Posts tagged with "motion in limine"

Defendant’s Conviction for Misconduct with a Motor Vehicle Upheld; Sufficient Evidence to Establish Requisite Mental State

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a defendant’s conviction for misconduct with a motor vehicle, finding sufficient evidence to convict and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting potentially prejudicial evidence.

Case Details

This case arose from an incident that occurred on the night of December 2, 2007. Despite snow and freezing rain that day, the defendant drove with his friends to an unplowed parking lot after dinner and performed a “donut” around a light pole. Afterward, he traveled along a road where passing was not permitted, the speed limit was 45mph, and there was only one travel lane in each direction. The defendant attempted to pass a slow-moving vehicle but lost control of the vehicle. The car veered off the road and two passengers were ejected, one sustaining head injuries that led to his death.

The defendant was charged with second-degree manslaughter, third-degree assault, and reckless driving. As an alternative to the manslaughter charge, the court charged the jury with lesser included offenses, including misconduct with a motor vehicle. Defense counsel filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude testimony regarding the donut. He argued that the evidence was not relevant, involved uncharged misconduct, and the potential for prejudice far outweighed its probative value.

The State countered that because the donut was performed shortly before the accident, it was probative and relevant to mental state, and served as evidence that the defendant was aware of the poor driving conditions. The trial court denied the motion, stating, “[W]hat happened a matter of minutes before the actual incident is part and parcel of the incident itself.”

Motor Vehicle Misconduct

The defendant was found guilty of reckless driving and misconduct with a motor vehicle, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) §§ 14-222(a) and 53a-57(a). He appealed his conviction, arguing that the State provided insufficient evidence of the requisite mental state for misconduct with a motor vehicle, and the court improperly allowed evidence of the donut into the record.

A criminal defendant is guilty of misconduct with a motor vehicle if the State proves that he caused the death of another person through criminally negligent operation of his motor vehicle.

A person acts with “criminal negligence” with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such result will occur or that such circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation… (CGS § 53a-3 (14))

A defendant does not have to be speeding in his vehicle to violate CGS § 53a-57(a). Relevant evidence makes a material fact more or less probable than it would be without such evidence. Even if relevant, evidence may be excluded where its probative value is outweighed by the danger of undue prejudice. However, mere prejudice is not enough, because “[a]ll adverse evidence is damaging to one’s case.”

The Court’s Decision

In this case, the Appellate Court was not persuaded by the defendant’s arguments. It found that there was ample evidence that the defendant operated his vehicle in a criminally negligent behavior, and that he was not speeding at the time was not dispositive. Furthermore, the Court agreed that the evidence was relevant, and the probative value outweighed the danger of undue prejudice. Its admission as evidence was not an abuse of discretion by the trial court. Therefore, the judgment was affirmed.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

When faced with a charge of reckless driving or misconduct with a motor vehicle, 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.

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

In a 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.

Case Details

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.

Administering a Nystagmus Test

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.

The Court’s Decision

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.

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

In a 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.

Case Details

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.

The Trial

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.

A Related Case

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.

The Court’s Decision

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.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

DUI Suspect Did Not Have Right to be “Selectively Silent;” Rebuttal Inquiry Did Not Violate Constitutional Protections

The Appellate Court of Connecticut considered whether a prosecutor’s line of inquiry violated a defendant’s due process rights against self-incrimination under the state and federal constitutions.

The Incident

This case arose from an incident that occurred at 1:22am on April 9, 2008. A state trooper was on routine patrol along I-95 in Fairfield, CT, when he received a report of an erratic driver in his vicinity. He promptly located the vehicle in question, which was driving only 35mph in a 55mph zone. In addition, the trooper saw the vehicle swerve multiple times and nearly strike a guardrail.

Therefore, the trooper initiated a traffic stop. While interacting with the driver, who was later identified as the defendant, the trooper made the following observations: bloodshot and watery eyes, slurred speech, and the distinct odor of alcohol. The trooper spotted a plastic cup with a tan liquid in the center console, but the defendant would not answer any questions regarding it.

The trooper asked the defendant to exit the vehicle and administered three field sobriety tests. The defendant was then arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) and transported to state police barracks located in Bridgeport, CT. There, he agreed to submit to two breathalyzer tests, both taken within two hours of the defendant operating his car and with results over the legal limit. The defendant was advised of his Miranda rights and presented with questions from a motor vehicle supplemental form (A44 form): the defendant answered some, but refused to answer others regarding alcohol and food consumption.

The Trial

Before trial, the defendant filed a motion in limine to exclude the admission of the A44 form, citing his constitutional right against self-incrimination, but the court denied the motion. At trial, the State conducted an “offer of proof” through the trooper regarding the A44 form, and the defendant objected, but the form was admitted into evidence. On cross-examination, defense counsel engaged the trooper in a line of questioning regarding the defendant’s cooperation in answering questions from the form.

