In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered whether there was insufficient evidence to convict the defendant of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(1), because officers did not testify that the defendant was operating his vehicle in an erratic manner.
This case arose from an incident that occurred at 1am on May 8, 2005. A Brookfield police officer observed the defendant’s vehicle moving back and forth within his travel lane and cross the center solid yellow lines. He initiated a traffic stop, and noticed the defendant had red and glossy eyes, slurred speech, and smelled of alcohol. The defendant stated that he drank two or three alcoholic beverages only thirty minutes earlier. A back-up officer arrived, and field sobriety tests were administered. The defendant failed the two tests given, and the officers decided to arrest him. At this point, the defendant resisted arrest, but was ultimately handcuffed and secured.
The defendant was tried and convicted of OMVUI (and sentenced as a repeat offender) as well as interfering with an officer in violation of § 53a-167a. He appealed his judgment, arguing in part that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of OMVUI because officers could not testify that he was operating his car erratically before they pulled him over. Put differently, the defendant argued that the State must prove that he actually had difficulty driving the car because of the alcohol he consumed.
To convict a defendant of OMVUI, the State must prove three elements beyond a reasonable doubt: operation of a motor vehicle on a public highway (or other designated area) while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. “Operation” within the meaning § 14-227a does not require that the defendant is actually driving the car; the court will determine if the defendant’s conduct facilitated use of the “motive power of the vehicle.”
In this case, the Appellate Court stated that the defendant had “misplaced” emphasis on evidentiary insufficiency of erratic driving. Operation, not driving, is a required element of OMVUI, and the jury had sufficient evidence to establish that the defendant (and no one else) operated his car on a public road while under the influence of alcohol. In addition, the Court rejected a corollary of the defendant’s argument that the observations made by police regarding his post-stop conduct and appearance were irrelevant. Criminal jurisprudence allows the admission of evidence after a crime has been committed to prove guilt so long as it is probative and not remotely acquired. The Court credited the police officer’s description of the defendant’s appearance and demeanor as probative, and thus rejected the defendant’s claims that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of OMVUI.
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.