Posts tagged with "constitutional rights"

Despite Trial Court’s Abuse of Discretion, Defendant Failed to Prove Specific Harm Warranting Reversal

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed judgment after a defendant, convicted of DUI, unsuccessfully claimed that his constitutional rights were violated when the trial court arbitrarily denied his motion for a minor continuance.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on November 22, 2003, in Stratford. The defendant crashed his vehicle into an unoccupied parked car, and responding officers noticed visible signs of intoxication. The defendant failed several field sobriety tests and was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(1). The defendant wanted a jury trial, and during jury selection, the defendant used up all his peremptory challenges. When Juror T was selected as the alternate, defense counsel challenged him for cause. The reason given was because Juror T’s vehicle had been rear-ended by an intoxicated driver, he had been the passenger of an intoxicated driver, and he managed an alcoholic employee. The court would not excuse Juror T for cause, and defense counsel did not seek any additional peremptory challenges.

Due to a miscommunication, a regular juror did not appear at court on the scheduled trial date. However, because the alternate was present, the court stated that the trial would proceed that afternoon. Defense counsel immediately objected and requested a continuance to the next morning, when the regular juror would be available. The court denied the request “without giving any reason… other than that the alternate juror was selected in the same manner as the regular jurors were selected.” The defendant was convicted of OMVUI and thereafter appealed, arguing that the court abused its discretion when it denied the motion, therefore depriving him of the right to an impartial jury.

Trial courts have wide discretion in deciding whether or not to grant a motion for a continuance. These decisions will not be overturned on appeal unless the appellant shows that the denial of this motion was arbitrary. A reviewing court will consider a number of non-exclusive factors:

[T]he timeliness of the request for continuance; the likely length of the delay; the age and complexity of the case; the granting of other continuances in the past; the impact of delay on the litigants, witnesses, opposing counsel and the court; the perceived legitimacy of the reasons proffered in support of the request; [and] the defendant’s personal responsibility for the timing of the request.

State v. Coney, 266 Conn. 787, 801 (2003). Even if the Appellate Court finds that the trial court acted arbitrarily, it must also determine that the denial was harmful, a burden placed on the appellant. If the denial implicates the violation of a constitutional right, prejudice is presumed. In addition, with respect to alternate jurors, they must have “the same qualifications and be selected in the same manner as regular jurors.” General Statutes § 54-82h(a).

In this case, the Appellate Court considered the factors listed above and came to the conclusion that the trial court’s denial of the motion for a continuance was “unreasonable and arbitrary under the unique circumstances of the case.” However, though the defendant cited a deprivation of his Sixth Amendment protections, he did not cite any case law or provide any analysis in support of his claim. As such, prejudice was not presumed, and the defendant had to show he was harmed by Juror T sitting on the jury. The defendant failed to demonstrate specific harm, and the Appellate Court declined to presume that Juror T was not “an impartial juror under these circumstances.” 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.

Plaintiff’s Lawsuit Against Commissioner of Department of Motor Vehicles Barred by State’s Sovereign Immunity; Plaintiff Failed to Prove Any Exceptions Applied

In a recent criminal law matter, the Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Fairfield at Bridgeport dismissed a plaintiff’s action against the defendant Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), because she was barred under sovereign immunity doctrine from bringing suit.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on or about July 11, 2006. The plaintiff was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a, and she refused to submit to an alcohol chemical test. The plaintiff pled guilty to this charge, and in light of two previous OMVUI convictions, her license was suspended for a year and she would be required to install an interlocking ignition device (IID) in her vehicle. The plaintiff received a revised suspension notice from the DMV stating her license would instead be suspended for three years because of her refusal to submit to the chemical test. In addition, the plaintiff would not be able to make use of the IID. See General Statutes § 14-227b(i)(3)(C).

The plaintiff filed motions with the court, asking it to enjoin the defendant from suspending her license beyond the initial one-year period. The plaintiff argued that the defendant exceeded his statutory authority and, as such, violated her constitutional rights. In its motion to dismiss, the defendant countered that the court did not have subject matter jurisdiction because of the state’s sovereign immunity. He pointed out that the plaintiff did not seek declaratory or injunctive relief “based on a substantial claim that the state or its officials have violated [her] constitutional rights or that the state or its officials have acted in excess of their statutory authority.”

Sovereign immunity doctrine holds that a State cannot be sued unless it authorizes or consents to suit. There are only three statutory exceptions to this rule: waiver, violation of a plaintiff’s constitutional right by a state official, and action in excess of a state official’s statutory authority which violates a plaintiff’s right. If the second exception is asserted, State action will survive strict scrutiny analysis only if it is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. In this case, the Superior Court found “little dispute” that highway safety is a compelling state interest and that the increased suspension and IID refusal was “both reasonable and necessary to achieve the goal of protecting the public safety.” Therefore, the Court found that the plaintiff’s constitutional rights were not violated.

