Posts tagged with "constitutional violation"

Definition of “Public Housing Project” Adequately Defined for Purposes of Drug Distribution Statute

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s attacks on the statutory definition of “public housing project” for purposes of State narcotics distribution statutes.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on September 13, 2007. Police officers went to the defendant’s residence to execute a valid search and seizure warrant related to narcotics activity. When officers identified themselves, the defendant ran inside and locked the door. Once the officers gained entry using a battering ram, they heard a toilet flush and saw the defendant leaving the bathroom. The defendant refused to comply with orders and resisted officer attempts to place him under arrest. Officers discovered two rocks of crack cocaine and assorted pills, digital scales, plastic baggies used in the packaging of drugs, and in excess of $1,400 cash.

The defendant was charged with and convicted of possession of cocaine, possession of narcotics with intent to sell within 1500 feet of a housing project, and interfering with an officer. On appeal, he claimed that the State did not present sufficient evidence establishing nearby residential housing as a public housing project.

Defendant Contests Classification as a “Public Housing Project”

Under Connecticut General Statutes § 21a-278a(b), a person is prohibited from transporting or possessing with the intent to sell or dispense controlled substances within fifteen-hundred feet of a designated public housing project. Pursuant to this statute, public housing project means “dwelling accommodations operated as a state or federally subsidized multi-family housing project by a housing authority, nonprofit corporation or municipal developer.”

At trial, one officer testified that the residential housing was “a federally subsidized, elderly/disabled housing complex” that was run by the city’s housing authority. Another officer explained that the neighborhood was “an elderly apartment complex owned and operated by the [city’s] Housing Authority.” In stark contrast, nothing on the record suggested that the property in question was “anything other than a public housing project.” Therefore, the defendant’s claim failed.

Defendant Claims Unconstitutional Vagueness

The defendant further contested that the statute’s definition of “public housing project” was unconstitutionally vague. To prevail on a void for vagueness claim, the defendant has to show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that “[he] had inadequate notice of what was prohibited or that [he was] the victim of arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.” A defendant need only prove one or the other, not both.

The Appellate Court disagreed with this challenge, stating that the statutory definition “by its plain terms, afforded the defendant notice that the statute applied to public housing projects where elderly or disabled people reside.” Particularly telling, it pointed out that the statute doesn’t require the prosecution to show that the defendant knew he was within fifteen-hundred feet at the time of the narcotics transaction. Therefore, the defendant failed to prove that a constitutional violation had taken place.

When faced with a charge for possession or distribution of controlled substances, 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 203-211-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

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

In this 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.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

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.