Posts tagged with "administrative hearing"

“Mommy Just Got Into a Little Accident,” Along With Other Evidence, Was Sufficient to Find That DUI Driver Operated her Car

In a criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut dismissed the plaintiff’s license suspension appeal, stating that the hearing officer had sufficient evidence to find that the plaintiff “operated” her motor vehicle.

Case Details

This case arose from an incident that occurred on December 12, 2010. Police responded to a complaint from a woman (neighbor), who stated that the plaintiff’s vehicle backed out of her driveway across the street and struck her car. Officers proceeded up the driveway in question and saw the plaintiff, who was accompanied by her four-year-old son, “fumbling with her keys and struggling to keep her balance as she attempted to open her garage.” The plaintiff was visibly intoxicated, and when the officer asked the son what happened, he responded, “Mommy just got into a little accident.”

Officers believed the plaintiff was so inebriated that administering the field sobriety tests would be unsafe. They arrested the plaintiff and transported her to police headquarters, where two breath tests revealed blood alcohol contents of 0.2181 and 0.2097, two-and-a-half times the legal limit. A subsequent inspection of the plaintiff’s vehicle revealed damage consistent with that from the neighbor’s car.

DUI Charges

The plaintiff was charged with driving under the influence in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) sent her a notice of suspension, and she requested an administrative hearing. The hearing officer made four statutory findings pursuant to CGS § 14-227b(g), and given the plaintiff’s history of suspensions, ordered that her license be suspended for two years and six months. The plaintiff appealed, stating that the hearing officer’s conclusion on the fourth criteria of CGS § 14-227b(g), “operation,” was without factual support. She contested the neighbor’s identification of her as the driver and use of her son’s hearsay statement, as well as the fact that police did not see her driving.

When a plaintiff contests the decision of a DMV hearing officer, they have the burden of proving that the decision was arbitrary and an abuse of discretion. A decision that is reasonably supported by the evidence will be sustained by a reviewing court. In addition, hearing officers have broad discretion in accepting or discrediting witness testimony, and are not bound to the strict rules of evidence regarding hearsay. Therefore, hearing officers have the authority to rely on hearsay of operation so long as the testimony is relevant and material to that finding.

The Court’s Decision

In this case, the Superior Court found that the hearing officer had ample evidence that the plaintiff operated her car. The officers personally saw the plaintiff in possession of her keys outside the garage in which her car was located. Given the coinciding damage between both cars, along with the neighbor’s and son’s statements, which the hearing officer was free to accept, there was sufficient evidence to find that the plaintiff operated her motor vehicle. Therefore, the hearing officer did not abuse his discretion, and after addressing the plaintiff’s additional claims, the Superior Court dismissed her appeal.

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.

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

In a 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.

Case Details

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.

The Court’s Decision

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.

Appellate Court Upholds License Suspension, Citing Circumstantial Evidence That Plaintiff Operated the Motor Vehicle in Question

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a plaintiff’s argument that the commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) had insufficient evidence to suspend his driver’s license.

Case Details

This case arose from an incident that occurred at 2:31am on May 19, 2007. Police dispatch received emergency phone calls from two citizen informants (informants) regarding an erratic driver. They described the driver as male, provided a description of his vehicle, and indicated they were both following him in their own cars. The informants conveyed to dispatch that the driver was constantly switching lanes, traveling slowly then accelerating rapidly, and swerving, and that he pulled into a Home Depot parking lot.

When officers arrived at this location, they saw the plaintiff sitting alone in his vehicle, which matched the description given by the informants. His car was turned off and the ignition key was in his pocket. Additionally, no one else was in the vicinity, including the informants. When officers engaged in a conversation with the plaintiff, they observed slurred speech, glassy eyes, and the smell of alcohol.

In addition, after the plaintiff exited the vehicle he was unsteady on his feet. The plaintiff failed three field sobriety tests and was arrested for and charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI). Approximately a half hour later at the police station, the plaintiff spoke to an attorney and then refused to submit to a breathalyzer test.

Driver’s License Suspension

Because the plaintiff refused to submit to a chemical alcohol test, the DMV suspended his license for one year. The plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, during which the hearing officer found: 1) that police had probable cause to arrest the plaintiff for OMVUI; 2) the plaintiff was arrested; 3) the plaintiff refused to submit to the breathalyzer test; and 4) the plaintiff operated a motor vehicle. The one-year suspension was upheld, and the plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court, who dismissed the appeal. The plaintiff sought recourse with the Appellate Court, where he argued that the record lacked sufficient evidence to support a finding that he operated the motor vehicle at issue.

What qualifies as an OMVUI?

To be found guilty of OMVUI, the State must prove that the defendant operated a motor vehicle on a public highway while under the influence or with an elevated blood alcohol content. Direct evidence is not required to establish “operation;” oftentimes, circumstantial evidence “may be more certain, satisfying and persuasive.” Pursuant to the substantial evidence rule, the findings of an administrative agency are upheld “if the record affords a substantial basis of fact from which the fact in issue can be reasonably inferred.” This is a highly deferential standard, and the plaintiff must prove that the DMV commissioner abused his discretion in suspending the plaintiff’s license.

