Plaintiff Operated Motor Vehicle Within Meaning of Suspension Statute; Case Reversed and Remanded to Dismiss His Appeal

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed and remanded a case where the lower courts improperly ruled that the plaintiff did not operate his motor vehicle within the meaning of the State license suspension statute.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at 3:20am on May 30, 2004. A police officer observed the plaintiff’s car parked on the shoulder of Interstate 95. The vehicle’s left turn signal was flashing and the windshield wipers were moving, even though there was no rain. In addition, the officer heard the heater blower motor running, and observed that the car key was in the ignition and turned to “On.” The plaintiff was asleep in the driver’s seat and was the vehicle’s sole occupant. With some effort, the officer woke up the plaintiff and observed that he was intoxicated. After performing poorly on the field sobriety tests, the plaintiff was arrested and charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a.

Pursuant to CGS § 14-227b, the officer sent a report to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), who notified the plaintiff that his license was being suspended for ninety days as a result of the OMVUI charge. The plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, after which the hearing officer suspended the plaintiff’s license for ninety days. The plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court, which upheld the appeal because “there was not substantial evidence of operation.” The Appellate Court affirmed judgment, and the DMV Commissioner appealed to the Supreme Court.

At the time this appeal was filed, but prior to oral argument, the Supreme Court of Connecticut rendered its decision in State v. Haight, 279 Conn. 546 (2006). This case had an identical factual scenario, and the high court ruled that “[m]ere insertion of the key into the ignition is an act… which alone or in sequence will set into motion the motive power of the vehicle… and, therefore, itself constitutes operation of the vehicle.” In addition, that the defendant in that case was asleep behind the steering wheel was not dispositive.

Because the facts of this case were indistinguishable from those in Haight, the Supreme Court determined that the Appellate Court erred in holding that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that the plaintiff was operating his car. Though this case involved a sister statute to the one from Haight, “the word ‘operating’ as used in § 14-227b has the same meaning that it does in § 14-227a.” Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded this case “with direction to dismiss the plaintiff’s appeal.”

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or license suspension, 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.