Last February, a Superior Court of Connecticut dismissed a plaintiff’s appeal of an administrative decision to suspend his license, despite his assertion that the breath test readings were inaccurate.
This case arose from an incident that occurred on May 8, 2010. Police observed the plaintiff revving the engine of his car and then traveling at a high rate of speed down a public road. After police initiated a traffic stop, he admitted that he drank two beers at a bar. The officer observed the “strong distinct odor of an alcoholic beverage” and the plaintiff’s bloodshot, glassy eyes. The plaintiff failed three field sobriety tests and was then arrested. At the police station, he agreed to submit to breath tests, which returned blood alcohol content (BAC) readings of 0.206 and 0.135.
The police notified the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), who held an administrative hearing to determine whether to suspend the plaintiff’s license. An expert witness for the plaintiff testified that the BAC readings might be unreliable because the machine’s gas calibration readings were above the acceptable level of 0.105. Nonetheless, the hearing officer found that the police arrested the plaintiff while he was operating under the influence and that the Intoxilyzer machine was working properly at the time of the plaintiff’s tests. He ordered that the plaintiff’s license be suspended for ten months.
The plaintiff appealed this decision to the Superior Court, which ordered the DMV to hold another hearing regarding the reliability of the Intoxilyzer used on the night of the plaintiff’s arrest. After additional testimony, the hearing officer made the same findings, and credited the State toxicologist’s conclusion that the machine was properly working. The State toxicologist stated that these higher-end readings simply indicated that the gas canister needed to be replaced, but that this did not impact the subsequent BAC readings from the plaintiff’s tests. The hearing officer again suspended the plaintiff’s license for ten months, and the plaintiff appealed this decision, claiming he was not adequately tested.
When a court reviews the rulings of an administrative agency, it is guided by the Uniform Administrative Procedure Act (UAPA). The court must determine whether the agency issued an order that was unreasonable, arbitrary, illegal, or which constituted an abuse of discretion. Pursuant to the substantial evidence rule of UAPA, administrative findings are upheld so long as the record “affords a substantial basis of fact from which the fact in issue can be reasonably inferred.” It is the plaintiff’s burden to prove “that substantial rights possessed by him were prejudiced because the administrative decision was clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative and substantial evidence on the whole record.”
The Court’s Decision
In this case, the Superior Court rejected the plaintiff’s claim of inadequate testing. It found that under the substantial evidence rule, the hearing officer made an appropriate determination that the intoxilyzer readings were accurate. In addition, the plaintiff did not provide any evidence that his own BAC readings were affected by the higher-range calibration readings. Therefore, the appeal was dismissed.
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.