Posts tagged with "§ 14-227a"

Lower Court Erred in Denying Defendant’s Motion to Vacate Enhanced Sentence Because the Persistent Offender Provision Was Inapplicable

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut agreed with a defendant that he was improperly sentenced as a repeat offender under General Statutes § 14-227a(g) and that the trial court erred in denying his motion to vacate.

Case Details

In this case, the defendant was arrested on three separate occasions over the span of approximately three weeks. He was charged with three counts of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of § 14-227a, and each case was docketed in a different jurisdiction: Waterbury, Meriden, and Bristol. The defense counsel and Waterbury prosecutor reached a plea agreement, under which the defendant would be sentenced as a first-time offender twice and a second-time offender once.

However, the Meriden prosecutor would not transfer his case unless the defendant first pled guilty. On December 15, 2008, the defendant entered a guilty plea in the Meriden case, which was then transferred to Waterbury for purposes of sentencing. The Bristol case was transferred as well.

The Court’s Decision

On December 22, 2008, counsel submitted a new plea agreement to the court. Under its terms, the defendant would be sentenced as a first-time offender once (in the Meriden case) and a second-time offender on the other two counts. The defendant entered guilty pleas on January 12, 2009. The defendant, with support from the State, filed a motion to vacate the pleas and sentences, arguing that the pleas were improperly and illegally entered.

The court denied this motion, and the defendant sought remedy with the Appellate Court, arguing that he should have been sentenced as a first-time offender for all three cases. He noted that “he cannot be subjected to the enhanced penalty… because his conviction in the Meriden case occurred after the conduct underlying the violations of § 14-227a in the Waterbury and Bristol cases.”

General Statutes § 14-227a(g) allows for enhanced penalties for repeat offenders in OMVUI cases. In State v. Burns, the Supreme Court of Connecticut determined that for this section to be applicable, a defendant “must [first] have been convicted under § 14-227a and later must have violated the statute.”

In this case, the defendant was not convicted of OMVUI in the Meriden case “at the time of the commission of the second and third violations in the Waterbury and Bristol cases.” Instead, the defendant was sentenced in all three matters on the same date. As such, the Appellate Court found that the persistent offender provision did not apply, and the trial court erred when it did not grant the defendant’s motion to vacate.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

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.

Plaintiff’s Lawsuit Against Commissioner of Department of Motor Vehicles Barred by State’s Sovereign Immunity; Plaintiff Failed to Prove Any Exceptions Applied

In a criminal law matter, the Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Fairfield at Bridgeport dismissed a plaintiff’s action against the defendant Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), because she was barred under sovereign immunity doctrine from bringing suit.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on or about July 11, 2006. The plaintiff was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a, and she refused to submit to an alcohol chemical test. She pled guilty to this charge, and in light of two previous OMVUI convictions, her license was suspended for a year and she would be required to install an interlocking ignition device (IID) in her vehicle.

The plaintiff received a revised suspension notice from the DMV stating her license would instead be suspended for three years because of her refusal to submit to the chemical test. In addition, the plaintiff would not be able to make use of the IID. See General Statutes § 14-227b(i)(3)(C).

The plaintiff filed motions with the court, asking it to enjoin the defendant from suspending her license beyond the initial one-year period. The plaintiff argued that the defendant exceeded his statutory authority and, as such, violated her constitutional rights. In its motion to dismiss, the defendant countered that the court did not have subject matter jurisdiction because of the state’s sovereign immunity. He pointed out that the plaintiff did not seek declaratory or injunctive relief “based on a substantial claim that the state or its officials have violated [her] constitutional rights or that the state or its officials have acted in excess of their statutory authority.”

Sovereign Immunity Doctrine 

Sovereign immunity doctrine holds that a State cannot be sued unless it authorizes or consents to suit. There are only three statutory exceptions to this rule: waiver, violation of a plaintiff’s constitutional right by a state official, and action in excess of a state official’s statutory authority which violates a plaintiff’s right. If the second exception is asserted, State action will survive strict scrutiny analysis only if it is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.