On redirect, the State asked whether the trooper inquired about the amount the defendant had to drink, and the defense objected on the ground of self-incrimination. The State argued that “the line of questioning had been opened by the defendant,” and the court agreed and overruled the objection. The defendant was subsequently found guilty by a jury and he appealed his conviction, arguing in part that his due process rights were violated by admission of the A44 form and related questioning during trial.

When one party engages a witness in a particular subject during examination at trial, he or she “cannot object if the opposing party later questions the witness on the same subject.” This is known as “opening the door” to rebuttal. Where a defendant has been advised of his Miranda rights, he does not also have the right to be “selectively silent.” Thus, the right against self-incrimination is inapplicable to a factual scenario where a defendant so advised chooses to answer some questions but “selectively declines to answer several others.”

The Court’s Decision

In this case, the Appellate Court found that when the defense asked the trooper questions related to the defendant’s cooperation regarding the A44, the State had every right to follow up with questions on redirect evidencing the unresponsive answers. As the Court stated, “The defendant cannot reap the benefits of inquiry into one subject and expect the state’s questioning within the same scope to be held impermissible.” Therefore, there was no abuse of discretion when the court allowed the State’s inquiry on redirect regarding the defendant’s refusal to answer questions related to alcohol and food consumption. After addressing additional grounds for appeal, the Appellate Court affirmed judgment in its entirety.

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.

Defendant’s Motions to Suppress Evidence from Urinalysis and Field Sobriety Tests After Boating Incident

Case Background

This case arose from a boating incident that occurred on July 8, 2007. The defendant consumed six ounces of bourbon whiskey over the course of approximately an hour and a half, and then traveled down the Connecticut River on his motorboat. The river was extremely crowded with other vessels due to the holiday. At 3:46pm, the defendant was traveling at 30 knots (or 34.5mph) when he fell out of the boat, which then struck a nearby sailboat and killed one of the passengers.

The defendant was quickly rescued, and brought to the dock an hour after the accident. Police officers on the scene observed the defendant as unsteady, disoriented, and confused, and had slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, and an odor of alcohol. While the officers conducted a series of field sobriety tests, for which they received extensive training, the defendant became belligerent and argumentative. After the tests were complete, the defendant was brought to the police station, where officers conducted two urinalysis tests at 5:56pm and then 6:30pm.

The Charges

The defendant was charged with reckless operation of a vessel while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs, second-degree manslaughter, and seven other counts in violation of various General Statutes. The defendant filed three motions to suppress the urinalysis tests, to suppress evidence of the field sobriety tests, and to request a Porter hearing to determine whether the urinalysis procedure used by Connecticut agencies was proper.

General Statutes § 15-140l makes it a crime to recklessly operate a vessel while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs. A person may be charged in the first degree if, while under the influence, they operate a vessel in such a way that it results in serious physical injury to others or damages property in excess of $2,000. “Operate” in this context means that “the vessel is underway or aground and not moored, anchored or docked.”

Alcohol Analysis Evidence

Evidence that is used to establish the amount of alcohol or drug in the defendant’s blood or urine is admissible under General Statutes § 15-140r(a), as long as the test occurred within two hours from the operation of a vessel. In this case, the urinalysis tests were taken more than two hours after the accident. Therefore, the Superior Court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress this evidence.

Evidence derived from field sobriety tests is admissible so long as the State lays the foundation that the testing officer “is qualified to perform the tests, and that the tests were conducted in substantial accord with relevant procedures and standards.” That is to say, officers do not need to perform the tests perfectly, because ideal conditions are not always present. In this case, the officers testified as to the extent of their training, and the defendant had ample opportunity to cross-examine them. Because this was a matter of the weight of the evidence and not its admissibility, the Court denied the defendant’s motion in limine to suppress this evidence.

In State v. Porter, the State Supreme Court ruled that where a party objects to scientific evidence offered by the other party, the burden rests with the proponent to establish that the evidence is admissible. Generally, evidence will be admissible so long as it tends to support a relevant fact and is neither prejudicial nor cumulative. The Porter court held that scientific evidence should only be inadmissible if “the methodology underlying such evidence is sufficiently invalid to render the evidence incapable of helping the fact finder determine a fact in dispute.”

Testing for the Presence of Alcohol 

Connecticut recognizes three methods of testing for the presence of alcohol – blood, breath, and urine – and each of these methods is statutorily recognized as reliable for legal purposes. Thus, “[o]nce a scientific process or methodology has been approved after a Porter analysis, it can be admitted in subsequent cases without a second Porter-type analysis.” In this case, because urinalysis is statutorily approved, the defendant did not have a right to a Porter hearing. Therefore, his motion for this hearing to determine the admissibility of the chemical urinalysis was denied.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle or vessel 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.