Posts tagged with "exclusionary rule"

Search and Seizure by Rhode Island Officer Within Connecticut Did Not Violate Fourth Amendment Protections

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed the criminal convictions of a defendant, not persuaded by his claims that his protection against unreasonable searches and seizures was violated.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on the morning of November 20, 2005. A Rhode Island police officer trained in narcotics detection was on routine patrol when he saw the defendant driving at a high rate of speed. When the officer began to follow, the defendant sped up and pulled onto a dirt road located less than a mile from the Connecticut state line. The officer initiated a traffic stop, and while requesting identification documents he observed a large, brown paper bag on the front passenger seat as well as the distinct smell of marijuana. The officer inquired about the bag’s contents, to which the defendant replied his lunch was inside. After the officer returned to his cruiser, the defendant sped away toward the state line.

The officer pursued the defendant into Connecticut and observed the defendant driving upwards of 90mph, ignoring stop signs, and illegally passing other vehicles. The officer lost visual of the defendant’s vehicle, at which point he was joined by other Rhode Island officers, one of whom knew where the defendant lived. They immediately proceeded to this property and awaited the arrival of a Connecticut state trooper, after which they walked up the driveway and found the defendant’s car located behind the house. The defendant was not present and the paper bag was missing. A female occupant at the house refused to provide consent to search the house for the defendant. At this point the Rhode Island officer attempted to locate the paper bag along the route of pursuit. He found it in an open field approximately ten minutes later, and the bag contained twelve ounces of marijuana.

The defendant was subsequently arrested and charged on multiple counts, including reckless driving and possession of marijuana. He filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained from the paper bag and its contents, but the motion was denied. The trial court reasoned that the initial stop was justified, and the search at the house fell under the “hot pursuit” exception of the exclusionary rule. In addition, the search of the field was proper because it was not an area over which the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Following his conviction, the defendant appealed, claiming his rights under the Fourth Amendment were violated.

Under state and federal law, individuals are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons, houses, papers, and effects. This protection requires that the individual have “a legitimate expectation of privacy in the area searched,” which doesn’t include activities outside the immediate vicinity of one’s home. A search conducted without a warrant evidencing probable cause is per se unreasonable, and evidence derived from this illegal search will be excluded unless one of very few exceptions apply. In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the “hot pursuit” exception, which permits warrantless entry onto private premises “on the exigency of pursing a fleeing suspect.” However, this requirement also requires immediate and continuous police pursuit. Finally, for purposes of Fourth Amendment analysis, whether a violation occurs does not depend on the law of the state where the action on part of police took place.

In this case, the Appellate Court found no Fourth Amendment violations. The officer was in hot pursuit of the defendant when he searched the defendant’s property. The brief lapse in time between the end of the car chase and the point of the search was insufficient to “thwart the ‘immediate or continuous’ nature of the pursuit.” Furthermore, the defendant did not provide any evidence that he possessed a legitimate expectation of privacy in the field where the paper bag was located. Indeed, because this was an open field, no warrant or warrant exception was necessary for its seizure. Finally, that a Rhode Island police officer was performing his duties within Connecticut was immaterial to the Fourth Amendment analysis. Therefore, the Appellate Court affirmed the judgments.

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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Defendant Unsuccessfully Appeals Evading Responsibility Charge Due to Sufficient Evidence to Convict Prior to Alleged Unlawful Entry

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s arguments on appeal that his arrest was the product of an illegal search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on the night of February 2, 2006. The defendant was driving under the influence with two passengers when lost control of his car and struck two wooden guardrails. An eyewitness called police, but the defendant drove away before a state trooper arrived. The eyewitness explained that after the collision, he heard a female screaming and she appeared injured. He further noted that the driver, who appeared intoxicated, exited the car and ripped off the front bumper. The trooper searched the scene, noting “two damaged guardrail posts, empty beer bottles, a shoe and an automobile bumper.” The bumper’s license plate helped the trooper identify the vehicle’s owner as the defendant.

With back-up, the trooper proceeded to the defendant’s residence, where he saw a vehicle with fresh body damage and a missing front bumper. They approached the front door, knocked and announced their presence, but no one answered. Based on the eyewitness testimony, the car damage, and his experience and training, the trooper was concerned about the health and safety of the vehicle’s occupants. They entered the residence, noting a shoe on the floor matching the one at the scene, and found the defendant sleeping. The troopers could not wake him up, and because the defendant “would stop breathing for several seconds every few minutes,” they called for paramedics.

