Posts tagged with "breathalyzer test"

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.

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

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a recent 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.

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.

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.

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 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.

In Case Involving Lifetime Suspension of DUI Suspect’s Commercial Driver’s License, Hearing Officer Properly Applied Statutory Dictates

This past April, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed judgment dismissing a plaintiff’s appeal from the decision of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to suspend his commercial driver’s license (commercial license) for life.

In this case, the plaintiff’s license was previously suspended in 2005 for six months pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227b after he refused to submit to a breathalyzer test. He thereafter obtained a commercial license in 2009. On March 28, 2010, the plaintiff was involved in an automobile accident. He failed several field sobriety tests, and two breathalyzer tests yielded results of 0.182 and 0.176, more than twice the legal limit. Therefore, the plaintiff was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of CGS § 14-227a. The DMV held a suspension hearing, where over objection of plaintiff’s counsel the court admitted a case/incident report prepared by the arresting police officer as well as an A-44 form, which is used in reporting OMVUI-related arrests. After making four statutory findings, the hearing officer suspended the plaintiff’s license for ten months and imposed a lifetime suspension on his commercial license.

The plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court, who dismissed the appeal. The plaintiff sought remedy with the Appellate Court, stating that the hearing officer erroneously admitted the A-44 form into evidence. He argued that the A-44 form did not disclose the implications of refusing or taking a chemical alcohol test as it related to his commercial license. In addition, the plaintiff contended that under CGS § 14-44k(h), the lifetime suspension of his commercial license was improper because “this statutory requirement does not apply… because he had not obtained a commercial driver’s license at the time of his first license suspension.”

Under CGS § 14-227b(g), a hearing officer must make findings of fact related to the following four inquiries: 1) whether the police officer had probable cause to arrest a person for OMVUI; 2) whether the person was arrested; 3) whether the person refused or consented to take a chemical alcohol test (with additional inquiries if consent existed); and 4) whether the person operated a motor vehicle. The Supreme Court of Connecticut has held that these are the only dispositive questions at a suspension hearing. In light of legislative intent, “[W]hether an operator was warned of the consequences of refusing to submit to chemical tests is not made one of the issues to be adjudicated.” In this case, it was immaterial that the plaintiff did not receive warnings regarding what would happen if he refused or consented to the breathalyzer test as it related to his commercial license. As such, the Appellate Court found that the plaintiff did not suffer prejudice by the A-44 form’s entry into evidence.

CGS § 14-44k(h) dictates the circumstances under which a person’s commercial license may be suspended. In reviewing the language of the statute, the Appellate Court noted the distinct lack of “language limiting application [of the statute] to suspensions ordered after [a] person has obtained a commercial driver’s license.” Therefore, if a person is twice charged with OMVUI, his commercial license may be suspended for life, though reinstatement is possible. The purpose of this statute is to further promote the legislature’s goal of protecting the public on our highways from “potentially dangerous drivers,” such as OMVUI offenders. In this case, the Appellate Court found that adopting the plaintiff’s interpretation of § 14-44k(h) would frustrate this purpose, and statute “means what is says” and was unambiguous. Therefore, 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.

Jury Properly Instructed by Trial Court Regarding Inferences From Breath Test Refusal

In a recent criminal law matter, the defendant was the subject of a traffic stop at 12:40am on April 29, 2005. University police believed that he was driving under the influence based on his erratic driving, a suspicion confirmed by the defendant’s slurred speech, red glassy eyes, the smell of alcohol in his car, and failed field sobriety tests. The defendant was arrested and transported to university police headquarters. After being advised of his rights and the implied consent to take a breath test, the defendant stated he would not consent until he contacted an attorney. “The defendant repeatedly stated that he would not do anything without an attorney,” so police recorded the refusal. However, the defendant later requested to take the breathalyzer test, but officers would not administer it. They stated it was too late; however, if the officers administered the test at the time of this request, it would have occurred within the two-hour statutory window.

The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a. Following the close of evidence at trial, the court proposed the following jury instruction: based on the evidence, if the jury concluded that the defendant refused to take the breathalyzer test, it could draw reasonable inferences stemming from that fact. The defendant requested that the jury instruction include “consciousness of innocence” language about the officers’ refusal to conduct the test after the defendant requested it, and to draw any reasonable inference from that fact as well. The court denied the request and the defendant was found guilty of OMVUI. He appealed the conviction, stating, in part, that the jury instruction improperly focused on his refusal without enough emphasis on his later request to submit. Therefore, he claimed the court “improperly deprived him of a theory of defense” and the jury instruction was “imbalanced in favor of the state.”

