State v. Christian, (SC 17010)

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtKATZ, J.
Citation841 A.2d 1158,267 Conn. 710
PartiesSTATE OF CONNECTICUT v. BRUCE R. CHRISTIAN, JR.
Decision Date09 March 2004
Docket Number(SC 17010)

267 Conn. 710
841 A.2d 1158

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
BRUCE R. CHRISTIAN, JR

(SC 17010)

Supreme Court of Connecticut

Argued December 5, 2003

Officially released March 9, 2004


Sullivan, C. J., and Borden, Norcott, Katz and Vertefeuille, Js.

Oliver B. Dickins, with whom, on the brief, was Edward M. Henfey, for the appellant (defendant).

Leon F. Dalbec, Jr., senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were James E. Thomas, state's attorney, and John H. Malone, supervisory assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

Opinion

KATZ, J.

The defendant, Bruce R. Christian, Jr., appeals1 from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of manslaughter in the second degree with a motor vehicle in violation of General Statutes § 53a-56b (a),2 operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 1999) § 14-227a (a) (2) (A), as amended by No. 99-255, § 1, of the 1999 Public Acts,3 and reckless driving in violation of General Statutes § 14-222 (a).4 The defendant claims that the trial court improperly: (1) permitted the defendant's wife, Joan Christian, to testify, over the defendant's objection, regarding his confidential marital communications to her; (2) refused to admit the testimony of a certain witness to show that the defendant's wife had a motive for falsely testifying against the defendant; and (3) refused to admit emergency medical "run sheets," as either prior inconsistent statements, or under the business record exception to the hearsay rule, to impeach emergency personnel who testified for the state. Although we agree with the defendant's first two claims, we nevertheless conclude that the trial court's improprieties were harmless. We disagree with the defendant's third claim. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. On the evening of March 17, 2000, the defendant went to a bar in Southwick, Massachusetts with the victim, Victoria Ryan, and the victim's roommate, Alexander Imperatrice. They arrived at the bar sometime between 9 and 9:30 p.m., whereupon the defendant, the victim and Imperatrice all consumed alcohol. At around 11 p.m., they left the bar and, with Imperatrice driving, proceeded to the victim's residence in Enfield, arriving there at approximately 11:30 p.m. Thereafter, the defendant and the victim told Imperatrice that they were "going back out," and at around 11:45 p.m., the two entered the victim's car, a 1996 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, and drove off, with the victim driving.

Sometime after midnight, Debra Wilson was traveling on Suffield Street in Windsor Locks when she noticed that the car in front of her did not have its headlights illuminated. The headlights remained unlit for approximately one mile before becoming illuminated somewhere near the border between the towns of Windsor Locks and Suffield. As Wilson continued on Suffield Street into the town of Suffield, she noticed that the car in front of her had increased its speed and was "pulling away" from her, although she herself was traveling at a rate of ten or fifteen miles above the posted speed limit. Soon thereafter, Wilson lost sight of the other car's taillights.

As Wilson continued on Suffield Street in a northerly direction, the road curved sharply to the right and passed under a railroad overpass. As Wilson approached the overpass, she observed that the guard posts along the left side of the road had been knocked down. She stopped her vehicle, whereupon she observed the victim's car resting under the railroad overpass, in a creek at the bottom of a six and one-half foot embankment off the side of the road, with steam rising from the front of the car. Wilson drove to her house, which was close to the scene of the accident, and called 911. She then returned to the accident scene and, standing at the edge of the embankment, pointed a flashlight at the victim's car. She yelled out that she had just called 911, and a male voice responded, "Thank you." According to Wilson, the voice sounded like it came from the male individual she observed sitting in the driver's seat, behind the steering wheel. Wilson asked the man if he was alright, and he responded, "We're okay." Wilson then asked how many people were in the car, and the man told her that there were two. Finally, Wilson asked him if they both were alright, and the man responded, "Yes, we're both okay." The police arrived at the scene shortly thereafter.

Officer Shawn Nelson of the Suffield police department arrived at the scene at approximately 12:50 a.m. on March 18, 2000. He identified himself as a police officer and, upon receiving no response from the occupants of the victim's car, made his way down the embankment to the vehicle. Sergeant David Bourque of the Suffield police department arrived shortly thereafter and joined Nelson at the bottom of the embankment. Nelson and Bourque both observed that the car's driver's side door was open, and that the defendant was sitting in the creek, unconscious, with his back against the open driver's side door and his body slumped forward into the driver's seat area. Through the window of the closed passenger's side door, Bourque observed that the victim "was in the passenger seat with her buttocks fully in the seat." Nelson forced open the passenger's side door, which was jammed shut, and he and Bourque observed that the victim was seated in the passenger seat with her body slumped forward toward the vehicle's center console, which was completely destroyed. She was not wearing a seat belt. The victim did not make any movement, nor did she respond to Nelson's questions asking if she was alright.

Nelson and Bourque soon were joined by other emergency personnel, including several firefighters and Deidre Vorih, an emergency medical technician. Vorih observed that the defendant still was sitting in the creek, unconscious and leaning against the open driver's side door. She revived the defendant, who appeared confused. After ascertaining that the defendant was able to use his legs, Vorih instructed him to get out of the creek and wait in the driver's seat of the car while she tended to the victim.

Because the victim was not breathing and had no pulse, the emergency personnel had to remove her from the vehicle to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on her. The victim was a relatively large woman, approximately five feet eight inches tall and weighing approximately 200 pounds, and it took the concerted efforts of Nelson, Vorih and two or three firefighters to remove her from the car and carry her up the embankment. CPR was performed on the victim, who never regained consciousness. She was transported by ambulance to Hartford Hospital.

