Posts tagged with "DUI"

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.

In Light of Recently Decided Precedent Regarding Breath Tests, Court Affirms Judgment in Pending DUI Appeal

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered whether a court improperly denied a defendant’s motions in limine to exclude toxicology evidence that he argued did not comply with statutory requirements.

This case arose from an incident that occurred after midnight on July 10, 2004. The defendant was driving his vehicle on the Merritt Parkway when he drove off the Exit 38 off-ramp and hit multiple trees before coming to a stop. A Norwalk police officer arrived and observed the defendant outside the vehicle, but the defendant denied that he was the driver. Soon thereafter, a state trooper arrived and made the following observations of the defendant: the smell of alcohol, red glassy eyes, and a cut on his hand and lip. He concluded that the defendant was the driver, and administered field sobriety tests, which the defendant failed.

The defendant was brought to the state police barracks in Bridgeport and asked when he started to drink. He responded he consumed four beers at a restaurant in Stamford beginning at 10pm the night before and stopped drinking after the accident occurred. He additionally noted that he did not have anything to eat since breakfast the morning before. The defendant submitted to two breath tests on the Intoxilyzer 5000 machine, which resulted in blood alcohol content readings of 0.225 and 0.209, both more than two-and-a-half times the legal limit.

The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle with an elevated blood alcohol content, which violated Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a(a)(2). Before trial, he submitted several motions in limine exclude the Intoxilyzer results, claiming that the tests “did not comply with state regulations in force at the time of the incident.” The court denied the motion, noting that the breath tests performed in this case were in compliance. The defendant plead nolo contendere (no contest), and after sentencing he appealed his conviction. He argued that the court improperly denied his motion because “the apparatus reports blood alcohol content in terms of weight per volume percent and not a weight per weight percent.”

After the defendant’s initial brief was submitted, but prior to adjudication of this appeal, the Appellate Court published its decision in State v. Pilotti, 99 Conn. App. 563 (2007). In Pilotti, the facts were substantially the same and the defendant made the same argument as presented in the case at bar. The Pilotti Court noted that the legislature intended to include breath testing under CGS § 14-227a(b), not just blood testing, and further wrote:

[CGS] § 14-227a(b) requires the state to establish as a foundation for the admissibility of chemical analysis evidence that the test was performed with equipment approved by the department of public safety. It does not require … that the device satisfy the criteria set forth in the regulations.

In other words, evidence will not be deemed inadmissible where “testing that complies with the regulatory requirements is deemed to be competent evidence.” Thus, in the case at bar, the Appellate Court found that Pilotti was controlling, and because this case was nearly identical, it held that use of the Intoxilyzer 5000 machine satisfied the statutory requirements of CGS § 14-227a(b).

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.

Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Denied, as DUI Convict’s Claims Lacked Merit

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut considered a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, in which the petitioner claimed that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of DUI and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on the evening of December 24, 2005. State troopers on routine patrol observed the petitioner driving his vehicle erratically and initiated a traffic stop. The petitioner admitted that he consumed a few beers, but would not answer any follow-up questions. He smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech and glassy eyes, and had trouble handling his license and papers. Because the petitioner had one leg, troopers could only administer the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, which the petitioner failed. He was arrested and transported to barracks, where he was belligerent and argumentative. In the processing room, the petitioner was seen slumped over his chair.

The petitioner was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(1). At trial, he was represented by the Chief Public Defender, a veteran in the practice of law. The petitioner wanted a bench trial for reasons of expediency, even though defense counsel both advised against this decision and explained the ramifications of waiver. In formulating a defense strategy, counsel chose to minimize the testimony regarding the HGN test. He was not convinced that asserting a head injury would discredit such testimony, and felt a motion to suppress would be unsuccessful. Defense counsel robustly cross-examined all of the troopers, and the petitioner agreed to testify on his own behalf regarding his head injury.

Nonetheless, the petitioner was convicted of OMVUI and sentenced to two years incarceration, one year probation, and 500 hours of community service. However, he did not appeal his decision and instead filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The petitioner argued that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of OMVUI, that his constitutional right to a jury trial was violated, and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, among other claims.

