Trial Court Rejects “Hydrocarbon Intoxication” Defense, DUI Conviction Upheld on Appeal

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered a defendant’s claim that the trial court had insufficient evidence to convict him of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of an intoxicating liquor or drug.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at approximately 4:00pm on June 15, 2006. A retired police officer was driving on his motorcycle, and while waiting at a traffic light, he was struck from behind by the defendant’s van. He approached the vehicle to inquire what happened, and saw that the defendant had squinty eyes and was slow or non-responsive with his answers. The defendant claimed that a five-gallon can of kerosene spilled in the van the night before, and that he was overcome by the kerosene fumes at the time of the accident.

A state trooper arrived at the scene soon after, and he made the following observations of the defendant: blank stare, slurred speech, disorientation, very slight odor of alcohol, a wet groin area, wobbly and lethargic walking, and extremely constricted pupils. In addition, the defendant admitted that he smoked marijuana, drank beer, and ingested Vicodin that morning. The officer conducted three field sobriety tests, all of which the defendant failed, and the officer did not detect a kerosene odor inside the van. Indeed, an Intoxilyzer test conducted at police barracks, which revealed the defendant’s blood alcohol content as below the legal limit, failed to alert the officers of the presence of hydrocarbon interferants. Based on this evidence, the defendant was charged, and later convicted, of OMVUI, and he appealed on the basis of insufficient evidence.

When a court reviews a sufficiency of the evidence claim, it must first construe the evidence “in the light most favorable to sustaining the verdict.” Afterward, the court must establish whether the cumulative force of direct and/or circumstantial facts can lead a jury to reasonably conclude the presence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Driving under the influence occurs where “a driver 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 Appellate Court concluded that there was sufficient evidence on the record to support the defendant’s conviction. It noted the aforementioned evidence regarding the defendant’s behavior and appearance after the accident, and a toxicology expert testified that the absence of opiates from the Vicodin could be explained by the defendant’s urination in his van. The trial court found it “unlikely that there was such hydrocarbon intoxication,” instead crediting testimony regarding the absence of the smell of kerosene in the defendant’s van and absence of hydrocarbon interferants by the Intoxilyzer test. Therefore, there was ample evidence to support the finding that the defendant ingested alcohol and drugs, then operated his motor vehicle under the influence. The judgment was affirmed.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

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.