Posts tagged with "due process"

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.

Facebook Photographs Depicting Alcohol Consumption Properly Considered in Probation Revocation Hearing

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut upheld a defendant’s probation revocation, finding that photographic evidence had a “minimal indicium of reliability” allowing their consideration by the trial court.

In this case, the defendant was convicted of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence by a person under age twenty-one, in violation of General Statutes § 14-227g, following an accident resulting in the drowning death of a passenger. She was sentenced to five years incarceration, execution suspended after one year, and five years probation. Eleven special conditions of probation were imposed, including operation of a car only with a valid license and the installation of an ignition interlock device on any car she owned or operated.

While on probation, the defendant was involved in a minor non-alcohol-related accident, and police determined she violated the above two conditions. A probation hearing was held, where the State sought revocation and imposition of the remaining four years incarceration. It argued the defendant was a “marginal probationer… worshipping at the altar of alcohol and debauchery and lewd behavior.” To support its position, the State referenced photographs (photos) posted on Facebook which, it asserted, depicted the defendant while on probation. Some of the photos “demonstrate or suggest alcohol consumption by the defendant” in various social settings. Defense counsel argued for a more lenient sentence because the violations were not severe and alcohol was not involved in the accident. He asserted that the images did not represent the defendant and were undated.

The court stated that alcohol consumption was an aggravating factor in the original sentence and it was appalled that the defendant “still has the audacity to go back on Facebook and show herself in the condition of being intoxicated.” When given the opportunity to respond to the prosecutor’s and court’s statements, the defendant simply apologized for what she did and asserted she did not drive after drinking. When the State sought to introduce the photos, defense counsel objected, arguing a potential due process violation. However, the court overruled, stating that “it could consider any evidence in a sentencing hearing as long as the evidence was found to be reliable.”

At the conclusion of the hearing, the court imposed a three-year sentence because the court believed that “the beneficial purposes of probation are no longer being served.” The defendant appealed, claiming that the Facebook photos were not reliable. However, the Appellate Court affirmed, noting that the claim was unpreserved and did not warrant special review because it did not involve a constitutional violation. The defendant then sought remedy with the Supreme Court.

When trial courts consider whether to impose an original sentence and order incarceration, it must exercise an informed use of discretion. The sentencing judge has authority to consider “a wide variety of information… only if it has some minimal indicium of reliability.” Particularly telling, “the absence of a denial itself provides an important [indicium] of reliability.” Therefore, a judge’s determination will be upheld “[a]s long as [he] has a reasonable, persuasive basis for relying on the information which he uses to fashion his ultimate sentence.”

In this case, the Supreme Court noted that the only suggestion the defendant denied as that she drove after drinking. She did not contest the prosecutor’s and court’s statements, and did not deny that the behavior depicted in the photos occurred while she was on probation. Rather, the court noted, “the defendant merely challenged the probative force of the evidence itself, not the underlying truth to which the evidence purportedly speaks.” Therefore, the Court concluded that the photos had the minimal indicia of reliability which would survive constitutional analysis in a probation revocation hearing setting. It affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Court.

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.

DUI Suspect Did Not Have Right to be “Selectively Silent;” Rebuttal Inquiry Did Not Violate Constitutional Protections

Last year, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered whether a prosecutor’s line of inquiry violated a defendant’s due process rights against self-incrimination under the state and federal constitutions.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at 1:22am on April 9, 2008. A state trooper was on routine patrol along I-95 in Fairfield, CT, when he received a report of an erratic driver in his vicinity. He promptly located the vehicle in question, which was driving only 35mph in a 55mph zone. In addition, the trooper saw the vehicle swerve multiple times and nearly strike a guardrail. Therefore, the trooper initiated a traffic stop. While interacting with the driver, who was later identified as the defendant, the trooper made the following observations: bloodshot and watery eyes, slurred speech, and the distinct odor of alcohol. The trooper spotted a plastic cup with a tan liquid in the center console, but the defendant would not answer any questions regarding it.

The trooper asked the defendant to exit the vehicle and administered three field sobriety tests. The defendant was then arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) and transported to state police barracks located in Bridgeport, CT. There, he agreed to submit to two breathalyzer tests, both taken within two hours of the defendant operating his car and with results over the legal limit. The defendant was advised of his Miranda rights and presented with questions from a motor vehicle supplemental form (A44 form): the defendant answered some, but refused to answer others regarding alcohol and food consumption.