The Supreme Court of Connecticut has stated that for a defendant to be entitled to a theory of defense instruction, he or she must assert a recognized legal theory. Likewise, our appellate court has “repeatedly refused to apply the consciousness of innocence principle to jury instructions regarding consciousness of guilt,” and as such is not a recognized legal theory. In this case, the Appellate Court of Connecticut found that because the proposed language from the defendant encompassed this very scenario, he was not entitled to a theory of defense instruction.

When a court considers a challenge to a jury instruction that does not give rise to constitutional implications, the charge is “considered in its entirety, read as a whole, and judged by its total effect rather than by its individual component parts.” The instruction need only be correct in law (in light of the facts of the case) and not mislead the jury. In this case, the trial court properly instructed the jury that it first had to actually find that the defendant refused to submit to the breathalyzer test before it could draw any inferences from a refusal. “The court told the jury it must consider all of the evidence… [T]he instruction… did not instruct the jury that it could not consider the defendant’s request to submit to the test. … [It] did not inform the jury that it could draw a negative inference from a refusal to take a Breathalyzer test.” Instead, the trial court “merely informed the jury that it could draw an inference from [the defendant’s] refusal.” After addressing additional arguments 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), 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 Suppresses Evidence After MTAPD Illegally Arrested DUI Suspect, Citing Jurisdictional Limitations

This April, the Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk at Norwalk granted a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence collected after officers with the Metropolitan Transit Authority Police Department (MTAPD) illegally arrested him. However, the court declined to suppress evidence gathered prior to the arrest.

In this case, two MTAPD officers (officers) were traveling along I-95 North in Westport at 2:20am when they witnessed a motor vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed in the leftmost lane. This vehicle repeatedly forced other cars into the center lane, drove over the left solid white line, and abruptly crossed into the other lanes. The officers initiated a traffic stop, though the vehicle stopped partially in an entrance ramp onto I-95. One of the officers approached the passenger side of the vehicle and saw the defendant as the only occupant. When instructing the defendant to move his car to a safer location, the officer observed the strong odor of alcohol and the defendant’s bloodshot eyes. After backup was requested, the officers asked the defendant for his identification, but he instead spontaneously stated that his license was suspended.

At 2:45am a State trooper (trooper) arrived on the scene, and the MTAPD officers conducted several field sobriety tests, all of which the defendant failed. The defendant was placed under arrest by the officers, who transported him to Westport’s police department for a breathalyzer test. At this point, the trooper was no longer involved. At the police department, the defendant refused to submit to a breath test, and was subsequently charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI). However, he moved to suppress all evidence, arguing it was inadmissible because the officers illegally arrested him, and filed a motion to dismiss.

Police officers have the power to arrest within their respective jurisdictions, pursuant to General Statutes § 54-1f(c). MTAPD officers are considered Railroad Police Officers, and their enforcement powers are generally limited to railroad property (except in the case of pursuit). An arrest made outside the statutory parameters is illegal, and the typical remedy is to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the illegal arrest. The purpose of this exclusionary rule is to ensure that a defendant receives a fair trial. However, an illegal arrest does not outright bar a State from pursuing charges against a defendant, and evidence may still be admissible if acquired “by means sufficiently distinguishable to be purged of the primary taint.”

In this case, the Superior Court wrote that because I-95 is not railroad property, and the officers were not effectuating their jurisdictional arrest powers as authorized under statute, they did not have authority to arrest the defendant. Therefore, the arrest in this case was illegal, and the Court agreed that all evidence obtained after the defendant was taken into custody, including his refusal to submit to a breath test, could be suppressed. However, the Court found that the evidence obtained prior to arrest was admissible. The MTAPD officers initiated an investigatory stop, which did not violate § 54-1f(a), and the presence of the trooper, whose jurisdiction includes interstate highways like I-95, rendered administration of the field sobriety tests proper. Therefore, the Court granted in part and denied in part the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence, and denied his motion to dismiss.

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.

Superior Court Denies Motion to Dismiss, Tape Recording of DUI Suspect’s Phone Call to Attorney Was Not Prejudicial State Intrusion

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut determined that the recording of a one-sided conversation between the defendant and his attorney was not a prejudicial intrusion into attorney-client protections, and as such the Court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on the evening of March 25, 2010. A police officer on route patrol observed the defendant driving his motor vehicle on the Berlin Turnpike in Wethersfield, CT. The officer suspected that the defendant was driving under the influence, so he initiated a traffic stop and administered several field sobriety tests. The defendant was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a, advised of his Miranda rights, and transported to the police station.

