Posts tagged with "jury trial"

Sentencing Review Division Affirms Sentence of Remorseless DUI Driver with Rare Disease

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut affirmed the sentence of a petitioner following his conviction for a DUI-related fatality.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on night of July 28, 1998. The petitioner suffered from Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2), a rare illness that can cause deafness, blindness, or even death. That morning, he underwent a radiation treatment, and then attended a farewell party that evening. At the party, the petitioner drank nine to twelve ounces of scotch and was visibly intoxicated by the time he left alone. He traveled various highways in the wrong direction and then entered a northbound ramp going southbound. The petitioner drove into an oncoming vehicle, which resulted in a fatality. He was transported to a nearby hospital for treatment, and blood tests revealed that he had a blood alcohol content of 0.210, over two-and-a-half times the legal limit.

The petitioner was charged with reckless manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol. At his jury trial, he argued that he was not intoxicated at the time of the accident; rather, a defense expert testified that the defendant “lost consciousness as a result of a seizure caused by his NF2 disease.” The jury was not convinced and convicted the petitioner on all counts, and he was sentenced to fifteen years execution suspended after ten years, with five years’ probation and a $21,000 fine.

The petitioner asked the Sentencing Review Division of the Superior Court to reduce the non-suspended part of his sentence for three reasons. He first argued that the sentence imposed was inappropriate and disproportionate, as those similarly situated received lighter sentences. Second, he argued that the trial court did not consider his health problems when determining his sentence, and that he was receiving inadequate treatment by the Department of Corrections. Finally the petitioner stated that because was “a person of good moral character” who accepted responsibility for his crime, modification was warranted.

The Superior Court rejected all of the petitioner’s arguments for sentence reduction. It noted that despite claiming that individuals convicted of similar crimes received lighter sentences, the petitioner provided little to no information about those cases that would facilitate a proper comparative analysis. Furthermore, the Court acknowledged that the sentencing court was “fully aware of his health issues,” and the sentence was made after appropriate consideration of the petitioner’s health. In addition, the Court would not address the petitioner’s DOC complaint, because it “may only consider matters which were before the sentencing court at the time of sentencing.” Finally, the sentencing court considered the petitioner’s background and history, and found that he was “in denial regarding the role that alcohol played [in] his crime, failed to show any empathy for the suffering caused by the victim’s family and posed a danger to society.” Therefore, the Superior Court affirmed the sentence because it was neither inappropriate nor disproportionate.

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.

Despite Trial Court’s Abuse of Discretion, Defendant Failed to Prove Specific Harm Warranting Reversal

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed judgment after a defendant, convicted of DUI, unsuccessfully claimed that his constitutional rights were violated when the trial court arbitrarily denied his motion for a minor continuance.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on November 22, 2003, in Stratford. The defendant crashed his vehicle into an unoccupied parked car, and responding officers noticed visible signs of intoxication. The defendant failed several field sobriety tests and was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(1). The defendant wanted a jury trial, and during jury selection, the defendant used up all his peremptory challenges. When Juror T was selected as the alternate, defense counsel challenged him for cause. The reason given was because Juror T’s vehicle had been rear-ended by an intoxicated driver, he had been the passenger of an intoxicated driver, and he managed an alcoholic employee. The court would not excuse Juror T for cause, and defense counsel did not seek any additional peremptory challenges.

Due to a miscommunication, a regular juror did not appear at court on the scheduled trial date. However, because the alternate was present, the court stated that the trial would proceed that afternoon. Defense counsel immediately objected and requested a continuance to the next morning, when the regular juror would be available. The court denied the request “without giving any reason… other than that the alternate juror was selected in the same manner as the regular jurors were selected.” The defendant was convicted of OMVUI and thereafter appealed, arguing that the court abused its discretion when it denied the motion, therefore depriving him of the right to an impartial jury.

Trial courts have wide discretion in deciding whether or not to grant a motion for a continuance. These decisions will not be overturned on appeal unless the appellant shows that the denial of this motion was arbitrary. A reviewing court will consider a number of non-exclusive factors:

[T]he timeliness of the request for continuance; the likely length of the delay; the age and complexity of the case; the granting of other continuances in the past; the impact of delay on the litigants, witnesses, opposing counsel and the court; the perceived legitimacy of the reasons proffered in support of the request; [and] the defendant’s personal responsibility for the timing of the request.

State v. Coney, 266 Conn. 787, 801 (2003). Even if the Appellate Court finds that the trial court acted arbitrarily, it must also determine that the denial was harmful, a burden placed on the appellant. If the denial implicates the violation of a constitutional right, prejudice is presumed. In addition, with respect to alternate jurors, they must have “the same qualifications and be selected in the same manner as regular jurors.” General Statutes § 54-82h(a).

In this case, the Appellate Court considered the factors listed above and came to the conclusion that the trial court’s denial of the motion for a continuance was “unreasonable and arbitrary under the unique circumstances of the case.” However, though the defendant cited a deprivation of his Sixth Amendment protections, he did not cite any case law or provide any analysis in support of his claim. As such, prejudice was not presumed, and the defendant had to show he was harmed by Juror T sitting on the jury. The defendant failed to demonstrate specific harm, and the Appellate Court declined to presume that Juror T was not “an impartial juror under these circumstances.” Therefore, the judgment was affirmed.

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.

Lower Court Did Not Abuse Its Discretion in Termination of Cross-Examination, Since Evidence Was Not Relevant in Suppression Hearing

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.