Posts tagged with "Sixth Amendment"

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

In a 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.

Case Background

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.

Motion for a Continuance

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).

The Court’s Decision

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

OMVUI Case Background

In a 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 Right to a 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.”

The Court’s Decision

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.

Superior Court Denies Motion to Dismiss, Tape Recording of DUI Suspect’s Phone Call to Attorney Was Not Prejudicial State Intrusion

In a criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut determined that the recording of a one-sided conversation between the defendant and his attorney was not a prejudicial intrusion into attorney-client protections, and as such the Court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on the evening of March 25, 2010. A police officer on route patrol observed the defendant driving his motor vehicle on the Berlin Turnpike in Wethersfield, CT. The officer suspected that the defendant was driving under the influence, so he initiated a traffic stop and administered several field sobriety tests. The defendant was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a, advised of his Miranda rights, and transported to the police station.

The defendant was placed in a booking room specific to OMVUI cases. Pursuant to its own policy, the department records everything that goes on in this room. As the officer in this case later testified, “[U]ntil the processing is complete, police policy requires the officer to keep visual observation of the defendant ‘so they don’t put anything in their mouth.’”

The officer gave the defendant a notice of rights, which included information about the results of or the refusal to submit to a chemical alcohol test, and stated the defendant could contact an attorney. The defendant made telephone contact with an attorney, and police recorded the defendant’s side of this conversation, which at times was either muffled or inaudible.

The Sixth Amendment

After the phone call was completed, the defendant refused to take the Breathalyzer test. The officer did not use the contents of the tape in his investigation, nor did it influence the charges brought against the defendant. In addition, upon learning of the tape’s existence, the prosecutor advised defense counsel that the State also would not use it; indeed, the tape was not introduced into evidence. However, the defendant moved to dismiss the case, arguing that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated because the tape recording constituted an impermissible State invasion of the attorney-client relationship.

Under the Sixth Amendment, any communication between an attorney and his client “made in confidence for the purpose of seeking legal advice” is protected by the attorney client privilege. However, this is no reasonable expectation of confidentiality if the statements are made in the presence of a third party. Therefore, a reviewing court must consider whether or not an invasion by the State into this privilege was “so prejudicial to warrant dismissal of the charges.”

There is a rebuttable presumption of prejudice, which can be overcome if the prosecutor presents clear and convincing evidence that the intrusion was nor prejudicial to the outcome of the case. In an opinion, the Supreme Court of Connecticut admitted that the Sixth Amendment is automatically violated where there is “mere unintentional intrusion into privileged information containing trial strategy.”

The Court’s Decision

In this case, the Superior Court reviewed the content of the one-sided phone call and determined that there was nothing of strategic value discussed, such as the credibility of trial witnesses, potential evidence, what to focus on during witness examinations, or specific arguments or defenses. Rather, from the conversation we learn that the defendant was concerned with his probation status, whether to take the Breathalyzer test, the implications of a refusal, and his wife’s reaction to the arrest. Therefore, the Court found the defendant was not prejudiced by the State intrusion and denied his motion to dismiss.

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.