Posts tagged with "chemical alcohol tests"

Being Asleep at the Wheel of a Parked, but Running, Vehicle Constitutes “Operation” Under State DUI Law

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered whether a driver, who was asleep in the driver’s seat of his car while it was still running, operated a motor vehicle under Connecticut’s DUI law.

This case arose from an incident that occurred after midnight on December 24, 2005. Officers found the defendant asleep in the driver’s seat of his motor vehicle while the engine was still running. After waking the defendant and observing him as visibly intoxicated, the officers administered the standard field sobriety tests, all of which the defendant failed. The defendant was arrested, and at the police department, he submitted to two chemical alcohol tests, which revealed the defendant’s blood alcohol content as more than twice the legal limit.

The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 14-227a. He filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that he was not operating his car. Rather, “he merely was asleep in his motor vehicle on a cold night with the motor running only to provide heat and power to run the radio.” However, the court denied the motion, and the defendant entered into a conditional plea of nolo contendere. Such a conditional plea reserves a defendant’s right to appeal. After sentencing, the defendant appealed, arguing that the court’s denial of his motion to dismiss was improper.

Under Connecticut case law, “operation” of a motor vehicle does not require that the vehicle actually be driven. Rather, “the insertion of a key into the ignition is an act… which alone or in sequence will set into motion the motive power of the vehicle.” Thus, simply putting the key into the ignition “constitute[s] operation of a motor vehicle within the meaning of § 14-227a(a).” This proposition has been upheld, for example, even when the operator is unconscious in the driver’s seat while the engine is running. In this case, the Appellate Court found that the defendant operated his car because he was in the driver’s seat of his vehicle with the engine turned on; it did not matter, for purposes of “operation,” that he was asleep at the time. Therefore, the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss, and the Appellate Court 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.

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Toxicology Report Suppressed in DUI Case Because Warrantless Search Exceptions Did Not Apply

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut granted a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence, because the State did not show exigent circumstances allowing the warrantless seizure.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 15, 2003. The defendant was involved in an automobile accident, resulting in the death of the other driver. He was transported to a nearby hospital where, without a warrant, police requested that his blood be drawn. One of the officers unaware of this order was informed of that the blood had been drawn, so he elected to not perform the field sobriety and chemical alcohol tests. Five days later, police applied for and was granted a warrant for the blood toxicology report. The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI), in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a(a), and second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, among several other counts. On March 8, 2004, the defendant submitted a motion to suppress the toxicology report, arguing that they were obtained in violation of the search and seizure protections of the state and federal constitutions.

Under state and federal law, individuals are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons, houses, papers, and effects. The “[c]ompulsory administration of a blood test” clearly constitutes a search and seizure of one’s person. If a search is conducted without a warrant evidencing probable cause, it is per se unreasonable, and evidence derived from this illegal search will be excluded unless one of a “few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions” applies. Two such exceptions to the exclusionary rule are inevitable discovery and exigent circumstances.

The inevitable discovery exception will thwart suppression of evidence if the State can show, by the preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not), that through lawful means the evidence would have been discovered anyway. Officers must have been actively pursuing such means before the constitutional violation in question occurred. In this case, the State argued that this exception applied because had the officer not been told the blood was drawn, he would have proceeded with the various OMVUI-related tests. Therefore, the State would have inevitably discovered the defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC). However, the Superior Court was not persuaded, because the State assumed that the defendant would have consented to the alcohol chemical tests. Under CGS § 14-227b, a person is free to refuse the test, though he will face license suspension for doing so. As such, the police could not presume that this procedure would inevitably lead them to discovery of the defendant’s BAC level.

Exigent circumstances doctrine applies where police officers, who have requisite probable cause, do not have time to get a warrant. They must act swiftly to effectuate an arrest, search, or seizure, to avoid, for example, the destruction of evidence. The State bears the burden to point to specific and articulable facts that gave rise to the exigent circumstances. In this case, the State argued that if they did not order that the defendant’s blood be taken, they would have lost evidence of his BAC level. However, the Superior Court noted that the record was devoid of any facts to support this proposition. Therefore, because neither exception applied to the facts of this case, the Superior Court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress.

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.

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

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a recent 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.

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.

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 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.