Before trial, the defendant filed a motion in limine to exclude the admission of the A44 form, citing his constitutional right against self-incrimination, but the court denied the motion. At trial, the State conducted an “offer of proof” through the trooper regarding the A44 form, and the defendant objected, but the form was admitted into evidence. On cross-examination, defense counsel engaged the trooper in a line of questioning regarding the defendant’s cooperation in answering questions from the form. On redirect, the State asked whether the trooper inquired about the amount the defendant had to drink, and the defense objected on the ground of self-incrimination. The State argued that “the line of questioning had been opened by the defendant,” and the court agreed and overruled the objection. The defendant was subsequently found guilty by a jury and he appealed his conviction, arguing in part that his due process rights were violated by admission of the A44 form and related questioning during trial.

When one party engages a witness in a particular subject during examination at trial, he or she “cannot object if the opposing party later questions the witness on the same subject.” This is known as “opening the door” to rebuttal. Where a defendant has been advised of his Miranda rights, he does not also have the right to be “selectively silent.” Thus, the right against self-incrimination is inapplicable to a factual scenario where a defendant so advised chooses to answer some questions but “selectively declines to answer several others.”

In this case, the Appellate Court found that when the defense asked the trooper questions related to the defendant’s cooperation regarding the A44, the State had every right to follow up with questions on redirect evidencing the unresponsive answers. As the Court stated, “The defendant cannot reap the benefits of inquiry into one subject and expect the state’s questioning within the same scope to be held impermissible.” Therefore, there was no abuse of discretion when the court allowed the State’s inquiry on redirect regarding the defendant’s refusal to answer questions related to alcohol and food consumption. After addressing additional grounds for appeal, the Appellate Court affirmed judgment in its entirety.

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.

Supreme Court Decision on Private School Reimbursement

A United States Supreme Court decision has removed some of the hurdles for parents of students with disabilities to seek reimbursement from local school districts for their children’s private school tuition.

The 6-3 decision ruled that parents are no longer required to first send their special needs child to a public program before placing him or her in a private institution which could better address those disabilities.  The ability to effectively skip this step would save many children precious time to learn and achieve necessary educational goals, while preserving the right to a free, appropriate public education for all children with special needs.

The full text of the decision can be found at: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/08pdf/08-305.pdf

For more information, please email: JMaya@mayalaw.com

Navigating the Channels of School Suspension Protocol

Hot off the press: “A new state law has significantly reduced the number of students being suspended from school…”[1] This is in large part due to the passage of Public Act No. 08-160, “An Act Concerning School Learning Environment,” which modified the circumstances which schools under State law could suspend its students, instead showing a preference for in-school suspensions.[2] Thus, during the 2010-2011 academic school year, “when the law went into effect… the number of out-of-school suspensions dropped statewide by 19 percent, or 9,835 incidents.”[3]

While “some incidents will still warrant suspensions,” [Waterbury Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Ouellette explained that] she’s deployed several initiatives to ensure that students are not being sent home for minor infractions like dress code violations, talking back to their teachers or skipping class. “We are trying to reach them and intervene before it escalates to that point.”

The Connecticut legislature has enumerated the circumstances under which a student may be suspended: if on school grounds or at a school-sponsored activity, the conduct violates an established, publicized school board policy, seriously disrupts the educational process, or endangers persons or property.[4] If the conduct took place off school grounds, the school board may only entertain a suspension if both the first two circumstances are met.

Say your child has committed an act off school grounds, and the school is contemplating a suspension. What must it consider? Under Connecticut law, to determine if the conduct will seriously disrupt the educational process, your local school board must consider at least the following, though they are not limited to these four factors:

  1. Whether the incident occurred within close proximity of a school
  2. Whether other students from the school were involved or whether there was any gang involvement
  3. Whether the conduct involved violence, threats of violence or the unlawful use of a weapon… and whether any injuries occurred
  4. Whether the conduct involved the use of alcohol

As a parent, it is vital to realize that your child cannot be automatically suspended without an informal administrative hearing. This is because in Goss v. Lopez, the U.S. Supreme Court explained the import of due process in a suspension scenario:

Among other things, the State is constrained to recognize a student’s legitimate entitlement to a public education as a property interest which is protected by the Due Process Clause and which may not be taken away for misconduct without adherence to the minimum procedures required by [the Due Process] Clause. [5]

Thus, barring emergency circumstances, students facing a suspension (thus temporarily losing their property interest) “must be given some kind of notice and afforded some kind of hearing”[6] so they know why they are being suspended and given the chance to tell their side of the story. The hearing is the best place for a student to convince school officials that an out-of-school suspension is not warranted for any given number of reasons, such as the behavior not qualifying as prohibited conduct, the lack of disciplinary history,[7] or the use of an in-school suspension as a viable and reasonable alternative.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

The intricacies involved regarding in- and out-of-school suspensions can be difficult to comprehend, and could potentially result in the deprivation of a student’s protected rights. As such, if your child faces a suspension, it is imperative that you know all of these rights and consult with an experienced school law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding school discipline or other education law matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.


