Posts tagged with "irrelevant"

Stolen Dealer Plates Found Relevant and Probative in Vehicle Retagging Scheme

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a defendant’s conspiracy and larceny convictions, finding that evidence of stolen dealer plates was properly admitted.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on February 4, 2008. Months before, state police began investigating an operation where vehicles stolen in New York were “retagged” and sold in Connecticut. A detective went undercover posing as a buyer and agreed to purchase two stolen vehicles for $20,500. The defendant was present when dealer plates belonging to his previous employer were attached to one car, and he drove the second vehicle to the exchange point in Fairfield. Police moved in and arrested the defendant and several other individuals involved. Troopers observed materials used in the retagging process on the defendant’s person, as well as inside nearby vehicles driven by coconspirators.

The defendant was charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit larceny in the first degree and two counts of larceny in the first degree. Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion seeking to exclude evidence of the stolen dealer plates. He argued that it was irrelevant, and the probative value, if any, was far outweighed by the prejudicial effect it would have on the jury. The State countered that such evidence went to intent and to show the defendant was a knowing participant in the conspiracy rather than an unwitting passenger.

The court allowed the evidence and attendant testimony, noting it was relevant to a material fact in the case. Thus, for example, a detective “opined that, based on her training and experience, a former employee would have better access than a stranger to the dealer plates because of his familiarity with the dealership and the knowledge of its layout.” The defendant was subsequently found guilty on all counts and appealed his convictions, arguing that evidence of the dealer plates was improperly admitted because it was not relevant, and alternatively that it was unfairly prejudicial.

To convict a defendant of conspiracy under Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-48, the State must show that an agreement to commit a crime was made between two or more people, one of whom acts overtly to further the conspiracy. This is a specific intent crime, and the State must prove that the conspirators “intended to agree and that they intended to commit the elements of the underlying offense.” Because it is difficult to ascertain a person’s subjective intent, it is often inferred from circumstantial evidence and rational inferences. Evidence is relevant so long as it has a “logical tendency to aid [the judge or jury] in the determination of an issue” to even the slightest degree, so long as it is not unduly prejudicial or merely cumulative.

In this case, the Appellate Court found that the dealer plates “had a logical tendency to show a connection between the defendant and the larcenous scheme,” as well as the requisite intent to commit conspiracy to commit larceny. Indeed, this evidence countered the defendant’s assertion that he was an innocent bystander. While the evidence itself might have been weak, this was an issue of its weight, not its relevance. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing it.

There are many grounds for excluding relevant evidence, such as the risk of unfair prejudice. Naturally, all evidence against the defendant is damaging and thus prejudicial, so the appropriate inquiry is whether the proffered evidence will “improperly arouse the emotions of the jury.” In this case, the defendant argued that the jury may have concluded that the dealer plates, which belonged to his previous employer, were stolen, a fact which they would then impermissibly use to infer he committed the presently charged offenses. The Appellate Court stated that while such impermissible inferences may have been drawn, the trial court has broad discretion in weighing the probative value versus prejudicial impact, a decision reversible only upon showing an abuse of discretion or manifest injustice. Based on the facts of this case, the Court could not conclude that the trial court abused its discretion; therefore, the defendant’s claims on appeal failed.

When faced with a charge of larceny, burglary, conspiracy, or attempt, 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.

Appellate Court Upholds Admission of Expert Testimony Used to Refute Defendant’s Claimed Amount of Alcohol Consumed

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered the admissibility of a State toxicologist’s testimony regarding the amount of alcohol the defendant had to have consumed to reach a blood alcohol content (BAC) level above the legal limit.

This case arose from an incident that occurred after midnight on July 29, 2004. A Greenwich police officer was on duty when he heard the defendant’s car screech off the road and watched as it swerved over a yellow line multiple times before coming to a stop in a parking lot. The officer conducted a traffic stop, during which he made the following observations: the defendant smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech, and his eyes were watery and glassy. The defendant told police that he only had four shots of gin between 5pm and 9pm the night before. Based on the defendant’s appearance and performance on the field sobriety tests, he was arrested and transported to the police station. He agreed to submit to two Intoxilyzer tests, which returned BAC readings of 0.138 and 0.143 at 12:29am and 1:04am, respectively.

