In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a defendant’s convictions following a traffic stop that revealed reckless driving.
This case arose from an incident that occurred on March 14, 2006. Bethel police initiated a traffic stop to investigate the defendant’s dump truck and trailer for properly displayed plates. The plates were present but obscured, and officers immediately noticed a wire hanging from the rear of the trailer. Upon further inspection of the trailer, officers determined that the wire was disconnected, from the trailer’s independent braking system. Furthermore, it did not appear to be connected to the dump truck or “any other source that could have provided power to the trailer’s brakes.” Officers requested that the defendant demonstrate whether or not the trailer’s brakes operated, but the defendant refused to comply. Officers cited the defendant for reckless driving, driving with obscured license plates, and failing to carry a valid insurance card. Upon the arrival of a tow truck, the defendant relinquished his keys and stated to the tow-truck driver, “There’s still no brakes [on the trailer] with you towing it.”
The defendant submitted a motion seeking to introduce Connecticut statutes and agency regulations as evidence that the officers lacked authority to inspect his trailer’s brakes. He also proffered evidence that “demonstrated a sense of bias against the defendant among [other] officers that had filtered throughout the Bethel police department and affected the credibility of the officers who were at the scene and who testified during the state’s case-in-chief.” The trial court denied the motion, saying the evidence was irrelevant. Subsequently, the defendant was convicted of the three cited charges as well as interfering with an officer. He appealed, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion.
In Connecticut, police officers have the duty to enforce our laws and preserve the peace. “If [an officer] is acting under a good faith belief that he is carrying out that duty, and if his actions are reasonably designed to that end, he is acting in the performance of his duties.” Quite notably, such duties are not merely restricted to the arrest function. In this case, the Appellate Court reviewed the statutes and regulations offered by the defendant, but was not persuaded that the officers did not have authority to inspect the brakes on his trailer. Therefore, it concluded that preclusion of this evidence was not an abuse of discretion by the trial court.
Evidence is relevant if it makes the existence of a material fact more or less probable, so long as it is neither unduly prejudicial nor cumulative. However, it is the duty of the proffering party to establish relevance with a proper foundation. In the context of impeachment evidence, this may be accomplished in one of three ways: an offer of proof, independent establishment by the record itself, or statement of a good faith believe that the inquiry is justified by an adequate factual basis. In this case, the defendant failed to provide any connection between evidence of bias and the lack of credibility of the officers involved in this case. Rather, his claims were purely speculative, and “[i]t is entirely proper for a court to deny a request to present certain testimony that will further nothing more than a fishing expedition… or result in a wild goose chase.” Therefore, the judgments were affirmed.
When faced with a charge of reckless driving, 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.