Defendant’s Double Jeopardy Protections Violated When Charged With and Convicted Under Both Subsections of State DUI Statute

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut reversed, in part, a defendant’s conviction of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) under both General Statutes §§ 14-227a(a)(1) and (2).

This case arose from an incident that occurred on April 6, 2005. The defendant was involved in a car accident that resulted in one fatality. He was charged and convicted of four counts: second degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, second degree manslaughter, OMVUI in violation of § 14-227a(a)(1), and OMVUI in violation of § 14-227a(a)(2). The defendant appealed his conviction, claiming a violation of his protection against double jeopardy.

Under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, criminal defendants cannot receive two punishments for two crimes, which he asserts to be a single crime, arising from the same transaction and prosecuted in a single trial. To be entitled to this protection, a criminal defendant must show that the charges arise from the same act or transaction and that the charged crimes are, in fact, the same offense. In reviewing a defendant’s double jeopardy claim, a court will use the Blockburger test to determine whether one criminal statute has an element of proof that the other does not. Blockburger v. U.S., 284 U.S. 299 (1932). However, the protection against double jeopardy is not absolute where the legislature intended cumulative punishment under two statutes, and this intent is articulated either on the face of the statute or through legislative history.

In this case, the Appellate Court did not agree that the defendant’s protections against double jeopardy were violated with respect to the manslaughter charges. The Court noted that each offense required proof of an element the other did not have, “namely, being under the influence of alcohol in count one and reckless conduct in count two.” The Court was not persuaded that driving under the influence is similar to reckless conduct, and noted that the legislature intended that defendants could be charged with and convicted of both of these crimes.

However, the Court agreed, and the State conceded, that the defendant’s constitutional rights were violated by the two OMVUI counts. Even though each had an element of proof the other did not – operation under the influence and an elevated blood alcohol content – it was not the legislature’s intent for a defendant to be charged with both in the same case. The two subsections of § 14-227a(a) are meant to be “alternative means of committing the same offense” and provide for “different methods of proof.” The legislature clearly indicated a defendant could not be punished under both subsections.

The Appellate Court concluded that the defendant’s double jeopardy protection was violated with respect to the OMVUI counts. Therefore, it reversed and remanded the case and instructed the trial court to combine these into a single OMVUI count and resentence the defendant accordingly. The judgment was otherwise affirmed.

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.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.