[1] “School suspension rates drop, but minority students still over-represented,” by Jacqueline Rabe Thomas. October 2, 2012: http://www.ctmirror.org/story/17615/school-suspension-rates-plummet-minority-students-still-overrepresented

[2] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-223c(g).

[3] See Footnote 1.

[4] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-223c(a)

[5] Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 574 (1975).

[6] Id. at 580.

[7] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-223c(e)

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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California Appellate Court Upholds Vacatur of FINRA Arbitration Award Based on Denial of Due Process

California Appellate Court Upholds Vacatur of FINRA Arbitration Award Based on Denial of Due Process

Roland Hansalik v. Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC, 2012 WL 1423014 (Cal. Ct. App. April 25, 2012)

In a recent case before the California Court of Appeals, Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC (“Wells Fargo”) appealed the trial court order to vacate the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) award in its favor against Ronald Hansalik (“Hansalik”). The appellate court found no error in the trial court ruling and affirmed the decision.

The underlying dispute in this case arose from Wells Fargo’s action to collect from Hansalik the unpaid balance of $1,239,044.16 due on a promissory note that contained a clause agreeing to arbitrate before FINRA. Prior to the initiation of arbitration proceedings, Hansalik moved from California to Switzerland, and failed to notify FINRA of his change of address as required by a notice sent to all members of FINRA’s predecessor, the National Association of Securities Dealers (“NASD”). FINRA mailed Wells Fargo’s Statement of Claim and other notices to Hansalik’s prior residential address in California. The post office notified FINRA that Hansalik’s forwarding address was an incomplete address in Zurich, Switzerland. Wells Fargo provided FINRA with the street address of the private bank where Hansalik worked in Switzerland. FINRA continued to mail arbitration notices to Hansalik’s former residential address in California. In April 2010, FINRA issued a default award against Hansalik for the principal sum of $1,297,694.14, plus interest, costs and attorney fees. The award also stated that the arbitrator determined that Hansalik had been properly served notice of the Statement of Claim and Notification of the Arbitrator.

After the award, Wells Fargo hired a Swiss attorney who demanded payment from Hansalik. Hansalik immediately filed a petition to vacate the FINRA arbitration award under the relevant provisions of California law, claiming that he never received notice and challenging the fundamental fairness of the entire arbitration proceeding. The trial court granted the petition on the grounds that Hansalik was not properly served under FINRA rules and that he was denied due process. Wells Fargo appealed contending that the arbitrator found that service complied with FINRA rules, that Hansalik was not denied due process, and that there was substantial evidence that Hansalik received actual notice of the arbitration.

Under California law, the limited grounds for vacating an arbitration award include instances when an arbitrator exceeds his authority by denying the litigant a fair hearing. Code Civ. Proc. § 1286.2, subd. (a)(4). This is substantially similar to the statutory grounds for vacatur in the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 10(a). California case law provides precedent for reversal of an arbitration award when the arbitrator “did not give appellant notice of any hearing, nor did he give it any opportunity to be heard.” Smith v. Campbell & Facciolla, Inc. 202 Cal.App.2d 134, 135 (1962).

FINRA Rule 13301(a) requires that the initial Statement of Claim be served on the individual at his residential address or “usual place of abode.” The rule further provides that if service cannot be completed at this address, the initial Statement of Claim will be served at the person’s business address. The appellate court concurred with the trial court determination that FINRA did not give Hansalik notice and an opportunity to be heard because it knowingly sent notices to his previous residential address instead of sending them to the current business address provided by Wells Fargo. Furthermore, the appellate court concurred that even if Hansalik had actual notice of the initial Statement of Claim from Wells Fargo via Federal Express and e-mail, he was entitled to such notice from FINRA.

FINRA Rule 13413 provides that the arbitration panel has the authority to interpret and determine the applicability of all provisions under the FINRA rules. The appellate court held that proper notice is so intrinsic to the fundamental fairness of a hearing that it denied Wells Fargo’s argument that this rule gave the arbitrator the power to interpret the FINRA notice rule and determine if service was proper under FINRA rules.

In light of FINRA’s unfair procedure and Hansalik’s lack of actual notice, the appellate court determined that the trial court properly vacated the FINRA arbitration award.

Should you have any questions relating to FINRA or arbitration issues, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County, Connecticut at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

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