In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s arguments on appeal that his arrest was the product of an illegal search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
This case arose from an incident that occurred on the night of February 2, 2006. The defendant was driving under the influence with two passengers when lost control of his car and struck two wooden guardrails. An eyewitness called police, but the defendant drove away before a state trooper arrived. The eyewitness explained that after the collision, he heard a female screaming and she appeared injured. He further noted that the driver, who appeared intoxicated, exited the car and ripped off the front bumper. The trooper searched the scene, noting “two damaged guardrail posts, empty beer bottles, a shoe and an automobile bumper.” The bumper’s license plate helped the trooper identify the vehicle’s owner as the defendant.
With back-up, the trooper proceeded to the defendant’s residence, where he saw a vehicle with fresh body damage and a missing front bumper. They approached the front door, knocked and announced their presence, but no one answered. Based on the eyewitness testimony, the car damage, and his experience and training, the trooper was concerned about the health and safety of the vehicle’s occupants. They entered the residence, noting a shoe on the floor matching the one at the scene, and found the defendant sleeping. The troopers could not wake him up, and because the defendant “would stop breathing for several seconds every few minutes,” they called for paramedics.
The paramedics arrived and successfully roused the defendant, who quickly became agitated and ordered everyone out of his home. The troopers attempted to “ascertain the condition of the female passenger,” but the defendant would not answer this question, or sign a summons for evasion of responsibility. Therefore, troopers attempted to initiate an arrest, but the defendant resisted and hurled saliva at the troopers twice, hitting one of them in the leg, before he was handcuffed.
The defendant was charged with evasion of responsibility in the operation of a motor vehicle, assault of public safety personnel, and interfering with an officer in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) §§ 14-224(b), 53a-167c, and 53a-167a, respectively. The defendant filed a motion to suppress “all evidence seized and all arrests made,” arguing they were all in violation of constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. This motion was denied because the court believed that officers entered his household properly under the emergency doctrine exception to the exclusionary rule. The defendant appealed following his conviction, claiming, in part, that the court abused its discretion in denying his motion to suppress evidence.
Generally, evidence obtained as a result of prior illegal police action will be excluded from evidence. To determine whether application of the exclusionary rule is proper, a court must determine “whether the challenged evidence is in some sense the product of illegal government activity.” If, however, the inclusion on the record of illegally obtained evidence was harmless – that it did not contribute to the defendant’s conviction in a meaningful way – a court will not grant a new trial for failure to grant a motion to suppress. In this case, there was ample evidence to convict for evading responsibility before the troopers entered the defendant’s home. Though the shoe observed inside the home may have “bolstered the state’s case to some extent,” the Appellate Court did not believe it was enough to contribute to conviction.
In a relatively recent decision, the Supreme Court of Connecticut adopted a new exception to the exclusionary rule: the new crime exception. This exception applies if subsequent crimes are “sufficiently attenuated from the alleged illegal entry by the police.” In this case, the Appellate Court was convinced such a gap in time existed from when officers first entered the defendant’s home and when the defendant became combative. Therefore, the Appellate Court declined to grant a new trial on the basis of the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence. After addressing and rejecting additional matters of appeal, the Appellate Court affirmed the judgment.
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.
Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.