Posts tagged with "harmful error"

Informant’s Statements in 911 Tapes Constituted “Spontaneous Utterances;” Admission in DUI Case Was Not Harmful Error

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut found that a trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting into evidence 911 recordings that the defendant characterized as inadmissible hearsay.

Case Details

On the date of the incident in question, a citizen informant called police to report a person, later identified as the defendant, he believed was driving under the influence. The informant provided information describing the car’s appearance, location, and direction of travel. When he crossed paths with a police officer, the informant conveyed this to the dispatcher, and the officer confirmed this statement. Before the officer initiated a traffic stop, he asked whether the informant was identifiable, though the dispatcher stated it was obtaining the information at that time.

The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a. At an evidentiary hearing, prosecutors sought to admit into evidence the 911 call between the informant and dispatcher, but the defendant objected, arguing it was inadmissible testimonial hearsay. The court overruled the objection, stating the 911 call was admissible under the business record exception to the rule against hearsay. The defendant entered a conditional plea of nolo contendere and then appealed, arguing, in part, that admission of the 911 tape constituted harmful error.

Admission of “Hearsay” Statements

“Hearsay” is an out-of-court statement offered for the truth of the matter asserted. It is generally inadmissible unless it falls under one of the limited exceptions, including business records. To be admitted under this exception, the record must meet three conditions: 1) the record was made “in the regular course of business;” 2) it was “the regular course of such business to make such a record;” and 3) the record was made “at the time of the act described in the report, or within a reasonable time thereafter.”

However, in a previous case, the Supreme Court of Connecticut admonished a trial court’s decision to use the business records exception to admit a police report containing the hearsay statement of an anonymous informant. It noted that because citizens do not have a duty to report, “a recorded statement by a citizen must satisfy a separate hearsay exception.”

Eighteen years later, however, the Supreme Court of Connecticut concluded that a complainant’s statements in a 911 call were “admissible as spontaneous utterances pursuant to § 8-3 (2) of the Connecticut Code of Evidence.” This exception applies where: “(1) the declaration follows a startling occurrence, (2) the declaration refers to the occurrence, (3) the declarant observed the occurrence, and (4) the declaration is made under circumstances that negate the opportunity for deliberation and fabrication by the declarant.”

The Court’s Decision

In this case, the Appellate Court determined that all four conditions were satisfied: the informant was startled by the defendant’s erratic driving, relayed to dispatch what he personally observed “in the course of an ongoing urgent situation.” This lessened the likelihood that the informant contrived and misrepresented what he saw. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the 911 tapes.

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.

Because Curative Instructions were Properly Administered, Defendant Did Not Suffer Harmful Error in Her DUI Conviction

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered rejected a defendant’s claims that there was insufficient evidence to convict her of DUI, and that she was harmed by an improper limiting instruction.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 17, 2005. A state police trooper observed the defendant’s vehicle weaving and leaving the traffic lane three times along Route 8 in Trumbull, so he conducted a traffic stop. The trooper noticed the defendant had bloodshot eyes and detected the strong odor of alcohol, and the defendant stated she had two glasses of wine at a restaurant in Fairfield.

The trooper administered three field sobriety tests, all of which the defendant failed, so she was placed under arrest and brought to state police barracks. During questioning, the defendant stated she had two vodka drinks at a restaurant in Bridgeport. She submitted to an Intoxilyzer test twice, which reported a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.159 and 0.143, both of which were above the legal limit of 0.08.

The Charges

The defendant was charged with violating General Statutes §§ 14-227a(a)(1) and (2): operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of an intoxicating liquor and while having an elevated blood alcohol content. At trial, the director of controlled substances in the toxicology laboratory for the Department of Public Safety extrapolated the defendant’s BAC to 0.185 at the time she was operating her car.

The court instructed the jury that the chemical test results could not be considered as evidence of the defendant’s guilt with respect to the behavioral count. “That evidence was offered for a limited purpose only and is admissible only with respect to the allegations contained in [the per se count] of the information.” The jury convicted the defendant and she appealed, arguing insufficiency of the evidence to convict, and that the jury impermissibly considered the toxicologist’s testimony “regarding the result of the Intoxylizer tests” in deciding upon the behavioral count.

Evidentiary Impropriety

When a reviewing court considers a claim of “evidentiary impropriety,” if the issue affects a constitutional right, the state must prove the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. However, if the purported improper ruling is not constitutional in nature, the defendant must prove that the error was harmful. In cases, such as this one, where the defendant is charged under both subsections of § 14-227a(a), “appropriate limiting instructions regarding the use of chemical analysis serve as the proper safeguard.” Thus, if a defendant does not show evidence indicating otherwise, a jury presumably followed the curative instructions given by the trial court.

The Court’s Decision

In this case, the Appellate Court found that the defendant did not prove that the jury failed to follow the court’s limiting instruction. Therefore, she failed her burden in establishing harmful error. In addition, the Court agreed that there was plenty of evidence to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt with respect to the OMVUI charge. It noted the defendant’s appearance on the scene, the failed field sobriety tests, as well as the inconsistent stories she provided. Therefore, 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.