Regarding the third exception, the DMV Commissioner has very broad discretion “to oversee and control the operation of motor vehicles generally.” Public policy concerns underpinning our motor vehicle laws center on the protection of the lives and property of Connecticut’s citizens. The legislature has also recognized the heavy burden placed on those convicted of OMVUI “in a society dependent on automotive transportation.” The use of IIDs helps alleviate these burdens, but it is a privilege of limited application, which does not encompass suspensions based on refusing to submit to an alcohol chemical test. In this case, the Superior Court found that the defendant “clearly” had statutory authority to impose the three-year suspension and refuse the plaintiff’s request to use an IID. Therefore, because the plaintiff failed to establish the applicability of either exception, the Superior Court held her action was barred by the State’s sovereign immunity.

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.

Defendant’s Double Jeopardy Protections Violated When Charged With and Convicted Under Both Subsections of State DUI Statute

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut reversed, in part, a defendant’s conviction of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) under both General Statutes §§ 14-227a(a)(1) and (2).

This case arose from an incident that occurred on April 6, 2005. The defendant was involved in a car accident that resulted in one fatality. He was charged and convicted of four counts: second degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, second degree manslaughter, OMVUI in violation of § 14-227a(a)(1), and OMVUI in violation of § 14-227a(a)(2). The defendant appealed his conviction, claiming a violation of his protection against double jeopardy.

Under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, criminal defendants cannot receive two punishments for two crimes, which he asserts to be a single crime, arising from the same transaction and prosecuted in a single trial. To be entitled to this protection, a criminal defendant must show that the charges arise from the same act or transaction and that the charged crimes are, in fact, the same offense. In reviewing a defendant’s double jeopardy claim, a court will use the Blockburger test to determine whether one criminal statute has an element of proof that the other does not. Blockburger v. U.S., 284 U.S. 299 (1932). However, the protection against double jeopardy is not absolute where the legislature intended cumulative punishment under two statutes, and this intent is articulated either on the face of the statute or through legislative history.

In this case, the Appellate Court did not agree that the defendant’s protections against double jeopardy were violated with respect to the manslaughter charges. The Court noted that each offense required proof of an element the other did not have, “namely, being under the influence of alcohol in count one and reckless conduct in count two.” The Court was not persuaded that driving under the influence is similar to reckless conduct, and noted that the legislature intended that defendants could be charged with and convicted of both of these crimes.

However, the Court agreed, and the State conceded, that the defendant’s constitutional rights were violated by the two OMVUI counts. Even though each had an element of proof the other did not – operation under the influence and an elevated blood alcohol content – it was not the legislature’s intent for a defendant to be charged with both in the same case. The two subsections of § 14-227a(a) are meant to be “alternative means of committing the same offense” and provide for “different methods of proof.” The legislature clearly indicated a defendant could not be punished under both subsections.

The Appellate Court concluded that the defendant’s double jeopardy protection was violated with respect to the OMVUI counts. Therefore, it reversed and remanded the case and instructed the trial court to combine these into a single OMVUI count and resentence the defendant accordingly. The judgment was otherwise affirmed.

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.

What Is the Law Controlling Drug Testing in the Workplace or in Public Schools in Connecticut?

Among employees there are a variety of times in which they may legally be drug tested in the workplace.  Employees are often tested prior to being hired to prevent employers from hiring people who use illegal drugs.  After an employee is hired, if an employee’s supervisor has reasonable suspicion that the employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they may test the employee for illegal drug use.  Employees in a workplace may also be tested post-accident to determine whether drugs or alcohol contributed to the event.  Lastly, employers may choose to conduct random testing to deter drug use.  However, Connecticut law prohibits private-sector employers from requiring employees to undergo random drug tests.  An employer must have a reasonable suspicion that the employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol that is affecting, or could affect, his job performance before he may require a test.

State and municipal employees are not covered by the state law that prohibits random drug testing, however they are protected by the Fourth Amendment which prohibits the government from carrying out unreasonable searches.  The Supreme Court has ruled that urine tests are searches and that the Fourth Amendment applies to governments acting as employers.

Federal law and regulations also require the operators of commercial vehicles over a certain size, to undergo drug tests before they are hired, after serious incidents, and when there is a reasonable suspicion.   In the private sector, pre-employment drug testing is fairly common.

There are no federal or state statutes that cover drug testing of students in public schools.  Students do not have the same level of constitutional rights as adults however.  A 2002 Supreme Court decisions permits schools to conduct random drug testing of students who participate in extracurricular activities, but drug testing cannot be a condition for attending school.