The paramedics arrived and successfully roused the defendant, who quickly became agitated and ordered everyone out of his home. The troopers attempted to “ascertain the condition of the female passenger,” but the defendant would not answer this question, or sign a summons for evasion of responsibility. Therefore, troopers attempted to initiate an arrest, but the defendant resisted and hurled saliva at the troopers twice, hitting one of them in the leg, before he was handcuffed.

The defendant was charged with evasion of responsibility in the operation of a motor vehicle, assault of public safety personnel, and interfering with an officer in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) §§ 14-224(b), 53a-167c, and 53a-167a, respectively. The defendant filed a motion to suppress “all evidence seized and all arrests made,” arguing they were all in violation of constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. This motion was denied because the court believed that officers entered his household properly under the emergency doctrine exception to the exclusionary rule. The defendant appealed following his conviction, claiming, in part, that the court abused its discretion in denying his motion to suppress evidence.

Generally, evidence obtained as a result of prior illegal police action will be excluded from evidence. To determine whether application of the exclusionary rule is proper, a court must determine “whether the challenged evidence is in some sense the product of illegal government activity.” If, however, the inclusion on the record of illegally obtained evidence was harmless – that it did not contribute to the defendant’s conviction in a meaningful way – a court will not grant a new trial for failure to grant a motion to suppress. In this case, there was ample evidence to convict for evading responsibility before the troopers entered the defendant’s home. Though the shoe observed inside the home may have “bolstered the state’s case to some extent,” the Appellate Court did not believe it was enough to contribute to conviction.

In a relatively recent decision, the Supreme Court of Connecticut adopted a new exception to the exclusionary rule: the new crime exception. This exception applies if subsequent crimes are “sufficiently attenuated from the alleged illegal entry by the police.” In this case, the Appellate Court was convinced such a gap in time existed from when officers first entered the defendant’s home and when the defendant became combative. Therefore, the Appellate Court declined to grant a new trial on the basis of the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence. After addressing and rejecting additional matters of appeal, the Appellate Court affirmed the judgment.

When faced with a charge of evading responsibility, 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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Court Suppresses Evidence After MTAPD Illegally Arrested DUI Suspect, Citing Jurisdictional Limitations

This April, the Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk at Norwalk granted a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence collected after officers with the Metropolitan Transit Authority Police Department (MTAPD) illegally arrested him. However, the court declined to suppress evidence gathered prior to the arrest.

In this case, two MTAPD officers (officers) were traveling along I-95 North in Westport at 2:20am when they witnessed a motor vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed in the leftmost lane. This vehicle repeatedly forced other cars into the center lane, drove over the left solid white line, and abruptly crossed into the other lanes. The officers initiated a traffic stop, though the vehicle stopped partially in an entrance ramp onto I-95. One of the officers approached the passenger side of the vehicle and saw the defendant as the only occupant. When instructing the defendant to move his car to a safer location, the officer observed the strong odor of alcohol and the defendant’s bloodshot eyes. After backup was requested, the officers asked the defendant for his identification, but he instead spontaneously stated that his license was suspended.

At 2:45am a State trooper (trooper) arrived on the scene, and the MTAPD officers conducted several field sobriety tests, all of which the defendant failed. The defendant was placed under arrest by the officers, who transported him to Westport’s police department for a breathalyzer test. At this point, the trooper was no longer involved. At the police department, the defendant refused to submit to a breath test, and was subsequently charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI). However, he moved to suppress all evidence, arguing it was inadmissible because the officers illegally arrested him, and filed a motion to dismiss.

Police officers have the power to arrest within their respective jurisdictions, pursuant to General Statutes § 54-1f(c). MTAPD officers are considered Railroad Police Officers, and their enforcement powers are generally limited to railroad property (except in the case of pursuit). An arrest made outside the statutory parameters is illegal, and the typical remedy is to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the illegal arrest. The purpose of this exclusionary rule is to ensure that a defendant receives a fair trial. However, an illegal arrest does not outright bar a State from pursuing charges against a defendant, and evidence may still be admissible if acquired “by means sufficiently distinguishable to be purged of the primary taint.”

In this case, the Superior Court wrote that because I-95 is not railroad property, and the officers were not effectuating their jurisdictional arrest powers as authorized under statute, they did not have authority to arrest the defendant. Therefore, the arrest in this case was illegal, and the Court agreed that all evidence obtained after the defendant was taken into custody, including his refusal to submit to a breath test, could be suppressed. However, the Court found that the evidence obtained prior to arrest was admissible. The MTAPD officers initiated an investigatory stop, which did not violate § 54-1f(a), and the presence of the trooper, whose jurisdiction includes interstate highways like I-95, rendered administration of the field sobriety tests proper. Therefore, the Court granted in part and denied in part the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence, and denied his motion to dismiss.

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.

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