State v. Gonsalves
A defendant need not be speeding to violate C.G.S. §53a-57(a), the misconduct with a motor vehicle statute. Snow and freezing rain were falling when Christopher Gonsalves drove his pickup truck from a restaurant with passengers Zachary Choquette, William Siter and Peter Chase. Gonsalves drove to an unplowed parking lot, did a donut and then headed south on Route 316 in Andover. Gonsalves crossed the double yellow line into northbound lane to pass a vehicle and lost control. The truck veered off the road, struck a rock and became airborne before rolling over and coming to rest. Choquette, ejected from the vehicle, died from his injuries. Chase, Siter and Gonsalves sustained nonfatal injuries. Following a jury trial, Gonsalves was convicted of misconduct with a motor vehicle and reckless driving. Gonsalves appealed claiming, first, that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction for misconduct with a motor vehicle. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The defendant claimed that the state failed to produce evidence that he exceeded the speed limit and, consequently, insufficient evidence established the mental state of criminal negligence required for the misconduct conviction. The Appellate Court disagreed pointing to its 2001 decision in State v. Carter ruling that a defendant need not be speeding to violate C.G.S. §53a-57. The record contained ample evidence that the defendant acted in a criminally negligent manner including his crossing a double yellow line on a narrow road while driving, by his own estimation, at a speed of at least 40 miles per hour. The defendant took this action despite the exceedingly poor driving conditions. Given the cumulative impact of the undisputed facts, a jury reasonably could have concluded that the defendant failed to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk of causing the death of another person and that this failure represented a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would have observed. Secondly, the trial court did not err in admitting evidence of the defendants driving prior to the accident. The court did not abuse its discretion in determining that testimony about the donut did not relate to an instance of prior uncharged misconduct and was relevant. The testimony indicated that the defendant was aware of the slippery road conditions. Such awareness was necessary to demonstrate recklessness.