In this case, the Superior Court found “little dispute” that highway safety is a compelling state interest and that the increased suspension and IID refusal was “both reasonable and necessary to achieve the goal of protecting the public safety.” Therefore, the Court found that the plaintiff’s constitutional rights were not violated.

Regarding the third exception, the DMV Commissioner has very broad discretion “to oversee and control the operation of motor vehicles generally.” Public policy concerns underpinning our motor vehicle laws center on the protection of the lives and property of Connecticut’s citizens. The legislature has also recognized the heavy burden placed on those convicted of OMVUI “in a society dependent on automotive transportation.” The use of IIDs helps alleviate these burdens, but it is a privilege of limited application, which does not encompass suspensions based on refusing to submit to an alcohol chemical test.

In this case, the Superior Court found that the defendant “clearly” had statutory authority to impose the three-year suspension and refuse the plaintiff’s request to use an IID. Therefore, because the plaintiff failed to establish the applicability of either exception, the Superior Court held her action was barred by the State’s sovereign immunity.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

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.

Motion to Dismiss Denied Where Defendant Failed to Establish Due Process Violation from Pre-Arrest Delay

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut considered a defendant’s pre-trial motion to dismiss charges against her due to “unreasonable delay” in prosecutorial efforts.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on November 29, 2006, in New Haven, CT. The defendant was involved in an automobile collision with a city bus, resulting in her month-long hospitalization before she returned to her residence, which she occupied prior to and after the accident. A detective prepared an arrest warrant, which was signed on December 14, 2006, but made only one attempt to serve it on the defendant, which was unsuccessful. Approximately fifteen months of inaction passed before the defendant “turned herself in,” indicating she became award of the arrest warrant.

The defendant was charged with second-degree assault with a motor vehicle (Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 53a-60d), operating under the influence (CGS § 14-227a), and evading responsibility (CGS § 14-224(b)). She filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that warrant was not served within a reasonable time and beyond the statute of limitations. She further claimed that the pre-arrest delay violated her constitutionally protected due process rights. In support of her motion, the defendant did not present any evidence of “the impact, if any, the fifteen-month delay had on the defendant’s ability to present a defense.”

What Constitutes an Unreasonable Delay?

Under CGS § 54-193(b), our statute of limitations law, the State can prosecute an individual for a crime resulting in a sentence in excess of one year within five years after the date of the offense. However, “the warrant must still be executed without unreasonable delay to preserve the primary purpose of the statute of limitations.” Where a defendant asserts due process violations stemming from pre-arrest delays, he or she must prove “both that (1) actual substantial prejudice resulted from the delay and (2) that the reasons for the delay were wholly unjustifiable, as where the state seeks to gain a tactical advantage.”

There is no per se rule regarding whether the length of a delay is unreasonable. In State v. Crawford, a decision rendered by Connecticut’s Supreme Court, the arrest warrant was not executed for more than two years after it was issued, yet this did not warrant a dismissal of the charges.

Court’s Ruling

In this case, the Superior Court found that the fifteen-month delay was not per se unreasonable, in large part referencing the longer and unexplained, yet permissible delay in Crawford. Even if the delay due to a lack of due diligence was found unreasonable, “[t]he evidence presented to this court did not demonstrate that the defendant has suffered any disadvantage.” The defendant did not provide any evidence of prejudice beyond “mere allegations,” and there was “no evidence in the record to support a claim that the state sought to gain a tactical advantage over the defendant by virtue of the pre-arrest delay.” Therefore, the Superior Court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss.

When faced with a charge of evading responsibility, 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.

Liability Under Dram Shop Act Requires “Visible Intoxication”

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

The Appellate Court of Connecticut considered whether or not a trial court’s denial of a motion to set aside the verdict in a case involving the Dram Shop Act was an abuse of discretion, because a required element of the offense charged was not established by the plaintiff.

