Posts tagged with "manslaughter with a motor vehicle"

For Remorseless Drunk Driver, Stiff Sentence Was Neither Disproportionate Nor Inappropriate

In a recent criminal law matter, the Sentence Review Division of the Superior Court assessed whether a defendant’s sentence following a DUI-related trial was proper.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on July 27, 1997. The defendant was driving under the influence when he struck two teenage pedestrians. One died at the scene and the other the next day at Hartford Hospital. The defendant did not stop to help them; rather, he drove until he got his car hit a tree, after which he fled. Soon after, police found the defendant, who admitted that he hit what he believed was a dog. A subsequent chemical alcohol test revealed the defendant’s blood alcohol content at 0.163, over twice the legal limit, as well as the presence of cannabis.

The defendant was charged with and convicted of two counts of second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, offense committed while on release, and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol and/or drugs. At the sentencing hearing, the court noted that “the impact of the defendant’s actions was clearly significant,” noting the very young age of the victims. The defendant did not exhibit remorse for his conduct, and he tried blaming the victims because at the time of the accident, they were wearing dark clothing. The court considered the defendant’s background and upbringing, but was particularly disturbed by the following statement from his pre-sentence investigation report: “I’ve been driving like this for 35 years… I can drink and drive… I am a good drunk driver.”

The defendant was subsequently sentenced to thirty-five years execution suspended after twenty-six and a half years, with five years probation. He sought review of his sentence, arguing that it was “disproportionate” to the sentences imposed on others who were similarly situated.

The scope of review by the Sentencing Review Division is confined to the parameters of Connecticut Practice Book § 43-23 et seq. A sentence may be modified upon a showing that it was “inappropriate or disproportionate” in light of various factors, such as the nature of the offense and protection of public interests. In this case, the Court stated that modification was not warranted based on the unique facts of this case. It wrote how it appeared “the sentencing court was unable to identify anything that it could use as mitigation to merit a lesser sentence.” Therefore, the sentence 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.

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Toxicology Report Suppressed in DUI Case Because Warrantless Search Exceptions Did Not Apply

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut granted a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence, because the State did not show exigent circumstances allowing the warrantless seizure.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 15, 2003. The defendant was involved in an automobile accident, resulting in the death of the other driver. He was transported to a nearby hospital where, without a warrant, police requested that his blood be drawn. One of the officers unaware of this order was informed of that the blood had been drawn, so he elected to not perform the field sobriety and chemical alcohol tests. Five days later, police applied for and was granted a warrant for the blood toxicology report. The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI), in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a(a), and second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, among several other counts. On March 8, 2004, the defendant submitted a motion to suppress the toxicology report, arguing that they were obtained in violation of the search and seizure protections of the state and federal constitutions.

Under state and federal law, individuals are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons, houses, papers, and effects. The “[c]ompulsory administration of a blood test” clearly constitutes a search and seizure of one’s person. If a search is conducted without a warrant evidencing probable cause, it is per se unreasonable, and evidence derived from this illegal search will be excluded unless one of a “few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions” applies. Two such exceptions to the exclusionary rule are inevitable discovery and exigent circumstances.

The inevitable discovery exception will thwart suppression of evidence if the State can show, by the preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not), that through lawful means the evidence would have been discovered anyway. Officers must have been actively pursuing such means before the constitutional violation in question occurred. In this case, the State argued that this exception applied because had the officer not been told the blood was drawn, he would have proceeded with the various OMVUI-related tests. Therefore, the State would have inevitably discovered the defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC). However, the Superior Court was not persuaded, because the State assumed that the defendant would have consented to the alcohol chemical tests. Under CGS § 14-227b, a person is free to refuse the test, though he will face license suspension for doing so. As such, the police could not presume that this procedure would inevitably lead them to discovery of the defendant’s BAC level.

Exigent circumstances doctrine applies where police officers, who have requisite probable cause, do not have time to get a warrant. They must act swiftly to effectuate an arrest, search, or seizure, to avoid, for example, the destruction of evidence. The State bears the burden to point to specific and articulable facts that gave rise to the exigent circumstances. In this case, the State argued that if they did not order that the defendant’s blood be taken, they would have lost evidence of his BAC level. However, the Superior Court noted that the record was devoid of any facts to support this proposition. Therefore, because neither exception applied to the facts of this case, the Superior Court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress.

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.

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Porter Hearing Not Required Where Accident Reconstructionists’ Testimonies Were Based on Principles of Dynamics and the Law of Motion

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut found that a trial court did not err in denying a defendant’s motion to strike the expert testimony of two State witnesses.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at 10:00pm on September 2, 2003. The defendant became intoxicated at a bar and was asked by the bartender to leave. Two patrons attempted to persuade the defendant to allow them to drive him home, but abandoned their efforts once the defendant started to become violent. The defendant got into his truck and drove southbound on Route 85 in Hebron when he struck a car in the northbound lane. The other driver was pronounced dead at the scene and the defendant was transported to the hospital, where he registered a blood alcohol content of 0.248.

The defendant was charged with first-degree manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, and two counts of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol. He filed a motion in limine, requesting that any and all evidence related to accident reconstruction be excluded because “the state would be unable to establish the scientific validity of the methodologies utilized by the state’s reconstructionists [State experts] under State v. Porter.” This motion was denied, though the defendant would have the option of filing a motion to strike after the State experts testified.

At trial, the State experts rendered their opinions as to how the accident collision occurred. They stated that their methods of reconstruction are “generally accepted and used throughout the nation” and did not involve “new material.” Each reached conclusions that the accident could not have occurred in the lane in which the defendant was traveling due to the “[p]rincipal direction of force and momentum” and because “[t]he vehicle dynamics don’t allow that.” As such, they opined that the defendant’s truck crossed the center yellow line and struck the other driver’s car.

Defense counsel moved to strike the State experts’ testimonies, arguing that the methods used were scientifically unreliable. The State countered that “[t]he subject of the testimony… is no[t] new, novel science” but were based on principles of physics “that had been put forth centuries ago.” The court denied the defendant’s motion to strike testimony because the testimony was sufficiently reliable and did not require a Porter hearing. The defendant was subsequently convicted on three counts and appealed, arguing, in part, that the trial court erred in denying his motion to strike.

In the landmark case Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals, the U.S. Supreme Court described the manner in which scientific evidence will be admissible in a trial. Connecticut adopted this analysis in State v. Porter, where a court will hold a so-called Porter hearing to determine whether the proffered evidence is reliable and relevant. However, some scientific principles are so well established that it is unnecessary to review evidence under an explicit Daubert analysis. Therefore, scientific evidence derived under these principles that would “clearly withstand a Daubert analysis” will be admissible at trial upon a showing a relevance.

In this case, the Appellate Court concluded that the methods used by the State experts in reconstructing the accident and reaching their conclusions were not new and original. Rather, when the State experts determined where the accident occurred, they applied “principles and theories that have been in the recognized literature and have been taught at training academies for decades.” Therefore, a Porter hearing was not required prior to their testimony and the court’s subsequent refusal to grant the defendant’s motion to strike was proper.

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.

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