Posts tagged with "field sobriety tests"

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.

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.

Despite Prosecutorial Impropriety, Closing Argument Comment Did Not Deprive Defendant of a Fair Trial

In the previous article, I discussed how the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s claim that the trial court improperly admitted allegedly prejudicial evidence. This article focuses on the defendant’s second claim on review: prosecutorial impropriety.

As previously noted, the defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol and operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license. At trial, the State admitted into evidence an A-44 form, which is used by police when they report an arrest related to OMVUI. This form indicated that the defendant “refused to perform” two field sobriety tests, but on direct examination, the officer who filled out this form stated that no field sobriety tests were performed because the defendant appeared too intoxicated to safely perform them. On cross-examination, defense counsel questioned the disparity, and during closing arguments repeatedly highlighted the discrepancy to call into question the witness’s credibility. In its rebuttal argument, the prosecutor stated that the A-44 form was a standardized form voted on by the Connecticut legislature. However, this cited evidence that was never entered into the record, though defense counsel did not object when the statement was made.

When the defendant appealed his conviction, his second ground for appeal was that the prosecutor’s statement during closing arguments constituted an impropriety that deprived him of a fair trial. He argued that “the state impermissibly bolstered [the officer’s] testimony by improperly referring to evidence that was not in the record during closing argument.”

A reviewing court applies a two-step process when assessing a claim of prosecutorial impropriety. First, the court must determine whether an impropriety even occurred. Although counsel are generally allowed “generous latitude” with respect to their arguments, a prosecutor may forcefully argue his case so long as it is done so fairly based on facts within the evidence and attendant inferences. In this case, the Appellate Court concluded that the prosecutor’s statement amounted to an impropriety. He made reference to evidence that was not admitted, and because “the comment amounts to unsworn testimony… [it was] not proper in closing argument.”

However, the inquiry does not stop at a mere finding of impropriety. In the second step, the court must consider “whether that impropriety, or the cumulative effect of multiple improprieties, deprived the defendant of his due process right to a fair trial.” The court will consider the following six factors in the context of the entire trial:

[T]he extent to which the impropriety was invited by defense conduct, the severity of the impropriety, the frequency of the impropriety, the centrality of the impropriety to the critical issues in the case, the effectiveness of the curative measures adopted and the strength of the state’s case.

State v. Jordan, 117 Conn. App. 160, 164 (2009). In this case, the Appellate Court only found the first factor in the defendant’s favor. It noted that the comment was not sufficiently egregious and only occurred once. In addition, attribution to the legislature is not a central issue in an OMVUI case, and the court instructed the jury that counsel’s arguments were not evidence and thus could not be considered. The defendant provided no evidence that the jury disregarded this instruction. Finally, the State’s OMVUI case was sufficiently strong with ample supporting evidence. Therefore, the Appellate Court found that despite the impropriety, the comment did not deprive the defendant of a fair trial.

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 Finds Sufficient Evidence to Convict, Declines Review of Other Claims Due to Inadequate Briefing

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut was not persuaded by a defendant’s claims of insufficient evidence to establish DUI and would not review his claim of prosecutorial impropriety because his appellate brief was inadequate.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at 7pm in Wilton on December 19, 2007. A citizen saw the defendant driving very slowly, hitting the right curb repeatedly, and nearly colliding with three cars in the opposite lane. This citizen and others boxed in the defendant after he came to a stop in the wrong lane. Police soon arrived and observed the smell of alcohol, the defendant’s slurred speech, and what appeared to be a red wine stain on his shirt. They administered the standard field sobriety tests, but the defendant failed one and then refused to perform the other two. He was arrested and brought to police headquarters, where he refused to submit to a breath test. The defendant admitted to consuming multiple drinks in his vehicle starting one hour before he was stopped.

The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a(a)(1). During closing arguments, the prosecutor stated, “What bigger piece of circumstantial evidence would there be if the defendant was under the influence other than his refusal to take the test?” The defendant was subsequently convicted, though he appealed on multiple grounds. He argued that the evidence was insufficient to prove OMVUI. He further claimed that prosecutorial impropriety deprived him of a fair trial, because the prosecutor’s statement constituted compulsory self-incrimination.

To convict a defendant of OMVUI, the State must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he operated a motor vehicle on a public highway while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. When a reviewing court adjudicates a sufficiency of the evidence claim, it construes the evidence so as to favor sustaining the verdict. It then determines whether, based on the facts and attendant inferences, a reasonable jury would have found that “the cumulative effect of the evidence established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” A jury may consider, pursuant to CGS § 14-227a(e), any inference regarding a defendant’s refusal to submit to a chemical alcohol test. In this case, the Appellate Court found ample evidence that the defendant committed OMVUI, based on his appearance and behavior, the field sobriety tests, and his refusal to submit to a breath test. Therefore, the Court rejected this claim.

Courts are under no duty to review claims that are inadequately briefed. As the Appellate Court discussed in a previous case, “Where a claim is asserted in the statement of issues but thereafter receives only cursory attention in the brief without substantive discussion or citation of authorities, it is deemed to be abandoned.” In this case, the Appellate Court declined to review the defendant’s claim of prosecutorial impropriety because his brief was not adequate. He did not provide “any analysis, or cite any legal authority, to explain how his fifth amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination is implicated by the prosecutor’s statement in the present case.” After reviewing one additional claim on review, the Appellate Court affirmed the 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.

“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.