Case Background

In this case, a citizen and his friend were at a restaurant-bar where they were playing billiards. The citizen consumed five beers, two alcoholic shots, and a blackberry brandy within a four-hour period, but did not exhibit any physical signs of intoxication. Nonetheless, while drunk, he purchased an alcoholic beverage from the restaurant’s bartender. Subsequently, the citizen and his friend left the restaurant-bar and were involved in an accident, resulting in the friend’s death.

The estate of the friend (plaintiff) brought a wrongful death action against the owners of the restaurant (defendant), claiming liability under the Dram Shop Act, Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 30-102. A jury found in the plaintiff’s favor and awarded $4 million in damages, though the defendant sought reduction to the statutory $250,000, which the court granted. The defendant also filed a motion to set aside the verdict and a directed verdict, arguing, in part, that “no evidence was presented from which the jury reasonably could have concluded that [the citizen] was intoxicated” under CGS § 30-102. The motion was denied, and the defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the motion.

Proof of “Visible Intoxication” Required

CGS § 30-102 is the statutory mechanism through which a plaintiff may recover damages from one who sells alcohol to an intoxicated person, and such person subsequently causes an injury. For the plaintiff to prevail in such an action, he or she must prove that “there was (1) a sale of intoxicating liquor (2) to an intoxicated person (3) who, in consequence of such intoxication, causes injury to the person or property of another.” At issue on appeal in this case was whether or not the second element requires proof of “visible intoxication” or what amounts to per se intoxication.

The Appellate Court agreed that a showing of visible intoxication was required, and stated that for purposes of CGS § 30-102, “an individual must exhibit some type of physical symptomology in such a way that an observer could perceive that the individual was indeed under the influence of alcohol to some noticeable extent.” In addition, the plaintiff must present evidence that shows the subject in question was either visibly or perceivably intoxicated.

Appellate Court Ruling

In this case, the Appellate Court noted that while the evidence presented at trial may establish intoxication as it is used in our DUI law (CGS § 14-227a), it was insufficient to prove intoxication under CGS § 30-102. As the Court elaborated, the plaintiff did not present any evidence of visible intoxication – indeed, there was no evidence at all showing that the citizen “was exhibiting any visible or perceivable indications that he was intoxicated.” Therefore, the court abused its discretion in denying the motion to set aside the verdict, because based on the evidence presented, a jury could not have found the required element of “intoxicated person.” Therefore, the judgment was reversed and case remanded.

Should you have any questions, 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.

An Illustration: Eligibility for the Pretrial Alcohol Education Program

Connecticut provides individuals charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI), and a very limited number of other crimes, the opportunity to take part in a pretrial alcohol education program. The requirements of this program are set forth in Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 54-56g. Criminal defendants seek participation in hopes that should they successfully complete the program, they can have their charges dismissed. However, entry is not guaranteed: in the case where a defendant is charged with OMVUI, eligibility requires that “such person has not been convicted in any other state at any time of an offense the essential elements of which are substantially the same as” either the behavioral or per se violations of our OMVUI statute, CGS § 14-227a.

To illustrate, in a recent criminal law matter, a defendant was charged in Connecticut with OMVUI and sought participation in the pretrial alcohol education program. The essential elements of OMVUI under CGS § 14-227a(a)(1) are “(1) operation of a (2) motor vehicle (3) while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.” However, the defendant was previously convicted of violating New York Vehicle & Traffic Law § 1192.03, which prohibits “(1) operation of a (2) motor vehicle (3) while in an intoxicated condition.” As one can readily see, the required elements of these two crimes are substantially the same. Therefore, the defendant was denied eligibility because he was previously convicted of a New York offense that was substantially similar to the crime of OMVUI in Connecticut.

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.

Court Denies DUI Convict’s Request for Declaratory Judgment; License Suspensions Complied with Applicable Statutes

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut found in favor of the defendant Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) after the plaintiff unsuccessfully asserted his claims of equal protection and due process violations following his license suspensions.

In this case, the plaintiff was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a. Police notified the DMV of the arrest, who held an administrative license suspension hearing. The hearing officer found that the plaintiff refused to submit to a chemical alcohol test, among three other considerations, and pursuant to CGS § 14-227b(i), ordered that the plaintiff’s driver’s license be suspended for six months.

