This case arose from an incident that occurred on July 8, 2007. The defendant consumed six ounces of bourbon whiskey over the course of approximately an hour and a half, and then traveled down the Connecticut River on his motorboat. The river was extremely crowded with other vessels due to the holiday. At 3:46pm, the defendant was traveling at 30 knots (or 34.5mph) when he fell out of the boat, which then struck a nearby sailboat and killed one of the passengers.
The defendant was quickly rescued, and brought to the dock an hour after the accident. Police officers on the scene observed the defendant as unsteady, disoriented, and confused, and had slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, and an odor of alcohol. While the officers conducted a series of field sobriety tests, for which they received extensive training, the defendant became belligerent and argumentative. After the tests were complete, the defendant was brought to the police station, where officers conducted two urinalysis tests at 5:56pm and then 6:30pm.
The defendant was charged with reckless operation of a vessel while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs, second-degree manslaughter, and seven other counts in violation of various General Statutes. The defendant filed three motions to suppress the urinalysis tests, to suppress evidence of the field sobriety tests, and to request a Porter hearing to determine whether the urinalysis procedure used by Connecticut agencies was proper.
General Statutes § 15-140l makes it a crime to recklessly operate a vessel while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs. A person may be charged in the first degree if, while under the influence, they operate a vessel in such a way that it results in serious physical injury to others or damages property in excess of $2,000. “Operate” in this context means that “the vessel is underway or aground and not moored, anchored or docked.” Evidence that is used to establish the amount of alcohol or drug in the defendant’s blood or urine is admissible under General Statutes § 15-140r(a), as long as the test occurred within two hours from the operation of a vessel. In this case, the urinalysis tests were taken more than two hours after the accident. Therefore, the Superior Court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress this evidence.
Evidence derived from field sobriety tests is admissible so long as the State lays the foundation that the testing officer “is qualified to perform the tests, and that the tests were conducted in substantial accord with relevant procedures and standards.” That is to say, officers do not need to perform the tests perfectly, because ideal conditions are not always present. In this case, the officers testified as to the extent of their training, and the defendant had ample opportunity to cross-examine them. Because this was a matter of the weight of the evidence and not its admissibility, the Court denied the defendant’s motion in limine to suppress this evidence.
In State v. Porter, the State Supreme Court ruled that where a party objects to scientific evidence offered by the other party, the burden rests with the proponent to establish that the evidence is admissible. Generally, evidence will be admissible so long as it tends to support a relevant fact and is neither prejudicial nor cumulative. The Porter court held that scientific evidence should only be inadmissible if “the methodology underlying such evidence is sufficiently invalid to render the evidence incapable of helping the fact finder determine a fact in dispute.”
Connecticut recognizes three methods of testing for the presence of alcohol – blood, breath, and urine – and each of these methods is statutorily recognized as reliable for legal purposes. Thus, “[o]nce a scientific process or methodology has been approved after a Porter analysis, it can be admitted in subsequent cases without a second Porter-type analysis.” In this case, because urinalysis is statutorily approved, the defendant did not have a right to a Porter hearing. Therefore, his motion for this hearing to determine the admissibility of the chemical urinalysis was denied.
When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle or vessel 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.