STATE v. DANIEL MORELLI, SC 18047
Judicial District of Stamford/Norwalk at G.A. 20
Criminal; Sufficiency of the Evidence of Operating a Motor Vehicle While Under the Influence of Intoxicating Liquor or Drugs; Whether Defendant Failed Field Sobriety Test due to Concussion Rather than Being Under the Influence of Alcohol. The defendant was involved in a motor vehicle accident. While at the scene, police officers observed that the defendant was bleeding from the nose and mouth. They also detected an odor of alcohol and requested that he perform three field sobriety tests. The defendant, who was argumentative and verbally abusive to the officers, failed the tests and was taken to the police station and arrested. The defendant was then brought to the emergency room, where he was treated for head trauma and facial injuries. Following a court trial, the defendant was convicted of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs. On appeal, the defendant claimed that the trial court improperly found that he had not suffered a concussion as a result of the accident and that, as a result, it improperly concluded that he failed the field sobriety tests. The defendant further claimed that, without that linchpin factual conclusion that he had failed the field sobriety tests, there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction. The Appellate Court (103 Conn. App. 289) agreed with the defendant. It determined that the record was replete with evidence that it was reasonably probable that the defendant had suffered a concussion as a result of the accident. It further determined that it was clearly erroneous for the trial court to have found that the emergency room physician who treated the defendant did not opine with any degree of medical probability that the defendant had suffered a concussion. While the physician had no independent recollection of treating the defendant, the concussion diagnosis did not appear in the medical records, and the diagnosis was based, in part, on the defendant's self reporting, the Appellate Court noted that the physician had rendered an unequivocal expert opinion that the defendant had suffered a concussion and that his opinion was based on his treatment of thousands of patients per year in the emergency room, on his review of the medical records and on the nature of the defendant's injuries. The Appellate Court further noted that while the trial court was free to discredit his testimony, it did not do so. It, instead, improperly made a factual determination that was contrary to the expert's testimony. The Appellate Court then concluded that, given the evidence and the expert testimony that a concussion would affect the reliability of the field sobriety tests, no reasonable fact finder could discern beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant's failure of those tests was the result of his being under the influence of alcohol rather than a result of the concussion. The state appeals from the decision to the Supreme Court, which is presented with the issue of whether the Appellate Court properly reversed the defendant's conviction.