Posts tagged with "DMV"

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 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.

Case Background

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. She 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 

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.

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.

Court Denies DUI Convict’s Request for Declaratory Judgment; License Suspensions Complied with Applicable Statutes

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut found in favor of the defendant Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) after the plaintiff unsuccessfully asserted his claims of equal protection and due process violations following his license suspensions.

In this case, the plaintiff was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a. Police notified the DMV of the arrest, who held an administrative license suspension hearing. The hearing officer found that the plaintiff refused to submit to a chemical alcohol test, among three other considerations, and pursuant to CGS § 14-227b(i), ordered that the plaintiff’s driver’s license be suspended for six months.

The plaintiff fully served this administrative suspension before pleading guilty to OMVUI. In connection with this criminal conviction, the DMV ordered that the plaintiff’s driver’s license be suspended for twelve months in accordance with CGS § 14-227a(g). Plaintiff’s counsel requested a “credit” of six months in light of the administrative suspension, but the DMV denied this request. DMV practice allows administrative and criminal suspensions to run concurrently for whatever period of overlap exists, as long as they arose from the same incident. However, it is not DMV policy to issue credits against new suspensions when prior ones have already been fully served.

The plaintiff sought declaratory judgment, arguing that the DMV’s actions were unconstitutional. He first alleged that the DMV policy violated equal protection because it “confers a benefit on those able to serve some or all of their suspensions concurrently, while denying that benefit to those who must serve them consecutively.” The plaintiff further contended that his procedural due process rights were violated because the DMV did not advise him of the practice, thus depriving him of being able to make an informed decision regarding when to plead guilty.

Equal protection directs that similarly situated people be treated alike. This clause is implicated when a statute “either on its face or in practice, treats persons standing in the same relation to it differently.” The threshold inquiry for a reviewing court is whether a petitioner is “similarly situated for purposes of the challenged government action.” However, the equal protection clause does not prohibit a government entity from treating those who are not similar in a dissimilar manner. In this case the Superior Court found that the plaintiff was similarly situated to drivers who have completed one suspension when the other is imposed, not drivers who were serving one suspension when subject to a second. Because the plaintiff failed to meet his burden proving dissimilar treatment, his equal protection claim failed.

To establish a due process violation, a plaintiff must prove “1) that he has been deprived of a property interest cognizable under the due process clause; and 2) that deprivation occurred without due process of law.” In this case, the Court readily agreed that deprivation of a driver’s license clearly satisfies the first prong, but the plaintiff’s claim failed with respect to the second element. The suspensions were imposed in accordance to guidelines set forth in CGS §§ 14-227a and 14-227b, and the plaintiff did not provide any support for “for the proposition that the [DMV] was obligated to give him notice of the [DMV’s] practice.” Therefore, the plaintiff’s due process claim also failed, and his request for declaratory judgment was denied.

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.

“Mommy Just Got Into a Little Accident,” Along With Other Evidence, Was Sufficient to Find That DUI Driver Operated her Car

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut dismissed the plaintiff’s license suspension appeal, stating that the hearing officer had sufficient evidence to find that the plaintiff “operated” her motor vehicle.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on December 12, 2010. Police responded to a complaint from a woman (neighbor), who stated that the plaintiff’s vehicle backed out of her driveway across the street and struck her car. Officers proceeded up the driveway in question and saw the plaintiff, who was accompanied by her four-year-old son, “fumbling with her keys and struggling to keep her balance as she attempted to open her garage.” The plaintiff was visibly intoxicated, and when the officer asked the son what happened, he responded, “Mommy just got into a little accident.” Officers believed the plaintiff was so inebriated that administering the field sobriety tests would be unsafe. They arrested the plaintiff and transported her to police headquarters, where two breath tests revealed blood alcohol contents of 0.2181 and 0.2097, two-and-a-half times the legal limit. A subsequent inspection of the plaintiff’s vehicle revealed damage consistent with that from the neighbor’s car.

The plaintiff was charged with driving under the influence in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) sent her a notice of suspension, and she requested an administrative hearing. The hearing officer made four statutory findings pursuant to CGS § 14-227b(g), and given the plaintiff’s history of suspensions, ordered that her license be suspended for two years and six months. The plaintiff appealed, stating that the hearing officer’s conclusion on the fourth criteria of CGS § 14-227b(g), “operation,” was without factual support. She contested the neighbor’s identification of her as the driver and use of her son’s hearsay statement, as well as the fact that police did not see her driving.

When a plaintiff contests the decision of a DMV hearing officer, they have the burden of proving that the decision was arbitrary and an abuse of discretion. A decision that is reasonably supported by the evidence will be sustained by a reviewing court. In addition, hearing officers have broad discretion in accepting or discrediting witness testimony, and are not bound to the strict rules of evidence regarding hearsay. Therefore, hearing officers have the authority to rely on hearsay of operation so long as the testimony is relevant and material to that finding.