The plaintiff fully served this administrative suspension before pleading guilty to OMVUI. In connection with this criminal conviction, the DMV ordered that the plaintiff’s driver’s license be suspended for twelve months in accordance with CGS § 14-227a(g). Plaintiff’s counsel requested a “credit” of six months in light of the administrative suspension, but the DMV denied this request. DMV practice allows administrative and criminal suspensions to run concurrently for whatever period of overlap exists, as long as they arose from the same incident. However, it is not DMV policy to issue credits against new suspensions when prior ones have already been fully served.

The plaintiff sought declaratory judgment, arguing that the DMV’s actions were unconstitutional. He first alleged that the DMV policy violated equal protection because it “confers a benefit on those able to serve some or all of their suspensions concurrently, while denying that benefit to those who must serve them consecutively.” The plaintiff further contended that his procedural due process rights were violated because the DMV did not advise him of the practice, thus depriving him of being able to make an informed decision regarding when to plead guilty.

Equal protection directs that similarly situated people be treated alike. This clause is implicated when a statute “either on its face or in practice, treats persons standing in the same relation to it differently.” The threshold inquiry for a reviewing court is whether a petitioner is “similarly situated for purposes of the challenged government action.” However, the equal protection clause does not prohibit a government entity from treating those who are not similar in a dissimilar manner. In this case the Superior Court found that the plaintiff was similarly situated to drivers who have completed one suspension when the other is imposed, not drivers who were serving one suspension when subject to a second. Because the plaintiff failed to meet his burden proving dissimilar treatment, his equal protection claim failed.

To establish a due process violation, a plaintiff must prove “1) that he has been deprived of a property interest cognizable under the due process clause; and 2) that deprivation occurred without due process of law.” In this case, the Court readily agreed that deprivation of a driver’s license clearly satisfies the first prong, but the plaintiff’s claim failed with respect to the second element. The suspensions were imposed in accordance to guidelines set forth in CGS §§ 14-227a and 14-227b, and the plaintiff did not provide any support for “for the proposition that the [DMV] was obligated to give him notice of the [DMV’s] practice.” Therefore, the plaintiff’s due process claim also failed, and his request for declaratory judgment was denied.

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.

Court Finds Sufficient Evidence to Convict Where Inebriated Defendant Drove on Public Highways to Get to Private Road

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered whether the State provided insufficient evidence to support the defendant’s conviction for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 14-227a.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on February 1, 2005. The defendant spent the late afternoon and evening with friends at various restaurants in Brookfield and Danbury, where she consumed alcoholic beverages. The manager at the third restaurant asked the defendant to leave because “she was being loud and vulgar and was annoying other patrons.” Around 7:30pm, the defendant drove her car to a nearby dead-end street and parked it in the middle of the road, obstructing traffic in both directions.

A resident called police because the car was still there an hour and fifteen minutes later. When the officer arrived, he saw that the motor was running with the taillights illuminated and radio on. The defendant was sound asleep in the driver’s seat, but with significant effort, the officer was able to wake her up. The defendant had bloodshot eyes, smelled of alcohol, and was quite disoriented. She quickly became uncooperative and would not obey the officer’s orders. The officer was unable to administer the field sobriety tests because of the defendant’s “combative and aggressive behavior.” At the police station, the defendant refused to submit to the breathalyzer test.

The defendant was charged with OMVUI, among other crimes. At trial, defense counsel argued that the defendant was only seen operating her car on the dead-end street, which was not a public highway under § 14-227a. The State countered that she traveled on two public highways to get to the dead-end street, thus satisfying this element. The defendant was convicted on all counts and appealed, arguing, in part, that there was insufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that she committed OMVUI.

To convict a defendant of OMVUI, the State must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he operated a motor vehicle on a public highway while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. When a reviewing court adjudicates a sufficiency of the evidence claim, it construes the evidence so as to favor sustaining the verdict. It then determines whether, based on the facts and attendant inferences, a reasonable jury would have found that “the cumulative effect of the evidence established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” The jury is the “arbiter of credibility,” and it is not expected to leave common sense and knowledge “at the courtroom door.”