In a bench ruling, the Superior Court was not persuaded by any of the petitioner’s claims and denied his petition. It noted that even absent the HGN test evidence, there was sufficient evidence to prove the petitioner committed OMVUI. The petitioner knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his right to a jury trial: indeed, it was the petitioner who insisted on a bench trial, and defense counsel properly explained the consequences of going this route. Finally, the Court believed that petitioner failed to prove the existence of deficient performance by counsel and prejudice in the outcome of his case. Defense counsel employed sound trial strategy and zealously advocated on behalf of his client. As the Court explained, “An analysis of the record below indicates an experienced trial attorney who was not successful when faced with a strong case presented by the state.”

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.

High Court Considers Whether Second DUI Conviction in Ten Years Is a Felony

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut considered whether a second DUI conviction within a period of ten years was a felony, or simply fell within the motor vehicle violation exception to the term “offense.”

In this case, the plaintiff was convicted of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI), in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a, for the second time within ten years. Upon asking for a copy of his criminal record, the plaintiff saw that he was designated as a “convicted felon.” He petitioned the defendant, the Commissioner of Public Safety, to repeal regulations permitting the label, but the request was denied. The plaintiff promptly brought this action against the defendant.

The trial court concluded that even though a second OMVUI conviction “carries a term of incarceration consistent with the definition of a felony [greater than one year],” it is not a felony because pursuant to CGS § 53a-24(a), the motor vehicle violation exception applied. The defendant was permanently enjoined “from labeling any person as a convicted felon on the basis of a second conviction under § 14-227a within a ten-year period.” The defendant appealed, contending that the legislature intended that a second OMVUI conviction within ten years would be a felony and that the trial court misapplied the exception. Conversely, the plaintiff argued that the court’s conclusion was proper.

When a court embarks on an exercise of statutory interpretation, it must determine “whether the statute, when read in context, is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation.” If a statute’s language is ambiguous, the courts will consider legislative history, legislative policy, and the relationship of the statute in question to related legislation and common law principles. If, however, the statute was plain and unambiguous, “extratextual evidence of the meaning of the statute shall not be considered.”

In this case, the Supreme Court determined that the plain language of CGS § 14-227a shows the legislature intended that a violation constituted a criminal offense. It cites repeated use of “prosecution” and “criminal penalties” in the language, as well as the increasing penalties imposed. The Court noted that because two enumerated motor vehicle felonies may constitute “prior conviction[s] for the same offense as [OMVUI],” the legislature intended that OMVUI would be a comparable felony.

The plaintiff argued, however, that the breach in question fell under the motor vehicle violation exception of CGS § 53a-24(a), and therefore could not be a felony. “Motor vehicle violation” is not defined, though “violation” is defined as an offense punishable only by a fine. The Court determined that it is reasonable to apply this definition to “motor vehicle violation.” Because the legislature did not include such a definition in CGS § 14-227a, the Court stated that this “is evidence that the legislature did not intent for it to fall within the motor vehicle violation exception to the definition of offense.”

The court conceded, however, that “violation” and “motor vehicle violation” as used in CGS § 53a-24(a) could have multiple reasonable definitions. Did it just apply to breaches where a fine was the only punishment, or also those cases where a court could impose a term of incarceration? Because the answer was not clear, the Court reconsidered the meaning of § 14-227a in light of available extratextual evidence. The extensive legislative history of this statute supported the proposition that a second OMVUI conviction was a felony, a position bolstered by Connecticut case law, comparable statutes in forty-four other states, and ever-increasing penalties for breach. In addition, the Court noted that the legislature has long considered OMVUI a serious crime, and “[c]onstruing § 14-227a so that a breach is not a criminal offense… would frustrate the clear intent and public policy behind [the statute].” Thus, the Court found that a second OMVUI conviction within a ten-year term is a felony, and the judgment was reversed and remanded, instructing the trial court to enter judgment in favor of the defendant.