Despite Trial Court’s Abuse of Discretion, Defendant Failed to Prove Specific Harm Warranting Reversal

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed judgment after a defendant, convicted of DUI, unsuccessfully claimed that his constitutional rights were violated when the trial court arbitrarily denied his motion for a minor continuance.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on November 22, 2003, in Stratford. The defendant crashed his vehicle into an unoccupied parked car, and responding officers noticed visible signs of intoxication. The defendant failed several field sobriety tests and was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(1). The defendant wanted a jury trial, and during jury selection, the defendant used up all his peremptory challenges. When Juror T was selected as the alternate, defense counsel challenged him for cause. The reason given was because Juror T’s vehicle had been rear-ended by an intoxicated driver, he had been the passenger of an intoxicated driver, and he managed an alcoholic employee. The court would not excuse Juror T for cause, and defense counsel did not seek any additional peremptory challenges.

Due to a miscommunication, a regular juror did not appear at court on the scheduled trial date. However, because the alternate was present, the court stated that the trial would proceed that afternoon. Defense counsel immediately objected and requested a continuance to the next morning, when the regular juror would be available. The court denied the request “without giving any reason… other than that the alternate juror was selected in the same manner as the regular jurors were selected.” The defendant was convicted of OMVUI and thereafter appealed, arguing that the court abused its discretion when it denied the motion, therefore depriving him of the right to an impartial jury.

Trial courts have wide discretion in deciding whether or not to grant a motion for a continuance. These decisions will not be overturned on appeal unless the appellant shows that the denial of this motion was arbitrary. A reviewing court will consider a number of non-exclusive factors:

[T]he timeliness of the request for continuance; the likely length of the delay; the age and complexity of the case; the granting of other continuances in the past; the impact of delay on the litigants, witnesses, opposing counsel and the court; the perceived legitimacy of the reasons proffered in support of the request; [and] the defendant’s personal responsibility for the timing of the request.

State v. Coney, 266 Conn. 787, 801 (2003). Even if the Appellate Court finds that the trial court acted arbitrarily, it must also determine that the denial was harmful, a burden placed on the appellant. If the denial implicates the violation of a constitutional right, prejudice is presumed. In addition, with respect to alternate jurors, they must have “the same qualifications and be selected in the same manner as regular jurors.” General Statutes § 54-82h(a).

In this case, the Appellate Court considered the factors listed above and came to the conclusion that the trial court’s denial of the motion for a continuance was “unreasonable and arbitrary under the unique circumstances of the case.” However, though the defendant cited a deprivation of his Sixth Amendment protections, he did not cite any case law or provide any analysis in support of his claim. As such, prejudice was not presumed, and the defendant had to show he was harmed by Juror T sitting on the jury. The defendant failed to demonstrate specific harm, and the Appellate Court declined to presume that Juror T was not “an impartial juror under these circumstances.” 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.

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.

Appellate Court Reviews Officer’s Actions During Traffic Stop of DUI Suspect

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered whether a police officer lacked a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the defendant was driving under the influence and impermissibly prolonged a traffic stop.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at 1:21am on April 13, 2007. A state trooper on routine patrol was driving along Route 72 in New Britain when he observed a vehicle rapidly accelerating as it entered the highway. The trooper clocked the speed of this vehicle at approximately 100mph, despite a 55mph posted speed limit, and he initiated a traffic stop, though the driver parked his car on an exit ramp with part of it protruding into the travel lane. For his own safety, the trooper approached the passenger side of the car and asked the driver, who was later identified as the defendant, to provide his license, registration, and proof of insurance. The officer inquired whether he consumed any alcohol that night, to which the defendant replied he had not.

The trooper validated the documents and shortly thereafter returned to the defendant’s car, unsure whether to arrest the defendant or issue a summons for reckless driving. The trooper asked the defendant to exit his car and immediately noticed the odor of alcohol and the defendant’s bloodshot, glassy eyes. The defendant admitted to drinking two alcoholic beverages, so the trooper administered several field sobriety tests and subsequently arrested him. The entire incident lasted no more than twenty-five minutes.

The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of § 14-227a. He filed a motion to suppress all evidence obtained after the initial traffic stop, arguing that the trooper did not have a reasonable and articulable suspicion “to take any action at that point other than ticketing or arresting [him] for reckless driving.” The trial court denied the motion, stating that when the trooper had not yet completed the initial purpose of the traffic stop. Therefore, the extension of the stop was not unlawful. The defendant entered into a conditional plea of nolo contendere, then appealed.

A police officer has authority to briefly stop a suspicious person and make “reasonable inquiries” to confirm or dispel his suspicions of potential criminal activity. There is no bright-line limitation on the duration of this stop, and an officer may inquire about matters unrelated to the traffic stop itself “so long as those inquiries do not measurably extend [its] duration.” In light of the need to protect an officer, asking a driver to exit his vehicle is a comparatively minimal intrusion on his personal liberty.

In this case, the Appellate Court found that the trooper did not unlawfully extend the traffic stop. The duration, from initial encounter to arrest, was approximately twenty-five minutes, and the trooper’s actions during this time were “all reasonable as they related to the traffic stop itself.” The trooper acted properly in asking the defendant to exit his vehicle: the burden on the defendant’s individual liberty was minimal compared to asking the trooper to stand in an exit ramp travel lane in the middle of the night. In addition, the trooper had a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the defendant was intoxicated, so conducting the field sobriety tests in this situation was proper. Therefore, the Appellate Court 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.

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.