In this case, the Superior Court found that the hearing officer had ample evidence that the plaintiff operated her car. The officers personally saw the plaintiff in possession of her keys outside the garage in which her car was located. Given the coinciding damage between both cars, along with the neighbor’s and son’s statements, which the hearing officer was free to accept, there was sufficient evidence to find that the plaintiff operated her motor vehicle. Therefore, the hearing officer did not abuse his discretion, and after addressing the plaintiff’s additional claims, the Superior Court dismissed her appeal.

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 Operated Motor Vehicle Within Meaning of Suspension Statute; Case Reversed and Remanded to Dismiss His Appeal

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed and remanded a case where the lower courts improperly ruled that the plaintiff did not operate his motor vehicle within the meaning of the State license suspension statute.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at 3:20am on May 30, 2004. A police officer observed the plaintiff’s car parked on the shoulder of Interstate 95. The vehicle’s left turn signal was flashing and the windshield wipers were moving, even though there was no rain. In addition, the officer heard the heater blower motor running, and observed that the car key was in the ignition and turned to “On.” The plaintiff was asleep in the driver’s seat and was the vehicle’s sole occupant. With some effort, the officer woke up the plaintiff and observed that he was intoxicated. After performing poorly on the field sobriety tests, the plaintiff was arrested and charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a.

Pursuant to CGS § 14-227b, the officer sent a report to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), who notified the plaintiff that his license was being suspended for ninety days as a result of the OMVUI charge. The plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, after which the hearing officer suspended the plaintiff’s license for ninety days. The plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court, which upheld the appeal because “there was not substantial evidence of operation.” The Appellate Court affirmed judgment, and the DMV Commissioner appealed to the Supreme Court.

At the time this appeal was filed, but prior to oral argument, the Supreme Court of Connecticut rendered its decision in State v. Haight, 279 Conn. 546 (2006). This case had an identical factual scenario, and the high court ruled that “[m]ere insertion of the key into the ignition is an act… which alone or in sequence will set into motion the motive power of the vehicle… and, therefore, itself constitutes operation of the vehicle.” In addition, that the defendant in that case was asleep behind the steering wheel was not dispositive.

Because the facts of this case were indistinguishable from those in Haight, the Supreme Court determined that the Appellate Court erred in holding that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that the plaintiff was operating his car. Though this case involved a sister statute to the one from Haight, “the word ‘operating’ as used in § 14-227b has the same meaning that it does in § 14-227a.” Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded this case “with direction to dismiss the plaintiff’s appeal.”

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.

State Supreme Court Addresses Whether DMV License Suspensions Constitute “Convictions” That Bar Subsequent OMVUI Prosecutions

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut upheld a lower court’s ruling that an administrative license suspension does not constitute a “conviction” under our statutes for purposes of double jeopardy protections.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on January 13, 2006. Police officers pulled over the defendant under suspicion that he was driving under the influence, and arrested him after he failed several field sobriety tests. The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a. The Department of Motor Vehicles held an administrative hearing and the hearing officer ordered that the defendant’s driver’s license be suspended for ten months.

The defendant moved to dismiss all charges against him. He argued that “he already had been ‘convicted’ of the same offense in the administrative proceedings,” so to prosecute him for OMVUI would amount to double jeopardy in violation of state and federal constitutional protections. The trial court denied his motion, stating that an administrative license suspension under CGS § 14-227b was not a punishment, thus the defendant’s rights against double jeopardy were not violated by subsequent prosecution for OMVUI. The defendant entered a conditional plea of nolo contendere before promptly appealing his conviction.

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, “No person shall… be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” Double jeopardy, as it is commonly referred to, encompasses several protections, including against “a second prosecution for the same offense after conviction.” Connecticut does not have an explicit comparable statute, though double jeopardy protections are implicit through our due process statutes. Our courts have determined that civil or administrative sanctions that serve “a legitimate remedial purpose” and are “rationally related to that purpose” do not constitute double jeopardy violations, even if the sanction has an attendant deterrent or retributive effect. In essence, “prosecutions or convictions for double jeopardy purposes arise only from proceedings that are essentially criminal.”

In this case, the Supreme Court reviewed cases under which administrative hearings were found “sufficiently remedial” so as to not bar subsequent prosecution. In looking into the legislative history of CGS § 14-227b, the Court noted that the “principle purpose [of the statute] was to protect the public by removing potentially dangerous drivers from the state’s roadways.” License suspension hearings subsequent to OMVUI arrests facilitate that purpose. In addition, the language of CGS §§ 14-227b and 14-1 (21), which defines “conviction,” do not reveal an intent that “an administrative suspension forecloses future criminal proceedings against the defendant for the same offense.” The Supreme Court was thus not persuaded by the defendant’s argument that the suspension was a criminal “conviction” that would bar an OMVUI prosecution, and 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.