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.

High Court Finds Officer Lacked Reasonable and Articulable Suspicion in DUI Traffic Stop Based Solely on Object Hanging From Rearview Mirror

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut considered whether the lower courts erred in dismissing charges against the defendant because the arresting officer did not have a reasonable and articulable suspicion warranting a traffic stop.

In this case, a police officer received anonymous tips about an intoxicated driver, and the make and license plate number provided matched the defendant’s vehicle. The officer did not observe any erratic driving, though he noticed a chain and cross hanging from the rearview mirror. This wooden object was a total of one inch wide and ten inches long. Because of the officer’s “mistaken, albeit good faith, believe that [Connecticut General Statutes (CGS)] § 14-99f(c) makes it an infraction for a car to be driven with any object hanging from a rearview mirror,” he initiated a traffic stop on the basis of the wooden object alone.

The defendant was subsequently arrested and charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI), operation without a license, and operation with an obstructed view, in violation of CGS §§ 14-227a, 14-213, and 14-99f(c), respectively. The defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence, alleging the traffic stop was illegal because the officer had neither probable cause nor reasonable suspicion to initiate it. The trial court agreed and granted the motion, noting that the officer did not personally corroborate the unreliable tips. When the trial court later issued a Supplemental Finding of Fact, it wrote:

A reading of [§ 14-99f(c)] makes it clear that a violation of the statute is predicated upon an object obstructing the view of the driver or distracting the driver. [The officer’s] stop of the defendant was not based on a violation of the statute, but was based solely on the fact that there was something hanging from the defendant’s mirror.

The trial court dismissed all charges against the defendant, and the State appealed. The Appellate Court agreed with the trial court’s determination, additionally noting that “our statute does not proscribe all items hanging from a rearview mirror.” The State promptly appealed.

Investigatory stops under Terry v. Ohio are legal so long as the officer has a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot, a reasonable purpose for the stop, and the scope and character of the stop is reasonable in light of the purpose. The reasonable suspicion standard requires “some minimal level of objective justification for making the stop.” This requires factual support rather than hypothetical possibility.

In this case, the State was required to prove, under § 14-99f(c), that the officer had a reasonable and articulable suspicion “that the chain and/or cross that he had observed was, or had been, obstructing the defendant’s vision or distracting his attention.” In this regard, the state failed to meet its burden. The officer simply testified seeing the object – nothing more. As the court elaborated:

[The officer] did not say that he had seen the defendant peering around the object, glancing toward the object and away from the road ahead of him or driving his car in such a manner to suggest that his view was obstructed or that he was distracted. Indeed, the state presented no testimony that [the officer] considered the hanging chain to present an obstruction to the defendant’s view of the roadway.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court found that the wooden object simply was not objectively large enough to obstruct the defendant’s view. Therefore, the Supreme Court upheld the Appellate Court’s decision that the trial court properly dismissed the case.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or license suspension, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

DUI Defendant Contests Traffic Stop, Claiming Lack of Reasonable and Articulable Suspicion

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut considered a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence arguing that the arresting officer did not have grounds to initiate a traffic stop based solely on a cluster of air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror.

This case arose from an incident that occurred just after midnight on January 24, 2007. A police officer noticed “a large cluster of air freshener ornaments hanging from the rearview mirror” of the defendant’s car, a potential violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-99f(c), a State traffic law. At this time, the defendant was not showing any sign of erratic driving. The officer initiated a traffic stop and immediately noticed “a very strong odor of alcohol” as well as the defendant’s bloodshot, glassy eyes. The defendant failed three sobriety tests and was arrested; a subsequent search of the vehicle revealed an open bottle of Yukon Jack liquor that was partially empty.

The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of CGS § 14-227a. He filed a motion to suppress evidence, claiming that the officer did not have a reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop his vehicle. The defendant argued that the officer had to believe that the air fresheners actually obstructed his vision through the windshield, but the State stated that “anything hung from the rearview mirror necessarily obstructs and/or distracts.” The defendant countered that regardless of what someone hangs, it would be a per se violation allowing officers to pull people over on a whim, thus negating Fourth Amendment protections.

