Posts tagged with "relevance"

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.

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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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