriety Test Evidence Was Properly Admitted

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut found that a trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing into evidence the results of a horizontal gaze nystagmus test (nystagmus test), because its administration satisfied a two-part admissibility requirement.

This case arose from an incident that occurred in the early morning hours of December 18, 2005. The defendant was involved in a single-car accident after consuming several alcoholic beverages. Suspecting the defendant was intoxicated after making observations of his appearance and demeanor, a police officer administered several field sobriety tests, including the nystagmus test, all of which the defendant either failed or was unable to perform. The defendant was then arrested for and charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a, among other charges.

Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude all evidence related to the nystagmus test. He argued that “it had not been administered according to the ‘strict’ standards established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration” (NHTSA). The court denied the motion, stating that compliance with the NHTSA standards “went to the weight of the evidence, not its admissibility.” After the officer who performed the nystagmus test testified at trial, the defendant filed a motion to strike, which was denied. The defendant was convicted on all counts and thereafter appealed.

The nystagmus test is one of three standard field sobriety tests administered by police officers in Connecticut when they suspect that an individual is intoxicated. In a previous case, the Appellate Court described what this test involves:

To administer the [nystagmus] test, the officer positions a stimulus approximately twelve to eighteen inches away from and slightly above the subject’s eyes. The stimulus, usually a pen or the officer’s finger, is then moved slowly from the midline of the nose to maximum deviation, the farthest lateral point to which the eyes can move to either side. The officer observes the subject’s eyes as he tracks the stimulus and looks for six clues, three for each eye, to determine whether the subject passes or fails the test. The officer looks for (1) the inability of each eye to track movement smoothly, (2) pronounced nystagmus at maximum deviation and (3) the onset of nystagmus at an angle less than forty-five degrees in relation to the center point. A finding of four clues indicates failure of the test and is a sign of intoxication.

State v. Commins, 83 Conn. App. 496, 499 (2004). However, nystagmus test evidence can potentially mislead a jury. As such, the State must “lay a proper foundation” regarding the credentials of the person who administered the test, and that the administration itself “was conducted in accordance with generally accepted standards,” such as those promulgated by the NHTSA.

In this case, the Supreme Court found that the State laid the proper foundation regarding the officer’s credentials, and that the manner in which she administered the nystagmus test complied with NHTSA regulations. At trial, the officer testified that she received training in both the administration of field sobriety tests and the interpretation of their results. In particular, she stated that she received “advanced training” from the NHTSA. Furthermore, her description of how she administered the test to the defendant was deemed proper by the Court. More telling, the defendant had the opportunity on cross-examination to call into question the weight of this evidence. Therefore, the Supreme Court did not view admission of this testimony as an abuse of discretion by the trial court.

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.

The Prosecutor’s Job in a DUI Case: Demonstrate the Defendant was Intoxicated, Not Educate the Jury About Field Sobriety Tests

In March, the Appellate Court of Connecticut reviewed a defendant’s insufficiency of the evidence claim as it related to his recent conviction of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at approximately 9pm on August 20, 2006. Police officers saw the defendant driving his moped on Route 12, a public roadway, in an erratic manner. After officers initiated a traffic stop, they made the following observations of the defendant: bloodshot glassy eyes, the smell of liquor, and disheveled clothing. When asked for his driver’s license, the defendant stated, “[y]ou don’t need a license to operate a moped… give me a break, I just got out on a DWI offense,” and indicated he should not have been driving. The defendant became uncooperative with the officers, was unable to complete one field sobriety test, and refused to undergo other field tests and a breathalyzer test. The defendant was charged and convicted of OMVUI and operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license in violation of General Statutes §§ 14-227a and 14-215(c), respectively. On appeal, the defendant argued that the evidence presented by the State was insufficient to sustain his conviction for OMVUI.

To be found guilty of OMVUI, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant “operated a motor vehicle, on a public highway and while the defendant was under the influence of an intoxicating liquor.” To establish the third element, there must be sufficient evidence demonstrating that the defendant “had become so affected in his mental, physical or nervous processes that he lacked to an appreciable degree the ability to function properly in relation to the operation of his vehicle.”

In this case, the defendant contested that the State failed its burden in proving the third element. However, the Appellate Court was persuaded that the State satisfied this element through officer testimony regarding the defendant’s appearance and behavior. The defendant argued that the State failed to establish what a person must do to pass field sobriety tests and how the tests measure a driver’s ability to operate their car. However, the Appellate Court wrote, “The state… did not bear the burden of educating the jury with regard to field sobriety tests, but of demonstrating that the defendant was intoxicated.” After addressing additional grounds for appeal, 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.

Since Defendant Filed Appeal After Statutory Deadline, Trial Court Lacked Jurisdiction to Adjudicate

In April, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a trial court’s determination that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear plaintiff’s appeal because the statutory filing period had already expired.

In this case, the plaintiff was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol. At the police station, the plaintiff was informed that, under General Statutes § 14-227b(b), if he refused to submit to either a breathalyzer test or other sobriety tests, his license would be suspended for six months. The plaintiff refused to take the tests, and the defendant Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) began the process of suspending the plaintiff’s license. The plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on August 28, 2009. The hearing officer found that police had probable cause to arrest the plaintiff and that the plaintiff refused to take sobriety tests and operated a motor vehicle at the time he was arrested.

On September 16, 2009, the plaintiff moved for reconsideration, and this motion was denied on September 29. The plaintiff filed a recognizance bond with the clerk’s office on November 12, and then submitted his appeal on November 27. The trial court found it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the appeal because it was submitted after the statutory filing period. When the plaintiff appealed this decision, he argued that the trial court erred with this finding: he claimed he actually filed his appeal at the same time as his recognizance bond.

Under General Statutes § 4-183(c), a party must file an appeal with the agency that renders a decision either within forty-five days 1) after mailing of the final decision or 2) after the agency denies a petition for reconsideration. In the context of administrative appeals, courts will strictly comply with statutory dictates, and § 4-183(c)’s forty-five day filing requirement is “a mandatory jurisdiction in the first instance.” A reviewing court will not disturb the findings of a trial court unless there is no evidence to support it, or if a review of the evidence leaves the sense that a mistake was made. This is known as the clearly erroneous standard of review.

In this case, the forty-five day statutory period began to run on September 29, 2009, and expired on November 12, 2009, the day the plaintiff filed his recognizance bond. The plaintiff claimed that he handed a copy of his appeal to the clerk at the same time. However, the trial court found that the filing of the bond “did not constitute a ‘filing’ with the clerk of the court” and that the plaintiff did not file his appeal until November 27, 2009. The Appellate Court stated that the trial court was within its discretion to weigh the evidence, and could not hold that the findings made in this case were clearly erroneous. Therefore, it affirmed 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.