The Prosecutor’s Job in a DUI Case: Demonstrate the Defendant was Intoxicated, Not Educate the Jury About Field Sobriety Tests

In March, the Appellate Court of Connecticut reviewed a defendant’s insufficiency of the evidence claim as it related to his recent conviction of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at approximately 9pm on August 20, 2006. Police officers saw the defendant driving his moped on Route 12, a public roadway, in an erratic manner. After officers initiated a traffic stop, they made the following observations of the defendant: bloodshot glassy eyes, the smell of liquor, and disheveled clothing. When asked for his driver’s license, the defendant stated, “[y]ou don’t need a license to operate a moped… give me a break, I just got out on a DWI offense,” and indicated he should not have been driving. The defendant became uncooperative with the officers, was unable to complete one field sobriety test, and refused to undergo other field tests and a breathalyzer test. The defendant was charged and convicted of OMVUI and operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license in violation of General Statutes §§ 14-227a and 14-215(c), respectively. On appeal, the defendant argued that the evidence presented by the State was insufficient to sustain his conviction for OMVUI.

To be found guilty of OMVUI, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant “operated a motor vehicle, on a public highway and while the defendant was under the influence of an intoxicating liquor.” To establish the third element, there must be sufficient evidence demonstrating that the defendant “had become so affected in his mental, physical or nervous processes that he lacked to an appreciable degree the ability to function properly in relation to the operation of his vehicle.”

In this case, the defendant contested that the State failed its burden in proving the third element. However, the Appellate Court was persuaded that the State satisfied this element through officer testimony regarding the defendant’s appearance and behavior. The defendant argued that the State failed to establish what a person must do to pass field sobriety tests and how the tests measure a driver’s ability to operate their car. However, the Appellate Court wrote, “The state… did not bear the burden of educating the jury with regard to field sobriety tests, but of demonstrating that the defendant was intoxicated.” After addressing additional grounds for appeal, the Appellate Court affirmed judgment.

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.