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 State sought to refute the defendant’s claim that he only had four shots of gin. A Department of Public Safety toxicologist testified that if the defendant drank four shots of gin in the time period stated, it would have fully metabolized by 10pm, two hours before the incident in question. He estimated that given the defendant’s size, every alcoholic drink would produce 0.02 BAC. Therefore, to generate a BAC of 0.143 at 1:04am, the defendant had to have consumed at least seven alcoholic drinks. The defendant was convicted on both subdivisions, and because of a previous OMVUI offense, he was charged as a second offender and subject to enhanced penalties. The defendant appealed his conviction on multiple grounds, including, in part, that the toxicologist’s testimony was irrelevant and it was improper for the trial court to allow it into evidence.

Evidence is relevant, and thus admissible, if it has the “tendency to establish the existence of a material fact.” Decisions to exclude or admit evidence on the basis of relevance will only be overturned upon the showing of a clear abuse of discretion by the trial court. Upon review of the applicable case law, the Appellate Court stated that expert testimony regarding how many alcoholic drinks a defendant needed to consume to reach a particular BAC level has not been deemed irrelevant. Therefore, because the substance of the toxicologist’s testimony encompassed this very subject matter, the trial court did not clearly abuse its discretion by allowing it into 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.

Trial Court Did Not Err in Rejecting Irrelevant Evidence; Appellate Court Upholds Conviction

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a defendant’s convictions following a traffic stop that revealed reckless driving.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on March 14, 2006. Bethel police initiated a traffic stop to investigate the defendant’s dump truck and trailer for properly displayed plates. The plates were present but obscured, and officers immediately noticed a wire hanging from the rear of the trailer. Upon further inspection of the trailer, officers determined that the wire was disconnected, from the trailer’s independent braking system. Furthermore, it did not appear to be connected to the dump truck or “any other source that could have provided power to the trailer’s brakes.” Officers requested that the defendant demonstrate whether or not the trailer’s brakes operated, but the defendant refused to comply. Officers cited the defendant for reckless driving, driving with obscured license plates, and failing to carry a valid insurance card. Upon the arrival of a tow truck, the defendant relinquished his keys and stated to the tow-truck driver, “There’s still no brakes [on the trailer] with you towing it.”

The defendant submitted a motion seeking to introduce Connecticut statutes and agency regulations as evidence that the officers lacked authority to inspect his trailer’s brakes. He also proffered evidence that “demonstrated a sense of bias against the defendant among [other] officers that had filtered throughout the Bethel police department and affected the credibility of the officers who were at the scene and who testified during the state’s case-in-chief.” The trial court denied the motion, saying the evidence was irrelevant. Subsequently, the defendant was convicted of the three cited charges as well as interfering with an officer. He appealed, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion.

In Connecticut, police officers have the duty to enforce our laws and preserve the peace. “If [an officer] is acting under a good faith belief that he is carrying out that duty, and if his actions are reasonably designed to that end, he is acting in the performance of his duties.” Quite notably, such duties are not merely restricted to the arrest function. In this case, the Appellate Court reviewed the statutes and regulations offered by the defendant, but was not persuaded that the officers did not have authority to inspect the brakes on his trailer. Therefore, it concluded that preclusion of this evidence was not an abuse of discretion by the trial court.

Evidence is relevant if it makes the existence of a material fact more or less probable, so long as it is neither unduly prejudicial nor cumulative. However, it is the duty of the proffering party to establish relevance with a proper foundation. In the context of impeachment evidence, this may be accomplished in one of three ways: an offer of proof, independent establishment by the record itself, or statement of a good faith believe that the inquiry is justified by an adequate factual basis. In this case, the defendant failed to provide any connection between evidence of bias and the lack of credibility of the officers involved in this case. Rather, his claims were purely speculative, and “[i]t is entirely proper for a court to deny a request to present certain testimony that will further nothing more than a fishing expedition… or result in a wild goose chase.” Therefore, the judgments were affirmed.

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.

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