Posts tagged with "ultimate issue"

Coconspirator’s Opinion Was Properly Admitted, As It Did Not Involve “Ultimate Issue”

In the article “Stolen Dealer Plates Found Relevant and Probative in Vehicle Retagging Scheme,” the defendant did not prevail on his arguments that the trial court improperly allowed dealer plates belonging to his previous employer into evidence. In his appeal, he also argued that the trial court abused its discretion when it allowed another member of the conspiracy to give “impermissible opinion testimony regarding an ultimate issue of fact.”

One of the coconspirators testified for the State, and the prosecutor asked this individual a series of questions about whether the defendant was “part of the group” of those arrested in Fairfield on February 4, 2008. Defense counsel objected, arguing that this involved an ultimate issue of fact, but the State countered, “I believe I asked him if he was part of this group. Whether he’s part of the conspiracy, I didn’t ask him that.” The court overruled the objection and allowed the questioning.

In essence, the coconspirator testified that if the defendant was not “part of the group,” he would not have been present while the vehicle plates were being changed or at the exchange point. The coconspirator further answered, “I imagine that if he wasn’t part of the group, he wouldn’t drive the car.” On appeal, the defendant characterized this testimony as impermissible lay opinion regarding an ultimate issue of fact, and the trial court erred by permitting it.

The Connecticut Code of Evidence § 7-1 is relevant to the Appellate Court’s conclusion in this matter. Pursuant to this section:

If a witness is not testifying as an expert, the witness may not testify in the form of an opinion, unless the opinion is rationally based on the perception of the witness and is helpful to a clear understanding of the testimony of the witness or the determination of a fact in issue.

Opinions are improper if they “embrace an ultimate issue to be decided by the trier of fact.” This includes legal opinions about whether or not the defendant is guilty.

In this case, the Appellate Court concluded that the coconspirator’s testimony was proper lay opinion. It was “rationally based on his perception of the circumstances as he perceived them on the night of February 4, 2008, and when he observed prior conduct in New York.” Such testimony was helpful to the jury in determining whether the defendant had the requisite intent for committing conspiracy. In addition:

Although it is true that evidence of association is relevant to proving participation in a conspiracy… association, by itself, does not necessarily constitute intentional participation in a conspiracy. One can be “with” a group without being a conspirator, even if others in the group are, in fact, conspirators.

The nature of the coconspirator’s testimony was not the same as giving an opinion about whether the defendant “intended to agree to engage in a larceny or whether he intended to actually commit the larceny,” which are ultimate issues in this case. Because the testimony did not encompass opinions of guilt, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing it.

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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Appellate Court Declines to Review DUI Convict’s Unpreserved Claims

In a recent 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.”

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.

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