In this case, the Appellate Court found that a jury could reasonably conclude that the defendant was under the influence of the numerous alcoholic drinks she consumed before driving on various public highways to reach the dead-end street. The State met its burden of providing sufficient evidence satisfying the three elements of OMVUI, and after addressing an additional matter on appeal, the Appellate Court affirmed the judgment.

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.

High Court Considers Whether Second DUI Conviction in Ten Years Is a Felony

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut considered whether a second DUI conviction within a period of ten years was a felony, or simply fell within the motor vehicle violation exception to the term “offense.”

In this case, the plaintiff was convicted of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI), in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a, for the second time within ten years. Upon asking for a copy of his criminal record, the plaintiff saw that he was designated as a “convicted felon.” He petitioned the defendant, the Commissioner of Public Safety, to repeal regulations permitting the label, but the request was denied. The plaintiff promptly brought this action against the defendant.

The trial court concluded that even though a second OMVUI conviction “carries a term of incarceration consistent with the definition of a felony [greater than one year],” it is not a felony because pursuant to CGS § 53a-24(a), the motor vehicle violation exception applied. The defendant was permanently enjoined “from labeling any person as a convicted felon on the basis of a second conviction under § 14-227a within a ten-year period.” The defendant appealed, contending that the legislature intended that a second OMVUI conviction within ten years would be a felony and that the trial court misapplied the exception. Conversely, the plaintiff argued that the court’s conclusion was proper.

When a court embarks on an exercise of statutory interpretation, it must determine “whether the statute, when read in context, is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation.” If a statute’s language is ambiguous, the courts will consider legislative history, legislative policy, and the relationship of the statute in question to related legislation and common law principles. If, however, the statute was plain and unambiguous, “extratextual evidence of the meaning of the statute shall not be considered.”

In this case, the Supreme Court determined that the plain language of CGS § 14-227a shows the legislature intended that a violation constituted a criminal offense. It cites repeated use of “prosecution” and “criminal penalties” in the language, as well as the increasing penalties imposed. The Court noted that because two enumerated motor vehicle felonies may constitute “prior conviction[s] for the same offense as [OMVUI],” the legislature intended that OMVUI would be a comparable felony.

The plaintiff argued, however, that the breach in question fell under the motor vehicle violation exception of CGS § 53a-24(a), and therefore could not be a felony. “Motor vehicle violation” is not defined, though “violation” is defined as an offense punishable only by a fine. The Court determined that it is reasonable to apply this definition to “motor vehicle violation.” Because the legislature did not include such a definition in CGS § 14-227a, the Court stated that this “is evidence that the legislature did not intent for it to fall within the motor vehicle violation exception to the definition of offense.”

The court conceded, however, that “violation” and “motor vehicle violation” as used in CGS § 53a-24(a) could have multiple reasonable definitions. Did it just apply to breaches where a fine was the only punishment, or also those cases where a court could impose a term of incarceration? Because the answer was not clear, the Court reconsidered the meaning of § 14-227a in light of available extratextual evidence. The extensive legislative history of this statute supported the proposition that a second OMVUI conviction was a felony, a position bolstered by Connecticut case law, comparable statutes in forty-four other states, and ever-increasing penalties for breach. In addition, the Court noted that the legislature has long considered OMVUI a serious crime, and “[c]onstruing § 14-227a so that a breach is not a criminal offense… would frustrate the clear intent and public policy behind [the statute].” Thus, the Court found that a second OMVUI conviction within a ten-year term is a felony, and the judgment was reversed and remanded, instructing the trial court to enter judgment in favor of the defendant.

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.

Being Asleep at the Wheel of a Parked, but Running, Vehicle Constitutes “Operation” Under State DUI Law

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered whether a driver, who was asleep in the driver’s seat of his car while it was still running, operated a motor vehicle under Connecticut’s DUI law.