If you have any questions regarding employment law in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Customized Miranda Warnings Given to Sophisticated Defendant Conveyed the “Essential Message”

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut found that a trial court properly denied a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence, because an officer’s recitation of the Miranda warnings adequately apprised him of his rights.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on September 15, 2007, in Stamford. The defendant repeatedly struck a victim in the head using an aluminum baseball bat. The victim suffered life-threatening injuries but survived. The defendant fled to North Carolina, where he was apprehended and returned to Connecticut with two Stamford police officers. During this trip, the defendant made incriminating statements he later sought to suppress.

At the suppression hearing, the officer testified that he gave the defendant the following warnings during the trip:

[H]e has the right to remain silent. Anything he says can and will be used against him in a court of law. He has the right to an attorney. If he cannot afford one, the court will appoint him one. He has the right to stop answering questions at any time. He has the right to invoke his privilege to an attorney at any time. He has the right to not answer specific questions, if he wants to pick and choose the questions he wants to answer.

The officer explained that he prefers to go “above and beyond” the Miranda requirements with added explanations. He asked the defendant whether he understood the warnings, to which the defendant replied, “I know them, I know them, I know them.” The officer testified that at this time, the defendant waived his rights and wished to speak with them.

The court denied the motion to suppress, noting that the defendant, who had numerous previous arrests, “is very sophisticated, very intelligent and seems to understand a great deal [about] the legal process.” It found that the defendant was “a seasoned individual who understands what Miranda rights are about.” After a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of assault in the first degree in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-59(a)(1). On appeal, he claimed the officer’s recitation of Miranda was inadequate, thus the trial court erred in denying his motion. He did not contest how the trial court characterized him.

In the landmark ruling of Miranda v. Arizona, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the indispensability of counsel at the time of custodial interrogation. The Miranda warnings make sure that a defendant understands his or her constitutional rights, and if police engage the defendant in questioning without reciting these rights, the defendant’s statements may be suppressed. Thus, when a reviewing court considers the adequacy of Miranda warnings, it simply asks “whether the warnings reasonably conve[y] to [a suspect] his rights as required by Miranda.”

In this case, the Appellate Court ruled that the officer’s warnings were adequate because they “communicated the same essential message” as required under Miranda. The Court highlighted the defendant’s familiarity with these rights, as evidenced by the trial court’s characterization and his repeated acknowledgement to the officer. “The essential purpose of Miranda warnings is to provide a criminal suspect with the informed choice either to exercise his [f]ifth and [s]ixth [a]mendment rights or to waive them.” Here, the Court stated that aim was accomplished. Therefore, the trial court did not err in denying the motion to suppress evidence.

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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Guilty Plea Found Invalid Where Defendant Was Left in Dark Regarding What Constituted a Larceny and Robbery

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut reversed and remanded a case where the defendant did not knowingly and voluntarily enter into a plea agreement.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 20, 2004. A man robbed a bank at knifepoint, securing $15,000 in cash, before escaping in a vehicle driven by the defendant. Police soon located the duo along with the stolen money. The defendant was charged with conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree and larceny in the first degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-48, 53a-134(a)(2), and 53a-122.

On February 21, 2006, the defendant sought to enter a guilty plea to these charges. During a plea canvass conducted by the judge, the defendant stated that her defense attorney did not discuss the nature and elements of the charges she faced: “No, I don’t think I heard about what the state had to prove.” The defense attorney did not refute this contention, and the court did not seek from the defendant’s attorney “any assurance that he had, in fact, explained to the defendant the elements of the crimes to which she was pleading guilty.” Though the court adequately read to the defendant the elements of conspiracy, it failed to properly set out the elements of both larceny and robbery. Nonetheless, the court accepted the defendant’s guilty plea and sentenced her to twelve years of incarceration, suspended after seven years, with five years of probation. The defendant appealed, arguing that she did not knowingly and voluntarily enter into her plea agreement.

When a defendant decides to plead guilty, he or she waives numerous constitutional rights, such as the right to a trial by jury. Therefore, a critical due process requirement is that a guilty plea must be made knowingly and voluntarily, which includes apprising the defendant not just of the rights being waived but also the essential criminal elements of the charges faced. Defense counsel is “generally presumed to have informed the defendant of the charges against him,” though this presumption may be overcome if the record shows that counsel failed to so inform. Should this presumption not apply, proper waiver may still be established if the court itself explained all of the elements.

In this case, the Appellate Court found that the record showed “some positive suggestion that the defendant’s attorney had not informed the defendant of the elements of the crimes to which she was pleading guilty.” It noted that during the canvass, the defendant said she did not know what the State had to prove, and her counsel did not counter this statement. As such, the presumption was not applicable. The Appellate Court further held that the trial court failed to apprise the defendant of the essential elements of larceny and robbery. Though the court did read to the defendant what first-degree larceny and first-degree robbery encompassed, but failed to explain what acts constituted a robbery or larceny under Connecticut law. Therefore, the case was reversed and remanded with directions to the lower court to withdraw the guilty pleas.

When faced with a charge of conspiracy, larceny, or robbery, 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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