The defendant was placed in a booking room specific to OMVUI cases. Pursuant to its own policy, the department records everything that goes on in this room. As the officer in this case later testified, “[U]ntil the processing is complete, police policy requires the officer to keep visual observation of the defendant ‘so they don’t put anything in their mouth.’” The officer gave the defendant a notice of rights, which included information about the results of or the refusal to submit to a chemical alcohol test, and stated the defendant could contact an attorney. The defendant made telephone contact with an attorney, and police recorded the defendant’s side of this conversation, which at times was either muffled or inaudible.

After the phone call was completed, the defendant refused to take the Breathalyzer test. The officer did not use the contents of the tape in his investigation, nor did it influence the charges brought against the defendant. In addition, upon learning of the tape’s existence, the prosecutor advised defense counsel that the State also would not use it; indeed, the tape was not introduced into evidence. However, the defendant moved to dismiss the case, arguing that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated because the tape recording constituted an impermissible State invasion of the attorney-client relationship.

Under the Sixth Amendment, any communication between an attorney and his client “made in confidence for the purpose of seeking legal advice” is protected by the attorney client privilege. However, this is no reasonable expectation of confidentiality if the statements are made in the presence of a third party. Therefore, a reviewing court must consider whether or not an invasion by the State into this privilege was “so prejudicial to warrant dismissal of the charges.” There is a rebuttable presumption of prejudice, which can be overcome if the prosecutor presents clear and convincing evidence that the intrusion was nor prejudicial to the outcome of the case. In a recent opinion, the Supreme Court of Connecticut admitted that the Sixth Amendment is automatically violated where there is “mere unintentional intrusion into privileged information containing trial strategy.”

In this case, the Superior Court reviewed the content of the one-sided phone call and determined that there was nothing of strategic value discussed, such as the credibility of trial witnesses, potential evidence, what to focus on during witness examinations, or specific arguments or defenses. Rather, from the conversation we learn that the defendant was concerned with his probation status, whether to take the Breathalyzer test, the implications of a refusal, and his wife’s reaction to the arrest. Therefore, the Court found the defendant was not prejudiced by the State intrusion and denied his motion to dismiss.

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.

The Prosecutor’s Job in a DUI Case: Demonstrate the Defendant was Intoxicated, Not Educate the Jury About Field Sobriety Tests

In March, the Appellate Court of Connecticut reviewed a defendant’s insufficiency of the evidence claim as it related to his recent conviction of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at approximately 9pm on August 20, 2006. Police officers saw the defendant driving his moped on Route 12, a public roadway, in an erratic manner. After officers initiated a traffic stop, they made the following observations of the defendant: bloodshot glassy eyes, the smell of liquor, and disheveled clothing. When asked for his driver’s license, the defendant stated, “[y]ou don’t need a license to operate a moped… give me a break, I just got out on a DWI offense,” and indicated he should not have been driving. The defendant became uncooperative with the officers, was unable to complete one field sobriety test, and refused to undergo other field tests and a breathalyzer test. The defendant was charged and convicted of OMVUI and operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license in violation of General Statutes §§ 14-227a and 14-215(c), respectively. On appeal, the defendant argued that the evidence presented by the State was insufficient to sustain his conviction for OMVUI.

To be found guilty of OMVUI, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant “operated a motor vehicle, on a public highway and while the defendant was under the influence of an intoxicating liquor.” To establish the third element, there must be sufficient evidence demonstrating that the defendant “had become so affected in his mental, physical or nervous processes that he lacked to an appreciable degree the ability to function properly in relation to the operation of his vehicle.”

In this case, the defendant contested that the State failed its burden in proving the third element. However, the Appellate Court was persuaded that the State satisfied this element through officer testimony regarding the defendant’s appearance and behavior. The defendant argued that the State failed to establish what a person must do to pass field sobriety tests and how the tests measure a driver’s ability to operate their car. However, the Appellate Court wrote, “The state… did not bear the burden of educating the jury with regard to field sobriety tests, but of demonstrating that the defendant was intoxicated.” After addressing additional grounds for appeal, the Appellate Court 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.

Since Defendant Filed Appeal After Statutory Deadline, Trial Court Lacked Jurisdiction to Adjudicate

In April, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a trial court’s determination that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear plaintiff’s appeal because the statutory filing period had already expired.