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.

Plaintiffs Contend Intoxilyzer Results Do Not Comply With Connecticut Statutes, but State DMV and Superior Court Disagree

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut dismissed the appeals of four plaintiffs who were challenging their license suspensions, unconvinced that a device used to measure blood alcohol content (BAC) did not comply with statutory regulations.

In this case, the plaintiffs submitted to BAC tests administered using an Intoxilyzer machine and each had readings over the legal limit of 0.08. As such, they were charged with operating a motor vehicle with an elevated BAC in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(2), a per se statute. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) suspended their licenses and the plaintiffs appealed, contesting the validity of the Intoxilyzer results. A hearing was held before the court, and the appeals were remanded to the DMV Commissioner. During the remand hearing, the hearing officer found that the Intoxilyzer measures the amount of alcohol present on a person’s breath on a “weight-per-volume basis.” The machine itself does not have the ability to convert this number to a “weight-by-weight” figure, though this can be accomplished through extrapolation. The appeals were dismissed, and the plaintiffs appealed to the Superior Court. They argued that § 14-227b(o) of the per se statute requires that BAC be measured by weight in the context of administrative license suspension, and because the Intoxilyzer instead measures BAC by volume, the results were not valid.

Under § 14-227a(d), the Connecticut legislature clearly envisioned that a person’s BAC could be measured by breath. Indeed, the Superior Court reviewed case precedent which “implicitly approved” Intoxilyzers and held that a BAC measurement from breath is “an ‘equivalent’ of the blood alcohol content measure of blood.” These cases prompted the legislature to amend the criminal regulations “to permit equivalent measurements of [BAC] by the Intoxilyzer.” By extension, the per se regulations permit equivalent measurements because “the per se regulations piggyback on the criminal regulations.” Therefore, the Superior Court dismissed the plaintiffs’ appeals.

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.

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

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.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Administrative Decision to Suspend Plaintiff’s License After DUI Arrest Upheld

This February, a Superior Court of Connecticut dismissed a plaintiff’s appeal of an administrative decision to suspend his license, despite his assertion that the breath test readings were inaccurate.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on May 8, 2010. Police observed the plaintiff revving the engine of his car and then traveling at a high rate of speed down a public road. After police initiated a traffic stop, he admitted that he drank two beers at a bar. The officer observed the “strong distinct odor of an alcoholic beverage” and the plaintiff’s bloodshot, glassy eyes. The plaintiff failed three field sobriety tests and was then arrested. At the police station, he agreed to submit to breath tests, which returned blood alcohol content (BAC) readings of 0.206 and 0.135.

The police notified the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), who held an administrative hearing to determine whether to suspend the plaintiff’s license. An expert witness for the plaintiff testified that the BAC readings might be unreliable because the machine’s gas calibration readings were above the acceptable level of 0.105. Nonetheless, the hearing officer found that the police arrested the plaintiff while he was operating under the influence and that the Intoxilyzer machine was working properly at the time of the plaintiff’s tests. He ordered that the plaintiff’s license be suspended for ten months.

The plaintiff appealed this decision to the Superior Court, which ordered the DMV to hold another hearing regarding the reliability of the Intoxilyzer used on the night of the plaintiff’s arrest. After additional testimony, the hearing officer made the same findings, and credited the State toxicologist’s conclusion that the machine was properly working. The State toxicologist stated that these higher-end readings simply indicated that the gas canister needed to be replaced, but that this did not impact the subsequent BAC readings from the plaintiff’s tests. The hearing officer again suspended the plaintiff’s license for ten months, and the plaintiff appealed this decision, claiming he was not adequately tested.

When a court reviews the rulings of an administrative agency, it is guided by the Uniform Administrative Procedure Act (UAPA). The court must determine whether the agency issued an order that was unreasonable, arbitrary, illegal, or which constituted an abuse of discretion. Pursuant to the substantial evidence rule of UAPA, administrative findings are upheld so long as the record “affords a substantial basis of fact from which the fact in issue can be reasonably inferred.” It is the plaintiff’s burden to prove “that substantial rights possessed by him were prejudiced because the administrative decision was clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative and substantial evidence on the whole record.”

In this case, the Superior Court rejected the plaintiff’s claim of inadequate testing. It found that under the substantial evidence rule, the hearing officer made an appropriate determination that the intoxilyzer readings were accurate. In addition, the plaintiff did not provide any evidence that his own BAC readings were affected by the higher-range calibration readings. Therefore, the appeal was dismissed.

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.