Officers may perform investigatory stops if they have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. In Connecticut, officers have authority to stop a motor vehicle for a mere traffic infraction, such as under CGS § 14-99f(c). Pursuant to this statute, “No article, device, sticker or ornament shall be attached or affixed to or hung on or in any motor vehicle in such a manner or location as to interfere with the operator’s unobstructed view of the highway or to distract the attention of the operator.” Citing a Virginia appellate decision, the Superior Court acknowledged that many motorists drive with objects hanging from their rearview mirrors: “The variety and the frequency with which objects are suspended from rearview mirrors may be a reflection of the egocentricity of the driver and of the public’s general ignorance of the statutory prohibition, but that does not excuse the conduct.” (Emphasis added)

In this case, the Superior Court noted that CGS § 14-99f(c) requires the driver’s view remain unobstructed, not that the view actually be obstructed. Therefore, in Connecticut, if a hung object either “1) interfere[s] with the unobstructed view of the operator, or 2) distract[s] the operator,” he or she will have violated the statute. Because the officer in this case could reasonably conclude that the cluster of air fresheners obstructed the defendant’s “peripheral vision in the right-hand direction,” he had a reasonable and articulable suspicion to initiate a brief traffic stop to confirm or dispel his suspicion of a traffic violation. After quickly addressing and rejecting additional claims, the Court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or license suspension, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Sentencing Review Division Affirms Sentence of Remorseless DUI Driver with Rare Disease

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut affirmed the sentence of a petitioner following his conviction for a DUI-related fatality.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on night of July 28, 1998. The petitioner suffered from Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2), a rare illness that can cause deafness, blindness, or even death. That morning, he underwent a radiation treatment, and then attended a farewell party that evening. At the party, the petitioner drank nine to twelve ounces of scotch and was visibly intoxicated by the time he left alone. He traveled various highways in the wrong direction and then entered a northbound ramp going southbound. The petitioner drove into an oncoming vehicle, which resulted in a fatality. He was transported to a nearby hospital for treatment, and blood tests revealed that he had a blood alcohol content of 0.210, over two-and-a-half times the legal limit.

The petitioner was charged with reckless manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol. At his jury trial, he argued that he was not intoxicated at the time of the accident; rather, a defense expert testified that the defendant “lost consciousness as a result of a seizure caused by his NF2 disease.” The jury was not convinced and convicted the petitioner on all counts, and he was sentenced to fifteen years execution suspended after ten years, with five years’ probation and a $21,000 fine.

The petitioner asked the Sentencing Review Division of the Superior Court to reduce the non-suspended part of his sentence for three reasons. He first argued that the sentence imposed was inappropriate and disproportionate, as those similarly situated received lighter sentences. Second, he argued that the trial court did not consider his health problems when determining his sentence, and that he was receiving inadequate treatment by the Department of Corrections. Finally the petitioner stated that because was “a person of good moral character” who accepted responsibility for his crime, modification was warranted.

The Superior Court rejected all of the petitioner’s arguments for sentence reduction. It noted that despite claiming that individuals convicted of similar crimes received lighter sentences, the petitioner provided little to no information about those cases that would facilitate a proper comparative analysis. Furthermore, the Court acknowledged that the sentencing court was “fully aware of his health issues,” and the sentence was made after appropriate consideration of the petitioner’s health. In addition, the Court would not address the petitioner’s DOC complaint, because it “may only consider matters which were before the sentencing court at the time of sentencing.” Finally, the sentencing court considered the petitioner’s background and history, and found that he was “in denial regarding the role that alcohol played [in] his crime, failed to show any empathy for the suffering caused by the victim’s family and posed a danger to society.” Therefore, the Superior Court affirmed the sentence because it was neither inappropriate nor disproportionate.

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.