The Court’s Decision

The Appellate Court was not persuaded that there was insufficient evidence proving the plaintiff was the driver of the vehicle. It cited police observations that the defendant was alone in the vehicle and at the location precisely identified by the informants, whose absence was immaterial. In addition, because the commissioner determined “operation” on the basis of the informant’s observations and subsequent identification of the plaintiff as the operator of the erratically driven vehicle, it was not relevant that the plaintiff’s car was not running when officers arrived. Therefore, the Appellate Court concluded there was substantial evidence of the commissioner’s finding that the plaintiff operated the motor vehicle in question and affirmed judgment.

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.

In Light of Unreliable Chemical Test Results, Appeals Court Adjudicates DUI License Suspension Matter

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered whether a hearing officer properly found that a plaintiff operated her motor vehicle with an elevated blood alcohol content (BAC), despite questions of chemical test reliability.

Case Details

This case arose from an incident that occurred on the afternoon of August 31, 2007. The plaintiff was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a. After failing multiple field sobriety tests, the plaintiff was transported to a police station and submitted two chemical alcohol tests. The results of these tests, taken over thirty minutes apart, both resulted in BAC readings of 0.30. In addition, the calibration tests yielded identical readings of 0.096.

The Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) subsequently suspended the plaintiff’s license for two years and six months, a heightened penalty because her license was previously suspended twice. The plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, and after making various statutory findings, the hearing officer suspended the license for two and a half years. The plaintiff filed a petition for reconsideration based on “newly discovered evidence” that cast doubt as to the validity of the test results: a toxicologist with the Department of Public Safety (DPS) was concerned about the identical calibration readings and BAC results.

Reliability of Toxicology Tests

The petition was granted, and a second administrative hearing was held. The plaintiff submitted a letter from the DPS toxicologist, in which he wrote that the identical readings were unusual and “raise[d] my question as to what on Earth is going on here.” As such, he could not characterize the results as reliable. Regardless, the hearing officer made the requisite statutory findings and ordered that the plaintiff’s license be suspended for two years. The plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court, arguing that “the hearing officer cannot make a determination as to [BAC] independent of the test results.” The Court agreed and sustained the appeal, and the DMV Commissioner appealed.

The DMV Commissioner first argued that despite the toxicologist’s testimony regarding the unreliability of the chemical tests, the hearing officer’s finding that the plaintiff operated a motor vehicle with an elevated BAC was proper. He cited the “statutory rebuttable presumption” that the results of a chemical test are “sufficient to indicate the ratio of alcohol in the blood of such person… at the time of operation.” In the alternative, the DMV Commissioner argued that a hearing officer may find a BAC above the legal limit of 0.08, independent of the chemical alcohol tests, solely on the basis of extrinsic evidence presented at the hearing.

Under General Statutes § 14-227b(i)(3), the DMV will suspend an operator’s license for a period of two and a half years if he or she has two or more previous suspensions. However, in this case, the hearing officer deviated from the statute and instead imposed a two-year suspension. To the Appellate Court, this indicated that the officer concurred with the toxicologist that the test results were not reliable. As such, the DMV Commissioner’s first argument failed.

The Court’s Decision

The Appellate Court acknowledged that hearing officers may rely on the rebuttable presumption despite conflicting expert testimony. To determine whether or not a driver had an elevated BAC under the third criterion of General Statutes § 14-227b(g), a hearing officer may consider the record as a whole, not just the test results. However, the Appellate Court found, given their conclusion that the hearing officer “did not find the test results to be accurate,” that additional evidence submitted at the hearing did not provide a foundation of reliability for the test results. Therefore, the Appellate Court found that the Superior Court properly upheld the appeal, and as such 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.

Administrative Decision to Suspend Plaintiff’s License After DUI Arrest Upheld

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.

Case Background

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 Appeal

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.

DMV License Suspension Hearings Are Limited in Scope, State Appellate Court Rejects Plaintiff’s Evidentiary Claim

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered whether lack of recertification by an officer administering chemical analysis tests following a DUI arrest renders, as invalid, a hearing officer’s conclusions based on the results of these tests.

Case Details

This case arose from an incident that occurred on November 1, 2008. The plaintiff was arrested and charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) held an administrative hearing, where two chemical analysis tests, which revealed a blood alcohol content more than twice the statutory limit, were admitted along with other evidence. After considering four statutory criteria, the DMV commissioner ordered that plaintiff’s driver’s license be suspended for a period of ten months, as well as a lifetime disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle.

The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the test results were inadmissible because the police officer who administered the tests “had failed to undergo a review of his proficiency in the operation of the breath test device within twelve months since his last review,” which took place in August, 2006. The court was not persuaded and dismissed the plaintiff’s appeal, and the plaintiff appealed once more.

Suspending a Driver’s License

When a DMV hearing officer considers a request to suspend a driver’s license, he or she is limited to four statutory criteria set forth in General Statute § 14-227b(g). The officer will consider whether the driver in question operated the motor vehicle and either refused or consented to a test or analysis within two hours of the operation, and if the results indicated an elevated blood alcohol content.

In addition, the officer must establish whether probable cause to arrest for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence existed, and if the driver was arrested. No other evidence will be considered for purposes of this administrative hearing. In a prior case, the State Supreme Court found that “lack of recertification as required by the regulations does not prevent the commissioner’s consideration of and reliance on the officer’s report.” Since this was the grounds for appeal by the plaintiff, the Appellate Court affirmed judgment.

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.