People v Bici
Court Discusses Whether the Defendant was Prejudiced with the Admission of an Abstract into Evidence
The defendant was arrested of driving while intoxicated, aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the third degree, and unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. He was arrested after the police officer observed the criminal defendant weaving out of lanes and caused another driver to take evasive actions because of his driving. The defendant was pulled over by a police officer who discovered that the defendant had alcohol on his breath, slurred speech and bloodshot eyes. The defendant admitted to the police officer that he could drink and drive when the officer asked him if he was drinking. He was asked for his driver’s license and he provided the officer with a license from Connecticut. An investigation showed that the defendant had lost his driving privileges in New York a mere three days prior for driving while impaired DUI. The defendant was arrested and taken to testing facility. At the facility the defendant revealed that he would not submit to a chemical test. He was given the refusal warning and still refused to submit to the test. The defendant agreed to perform a series of coordination tests which were videotaped and both the arresting officer and the officer that administered the test were present. The tests concluded that the defendant was intoxicated. The defendant was requested that his arrest-scene statements, his refusal to submit to chemical testing, and a videotape of his physical coordination tests be suppressed as they were a product of an unlawful stop and arrest. The defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence was denied.
At the trial the defendant objected to his driving abstract being admitted into evidence. The abstract stated that the defendant was convicted prior for driving while impaired DWI. The People stated that the unchallenged abstract showed that the defendant was aware that his license was suspended three days prior. The judge directed the jury that the fact that he was convicted of driving while impaired does not mean that he had a propensity to drive while under the influence of alcohol and the prior conviction was only to be considered with respect to the defendant’s knowledge of his suspension. The jury convicted the defendant of all the three offenses. The defendant appealed the conviction on the basis that the suppression motions should have been granted, that the admission of evidence of the prior conviction was fatally prejudicial to the defense, and that the convictions were against the weight of the evidence.
The Appellate Division of the Supreme examined the evidence to ascertain if the defendant’s constitutional rights were violated. The court affirmed the conviction as there was probable cause for the stop and the arrest. The arresting officer’s testimony was credible as observed that the defendant was repeatedly swerving from lane to lane over a short distance and almost colliding into another motor car. According to People v Ellis, 169 AD2d 838, 839  it was held that where the defendant was driving in an erratic manner, it constituted a sufficient reason to justify an initial stop by an officer. Further, when the officer realized that the defendant had bloodshot eyes and alcohol emanating from his defendant’s breath established probable cause to believe it was more likely than not, that the defendant had committed a crime, that is, driving while impaired. The offense that the officer believed that was committed needs not to be the ultimate charge. Therefore, the motion was properly denied.
The Appellate Division concluded that his abstract was highly prejudicial and should have been inadmissible as it showed that the defendant had a tendency to drive while under the influence of alcohol. The court, however, declined to review the ground in the interest of justice as the defendant’s license was suspended three days prior to being arrested. The defendant failed to object to the instructions given to the jury which addressed the objection to the admission. The court concluded that conviction was not against the weight of the evidence. The testimony of the People’s witness appeared to be truthful and consistent to the material facts. The jury had the opportunity to view the videotape and saw that the defendant showed signs of intoxication. Additionally, the jury could infer that the defendant knew his license was suspended the mere fact that it took place three days before he was arrested.
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