State Supreme Court Addresses Whether DMV License Suspensions Constitute “Convictions” That Bar Subsequent OMVUI Prosecutions

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut upheld a lower court’s ruling that an administrative license suspension does not constitute a “conviction” under our statutes for purposes of double jeopardy protections.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on January 13, 2006. Police officers pulled over the defendant under suspicion that he was driving under the influence, and arrested him after he failed several field sobriety tests. The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a. The Department of Motor Vehicles held an administrative hearing and the hearing officer ordered that the defendant’s driver’s license be suspended for ten months.

The defendant moved to dismiss all charges against him. He argued that “he already had been ‘convicted’ of the same offense in the administrative proceedings,” so to prosecute him for OMVUI would amount to double jeopardy in violation of state and federal constitutional protections. The trial court denied his motion, stating that an administrative license suspension under CGS § 14-227b was not a punishment, thus the defendant’s rights against double jeopardy were not violated by subsequent prosecution for OMVUI. The defendant entered a conditional plea of nolo contendere before promptly appealing his conviction.

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, “No person shall… be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” Double jeopardy, as it is commonly referred to, encompasses several protections, including against “a second prosecution for the same offense after conviction.” Connecticut does not have an explicit comparable statute, though double jeopardy protections are implicit through our due process statutes. Our courts have determined that civil or administrative sanctions that serve “a legitimate remedial purpose” and are “rationally related to that purpose” do not constitute double jeopardy violations, even if the sanction has an attendant deterrent or retributive effect. In essence, “prosecutions or convictions for double jeopardy purposes arise only from proceedings that are essentially criminal.”

In this case, the Supreme Court reviewed cases under which administrative hearings were found “sufficiently remedial” so as to not bar subsequent prosecution. In looking into the legislative history of CGS § 14-227b, the Court noted that the “principle purpose [of the statute] was to protect the public by removing potentially dangerous drivers from the state’s roadways.” License suspension hearings subsequent to OMVUI arrests facilitate that purpose. In addition, the language of CGS §§ 14-227b and 14-1 (21), which defines “conviction,” do not reveal an intent that “an administrative suspension forecloses future criminal proceedings against the defendant for the same offense.” The Supreme Court was thus not persuaded by the defendant’s argument that the suspension was a criminal “conviction” that would bar an OMVUI prosecution, and the judgment was affirmed.

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.