In this case, the plaintiff was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol. At the police station, the plaintiff was informed that, under General Statutes § 14-227b(b), if he refused to submit to either a breathalyzer test or other sobriety tests, his license would be suspended for six months. The plaintiff refused to take the tests, and the defendant Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) began the process of suspending the plaintiff’s license. The plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on August 28, 2009. The hearing officer found that police had probable cause to arrest the plaintiff and that the plaintiff refused to take sobriety tests and operated a motor vehicle at the time he was arrested.

On September 16, 2009, the plaintiff moved for reconsideration, and this motion was denied on September 29. The plaintiff filed a recognizance bond with the clerk’s office on November 12, and then submitted his appeal on November 27. The trial court found it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the appeal because it was submitted after the statutory filing period. When the plaintiff appealed this decision, he argued that the trial court erred with this finding: he claimed he actually filed his appeal at the same time as his recognizance bond.

Under General Statutes § 4-183(c), a party must file an appeal with the agency that renders a decision either within forty-five days 1) after mailing of the final decision or 2) after the agency denies a petition for reconsideration. In the context of administrative appeals, courts will strictly comply with statutory dictates, and § 4-183(c)’s forty-five day filing requirement is “a mandatory jurisdiction in the first instance.” A reviewing court will not disturb the findings of a trial court unless there is no evidence to support it, or if a review of the evidence leaves the sense that a mistake was made. This is known as the clearly erroneous standard of review.

In this case, the forty-five day statutory period began to run on September 29, 2009, and expired on November 12, 2009, the day the plaintiff filed his recognizance bond. The plaintiff claimed that he handed a copy of his appeal to the clerk at the same time. However, the trial court found that the filing of the bond “did not constitute a ‘filing’ with the clerk of the court” and that the plaintiff did not file his appeal until November 27, 2009. The Appellate Court stated that the trial court was within its discretion to weigh the evidence, and could not hold that the findings made in this case were clearly erroneous. Therefore, it 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.

Superior Court Denies Motions to Suppress in DUI Case, Finding Defendant’s Constitutional Rights Were Not Violated

This case arose from an incident that occurred on April 6, 2008. A police officer received word from dispatch that a restaurant drive-thru employee called in to report a customer, the defendant, who appeared to be under the influence of alcohol. The officer was given specific information about the vehicle and told that this was the third such report received. The officer promptly located the defendant’s vehicle and initiated a traffic stop.

When the officer approached the vehicle, he observed beer cans on the back floor of the defendant’s car in plain sight. Some of these were empty, and all were seized as evidence. After additional officers arrived on the scene, they conducted field sobriety tests and then arrested the defendant and brought her to police headquarters. There, the officers advised the defendant of her Miranda rights and had her review a Notice of Rights form, which included information regarding implied consent and the chemical alcohol test refusal. The defendant was told she could call an attorney, but she was unable to successfully make contact with one. After fifteen minutes passed, officers advised the defendant that she had to decide whether or not to take the test, so she refused.

The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a. She moved to suppress statements she made as well as evidence collected from the motor vehicle stop and during a search of her car. In support of her motions, the defendant argued that police violated her rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures, and generally police must have a warrant to conduct a search. However, there are four recognized, narrow exceptions where the warrantless search of a vehicle is reasonable, including “when there was probable cause to believe that the car contained contraband or evidence pertaining to a crime.” Officers may seize contraband that it finds in plain view, and “such observations give rise to probable cause justifying a search of the vehicle.”

The Fifth Amendment, in part, prohibits compelled self-incrimination. The well-known recitation of Miranda warnings stem from the construction of this Amendment, and two conditions are required before an officer must invoke this warning: custody and interrogation. Waiver of Miranda rights must be made knowingly and voluntarily, which must be proven by the State by the preponderance of the evidence.

Under Connecticut law, in an action where a defendant is charged with OMVUI, the jury may draw permissive inferences from the fact that the defendant refused to submit to a breathalyzer test. In addition, identifiable citizen informants are presumptively reliable, and officers are justified when they assume that the informant is providing truthful information. Because of the pervasive state interest in preventing drunk driving, officers do not have to wait for the defendant to drive erratically or cause an accident before pulling them over.

In this case, the Superior Court of Connecticut adjudicating the case denied all of the defendant’s motions. It found that police had a reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop the defendant, based on the information provided by the restaurant employee, an identifiable citizen informant. The seizure of the beer cans, which were in plain view, was permissible. In addition, because there was no interrogation at the police station, the defendant was not compelled to incriminate herself. Rather, pursuant to General Statutes § 14-227b(b), police officers have the explicit authority to request that a defendant arrested for OMVUI sub

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.