Vorih then tended to the defendant while they waited for a second ambulance to arrive to transport him to the hospital. She observed that the defendant was "much more lucid" than he had been earlier, and that he was able to answer her questions regarding his medical history. After the second ambulance arrived at the scene, Vorih and another emergency medical technician, Nicole Ruggiero, accompanied the defendant to Hartford Hospital. On the way to the hospital the ambulance stopped to pick up Tonya Ford, a paramedic, who also accompanied the defendant to the hospital. In the course of the ride to the hospital, the defendant told both Vorih and Ruggiero that, before the accident, he had been at a friend's house, and that he had been driving to a bar in Southwick, Massachusetts. He also told them that he had been in a previous car accident five weeks earlier, and was taking prescription pain medication for injuries sustained in that accident. With regard to the previous accident, Vorih asked the defendant, "Were you driving then too?" The defendant responded, "Yeah, I was driving then, too." In addition, the defendant repeatedly told Vorih, Ruggiero and Ford that he had been driving the victim's car at the time of the accident at issue in the present case, and that he had been wearing his seat belt.

When the ambulance arrived at Hartford Hospital, the defendant was examined by a trauma team headed by Orlando C. Kirton, a general surgeon, who determined that the defendant had sustained several injuries, including a broken left clavicle, or collarbone, with accompanying abrasions and bruising to the upper left side of his chest, a broken bone in his right hand, two broken toes in his right foot and a bruise on his right hip. The defendant's blood was drawn, revealing that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.20, twice the legal limit. See footnote 3 of this opinion. The defendant told Robert Beginsky, a junior resident physician and part of the trauma team on duty at Hartford Hospital when the defendant was admitted, that he did not remember the accident or whether he had been the driver or the passenger. Beginsky noted that the defendant initially had stated that he thought he had been the passenger.

The victim was pronounced dead at Hartford Hospital at 1:42 a.m. on March 18, 2000. The cause of death was "multiple blunt traumatic injuries," including "multiple rib and sternal fractures . . . ."5 The defendant subsequently was charged by substitute information with manslaughter in the second degree with a motor vehicle in violation of § 53a-56b (a), operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor in violation of § 14-227a (a) (2) (A), and reckless driving in violation of § 14-222 (a). See footnotes 2 through 4 of this opinion.

At trial, the defendant did not contest that he was intoxicated on the evening of March 17, 2000. Rather, the defendant argued that the victim had been driving her car at the time of the accident and that he had been in the passenger seat. The state presented the testimony of Vorih, Ruggerio and Ford, all of whom testified that the defendant repeatedly had...

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36 practice notes
  • Miller v. Barber, No. 455605 (CT 5/20/2005), No. 455605
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • May 20, 2005
    ...1997). Connecticut has not adopted this element. 5. See e.g., State v. Swinton, 268 Conn. 781, 847 A.2d 921 (2004); State v. Christian, 267 Conn. 710, 841 A.2d 1158 (2004); State v. Francis, 267 Conn. 162, 836 A.2d 1191 (2003); State v. Reynolds, 264 Conn. 1, 836 A.2d 224 (2003), cert. deni......
  • State v. Jose G., No. 24785.
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • July 31, 2007
    ...presented in the case, its admission does not constitute reversible error." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Christian, 267 Conn. 710, 742, 841 A.2d 1158 (2004). Here, the state argues that evidence that the defendant committed a sexual assault on the victim two weeks prior to t......
  • State v. Perkins, No. 17099.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • September 28, 2004
    ...it.23 The waiver rule supports fact-finding 856 A.2d 933 and the ultimate truth seeking function of a trial. Cf. State v. Christian, 267 Conn. 710, 727-28, 841 A.2d 1158 (2004) (testimonial privilege "must be applied ... cautiously and with circumspection because it impedes the truth-seekin......
  • State v. Bennett, SC 18862
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 14, 2017
    ...by statute on other grounds as stated in State v. Canady , 187 Conn. 281, 283–84, 445 A.2d 895 (1982) ; accord State v. Christian , 267 Conn. 710, 756, 841 A.2d 1158 (2004), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in State v. Davalloo , 320 Conn. 123, 140, 128 A.3d 492 (2016). Inso......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
36 cases
  • Miller v. Barber, No. 455605 (CT 5/20/2005), No. 455605
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • May 20, 2005
    ...1997). Connecticut has not adopted this element. 5. See e.g., State v. Swinton, 268 Conn. 781, 847 A.2d 921 (2004); State v. Christian, 267 Conn. 710, 841 A.2d 1158 (2004); State v. Francis, 267 Conn. 162, 836 A.2d 1191 (2003); State v. Reynolds, 264 Conn. 1, 836 A.2d 224 (2003), cert. deni......
  • State v. Jose G., No. 24785.
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • July 31, 2007
    ...presented in the case, its admission does not constitute reversible error." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Christian, 267 Conn. 710, 742, 841 A.2d 1158 (2004). Here, the state argues that evidence that the defendant committed a sexual assault on the victim two weeks prior to t......
  • State v. Perkins, No. 17099.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • September 28, 2004
    ...it.23 The waiver rule supports fact-finding 856 A.2d 933 and the ultimate truth seeking function of a trial. Cf. State v. Christian, 267 Conn. 710, 727-28, 841 A.2d 1158 (2004) (testimonial privilege "must be applied ... cautiously and with circumspection because it impedes the truth-seekin......
  • State v. Bennett, SC 18862
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 14, 2017
    ...by statute on other grounds as stated in State v. Canady , 187 Conn. 281, 283–84, 445 A.2d 895 (1982) ; accord State v. Christian , 267 Conn. 710, 756, 841 A.2d 1158 (2004), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in State v. Davalloo , 320 Conn. 123, 140, 128 A.3d 492 (2016). Inso......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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