In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut declined to review the defendant’s unpreserved claims of instructional error and evidentiary impropriety.
In this case, the defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI), in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(1), along with other charges. At trial, the State called to the witness stand an optometrist (witness), who was also an expert in field sobriety testing. The prosecutor posed a hypothetical and asked the witness whether, based on the facts given, he would believe the person was under the influence.
Defense counsel objected, arguing that the question was beyond the witness’s area of expertise. However, the court overruled, stating that the witness had “additional qualifications beyond the optometry field.” In addition, the court instructed the jury that they could find the defendant guilty if he was “driving while impaired,” though defense counsel did not object to this charge.
The defendant was subsequently convicted on all counts and appealed. He argued, for the first time, that the trial court’s jury instruction was deficient because it “dilut[ed] the state’s burden of proof.” Furthermore, the defendant claimed that the court improperly allowed a witness to express an opinion “with regard to an ultimate issue in the case.”
When a party raises a claim for the first time not at trial but instead on appeal, the Appellate Court is limited to review “under either the plain error doctrine… or the doctrine set forth in State v. Golding.” If a party fails to brief or argue either doctrine, the Court will decline to afford such review. In addition, “[a]ppellate review of evidentiary rulings is ordinarily limited to the specific legal [ground] raised by the objection of trial counsel.”
The Court’s Decision
In this case, the Appellate Court declined to review both of the defendant’s claims. It reasoned that the defendant did not submit a written request to change the jury instruction, nor did defense counsel object when it was given. With respect to the witness’s testimony, defense counsel objected to the specific hypothetical question posed as being beyond the witness’ expertise. However, on appeal, the defendant presented a different ground for appeal, and extraordinary circumstances did not exist to as to permit review of the unpreserved claim.
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.