This case arose from an incident that occurred after midnight on December 24, 2005. Officers found the defendant asleep in the driver’s seat of his motor vehicle while the engine was still running. After waking the defendant and observing him as visibly intoxicated, the officers administered the standard field sobriety tests, all of which the defendant failed. The defendant was arrested, and at the police department, he submitted to two chemical alcohol tests, which revealed the defendant’s blood alcohol content as more than twice the legal limit.

The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 14-227a. He filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that he was not operating his car. Rather, “he merely was asleep in his motor vehicle on a cold night with the motor running only to provide heat and power to run the radio.” However, the court denied the motion, and the defendant entered into a conditional plea of nolo contendere. Such a conditional plea reserves a defendant’s right to appeal. After sentencing, the defendant appealed, arguing that the court’s denial of his motion to dismiss was improper.

Under Connecticut case law, “operation” of a motor vehicle does not require that the vehicle actually be driven. Rather, “the insertion of a key into the ignition is an act… which alone or in sequence will set into motion the motive power of the vehicle.” Thus, simply putting the key into the ignition “constitute[s] operation of a motor vehicle within the meaning of § 14-227a(a).” This proposition has been upheld, for example, even when the operator is unconscious in the driver’s seat while the engine is running. In this case, the Appellate Court found that the defendant operated his car because he was in the driver’s seat of his vehicle with the engine turned on; it did not matter, for purposes of “operation,” that he was asleep at the time. Therefore, the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss, and the Appellate Court affirmed judgment.

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.

DUI Defendant Contests Traffic Stop, Claiming Lack of Reasonable and Articulable Suspicion

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut considered a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence arguing that the arresting officer did not have grounds to initiate a traffic stop based solely on a cluster of air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror.

This case arose from an incident that occurred just after midnight on January 24, 2007. A police officer noticed “a large cluster of air freshener ornaments hanging from the rearview mirror” of the defendant’s car, a potential violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-99f(c), a State traffic law. At this time, the defendant was not showing any sign of erratic driving. The officer initiated a traffic stop and immediately noticed “a very strong odor of alcohol” as well as the defendant’s bloodshot, glassy eyes. The defendant failed three sobriety tests and was arrested; a subsequent search of the vehicle revealed an open bottle of Yukon Jack liquor that was partially empty.

The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of CGS § 14-227a. He filed a motion to suppress evidence, claiming that the officer did not have a reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop his vehicle. The defendant argued that the officer had to believe that the air fresheners actually obstructed his vision through the windshield, but the State stated that “anything hung from the rearview mirror necessarily obstructs and/or distracts.” The defendant countered that regardless of what someone hangs, it would be a per se violation allowing officers to pull people over on a whim, thus negating Fourth Amendment protections.

Officers may perform investigatory stops if they have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. In Connecticut, officers have authority to stop a motor vehicle for a mere traffic infraction, such as under CGS § 14-99f(c). Pursuant to this statute, “No article, device, sticker or ornament shall be attached or affixed to or hung on or in any motor vehicle in such a manner or location as to interfere with the operator’s unobstructed view of the highway or to distract the attention of the operator.” Citing a Virginia appellate decision, the Superior Court acknowledged that many motorists drive with objects hanging from their rearview mirrors: “The variety and the frequency with which objects are suspended from rearview mirrors may be a reflection of the egocentricity of the driver and of the public’s general ignorance of the statutory prohibition, but that does not excuse the conduct.” (Emphasis added)

In this case, the Superior Court noted that CGS § 14-99f(c) requires the driver’s view remain unobstructed, not that the view actually be obstructed. Therefore, in Connecticut, if a hung object either “1) interfere[s] with the unobstructed view of the operator, or 2) distract[s] the operator,” he or she will have violated the statute. Because the officer in this case could reasonably conclude that the cluster of air fresheners obstructed the defendant’s “peripheral vision in the right-hand direction,” he had a reasonable and articulable suspicion to initiate a brief traffic stop to confirm or dispel his suspicion of a traffic violation. After quickly addressing and rejecting additional claims, the Court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress.

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.