For Remorseless Drunk Driver, Stiff Sentence Was Neither Disproportionate Nor Inappropriate

In a recent criminal law matter, the Sentence Review Division of the Superior Court assessed whether a defendant’s sentence following a DUI-related trial was proper.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on July 27, 1997. The defendant was driving under the influence when he struck two teenage pedestrians. One died at the scene and the other the next day at Hartford Hospital. The defendant did not stop to help them; rather, he drove until he got his car hit a tree, after which he fled. Soon after, police found the defendant, who admitted that he hit what he believed was a dog. A subsequent chemical alcohol test revealed the defendant’s blood alcohol content at 0.163, over twice the legal limit, as well as the presence of cannabis.

The defendant was charged with and convicted of two counts of second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, offense committed while on release, and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol and/or drugs. At the sentencing hearing, the court noted that “the impact of the defendant’s actions was clearly significant,” noting the very young age of the victims. The defendant did not exhibit remorse for his conduct, and he tried blaming the victims because at the time of the accident, they were wearing dark clothing. The court considered the defendant’s background and upbringing, but was particularly disturbed by the following statement from his pre-sentence investigation report: “I’ve been driving like this for 35 years… I can drink and drive… I am a good drunk driver.”

The defendant was subsequently sentenced to thirty-five years execution suspended after twenty-six and a half years, with five years probation. He sought review of his sentence, arguing that it was “disproportionate” to the sentences imposed on others who were similarly situated.

The scope of review by the Sentencing Review Division is confined to the parameters of Connecticut Practice Book § 43-23 et seq. A sentence may be modified upon a showing that it was “inappropriate or disproportionate” in light of various factors, such as the nature of the offense and protection of public interests. In this case, the Court stated that modification was not warranted based on the unique facts of this case. It wrote how it appeared “the sentencing court was unable to identify anything that it could use as mitigation to merit a lesser sentence.” Therefore, the sentence 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.

Court’s Limiting Instruction Minimized Prejudicial Impact of Contested Evidence

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s claims of improperly-admitted evidence and prosecutorial impropriety, following his conviction in a DUI-related case. The defendant’s first claim is discussed in this article.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on July 3 and 4, 2006. Officers initiated a traffic stop after observing the defendant driving erratically, and after personal interaction they determined the defendant was highly intoxicated. They placed him under arrest for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a. The officers also arranged for the defendant’s truck to be towed. During the booking process, officers learned that the defendant’s driver’s license was suspended at the time of the traffic stop. Therefore, they charged him with operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license (OMVSL) in violation of CGS § 14-215. The following morning, an officer saw the defendant being driven to the tow truck company that had towed the defendant’s truck the previous night. There, the officer observed the defendant driving his truck from the parking lot exit, so he initiated a traffic stop and issued a summons for OMVSL.

At trial, the State sought to include redacted versions of the two suspension notices, but defense counsel objected. Citing un-redacted portions that showed duration of the suspensions, counsel argued, “[A]ny reasonable person would infer from the blacked out [portion] that the suspension notice [was] alcohol related, and… that would be unduly prejudicial for [the defendant].” The court overruled the objection, stating the argument involved mere speculation. The court later gave a limiting instruction to the jury that they were not to speculate as to the reasons for the instructions; rather, the suspension notices were only being used by the State to allege that the defendant was under suspension.

The defendant was convicted on all counts, and after sentencing he filed an appeal. He argued, in part, that the probative value of the suspension notices was outweighed by their prejudicial impact. He argued that inclusion of the notices would lead the jury to believe he was a “chronic drunk driver,” which would be highly prejudicial to the present case.

The trial court has discretion to determine whether the probative value of evidence is outweighed by its prejudicial impact. Such findings are reversed only upon the showing of an abuse of discretion or manifest injustice. In this case, the Appellate Court determined that the notices were relevant because they tended to prove that the defendant’s license was suspended on July 3 and 4, 2006. The defendant failed to provide any compelling basis to indicate they were unduly prejudicial. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that their admission into evidence was unduly prejudicial, the limiting instruction given by the court lessened or even eliminated any adverse impact on the outcome of the trial. Therefore, the court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the notices into evidence.

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.