Posts tagged with "fine"

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.

Parental Consequences for Chronically Truant Schoolchildren

Recent studies[1] highlight the issue of chronic truancy in recent years: as one journalist quipped, “In order for young people to do better in school, it helps if they actually are in school.”[2] School districts are particularly divergent in how to reduce truancy rates. Some have elected to give away gift cards (Dallas, Cincinatti), iPads (DeSoto, Texas), major league baseball tickets (Kansas City, Houston), and even cars (Dallas-Fort Worth area).[3] Other school districts, however, seek to hit parents and students where it really hurts: their wallets and through court involvement.

One of my previous posts highlighted the prevalence of chronic truancy in the New Britain public school system. The newly-hired superintendent of schools, Kelt Cooper, has proposed “monetary penalties to get the job [of ending high truancy rates] done. A plan to fine students to the tune of $75 per skipped school day is now being considered by New Britain council members.”[4] This practice is used both nationwide, such as in Los Angeles ($20 per offense)[5] and the State of Ohio (up to $500, seventy hours community service, or both).[6] One school district had such a severe fine – $300 per violation – which led to $27,000 owed by one parent alone (and $17,000 by his child), prompting a federal lawsuit.[7] Other school districts have implemented even more drastic measures. One California mother was recently sentenced to 180 days in jail, after repeated warnings from the school district about her children’s combined absence rate in excess of 10% of the school year.[8] Earlier this year, a Texas honor roll student “spent 24 hours in jail… for missing too much school.”[9]

In Connecticut, parents have the legal obligation to make sure that their children either attend a public school or receive comparable instruction elsewhere. In addition, it is the parent’s responsibility “to contact the school office when their child is absent from school and provide a reason for the absence if they want the absence to be excused.”[10] However, once a child is identified as being truant, the school district will attempt to meet with the parent to determine the cause of the truancy. However, if the parent either fails to attend this meeting or is otherwise uncooperative, the school district has the statutory authority to seek Superior Court involvement and refer the family as one with service needs.[11] In addition, the school district may impose a $25 fine for each school day missed by the student.[12]

Taking an active role in ensuring your child’s regular school attendance is not only required by law, but also necessary to maximize your child’s educational and occupational opportunities. If you have any questions regarding truancy, school discipline, or other education law matters, it is imperative that you seek counsel with an experienced school law practitioner. Please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at Maya Murphy, P.C.’s Westport office located in Fairfield County at (203) 221-3100 or at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.


[1] See, e.g., “New Britain Schools Targeting Kindergarten Truants,” by the Associated Press. September 10, 2012: http://www.courant.com/community/new-britain/hc-new-britain-kindergarten-truants-0911-20120910,0,6088612.story; and “‘Chronically Absent’ Students Skew School Data, Study Finds, Citing Parents’ Role,” by Richard Pérez-Peña. May 17, 2012: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/17/education/up-to-15-percent-of-students-chronically-skip-school-johns-hopkins-finds.html

[2] “Should Kids Be Fined If They Skip School?” by Brad Tuttle. August 23, 2012: http://moneyland.time.com/2012/08/23/should-kids-be-fined-if-they-skip-school/

[3] “Students Snag Free Sneakers, iPads, Gift Cards, Cars – Just for Showing Up at School,” by Brad Tuttle. August 20, 2012: http://moneyland.time.com/2012/08/20/students-snag-free-sneakers-ipads-gift-cards-cars-just-for-showing-up-at-school/

[4] See Footnote 2.

[5] “Los Angeles ends big fines, limits enforcement of truancy law,” by Susan Ferriss. February 22, 2012: http://www.publicintegrity.org/2012/02/22/8223/los-angeles-ends-big-fines-limits-police-enforcement-truancy-law

[6] “Parents Must Take Responsibility for Truant Students” Q&A, by the Ohio State Bar Association. https://www.ohiobar.org/ForPublic/Resources/LawYouCanUse/Pages/LawYouCanUse-243.aspx

[7] “PA School District Sued Over Truancy Fines,” by Marc Levy. January 20, 2011: http://www.fox43.com/news/wpmt-lebanon-truancy-lawsuit-naacp,0,4679930.story

[8] “California mom Lorraine Cuevas gets 180 days in jail for not sending kids to school,” by Michael Walsh. October 3, 2012: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/california-mom-time-kids-truancy-article-1.1173833

[9] “Texas honor student thrown in jail for missing school,” by the New York Daily News. May 26, 2012: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/texas-honor-student-thrown-jail-missing-school-article-1.1085027

[11] Connecticut General Statutes § 46b-149(a).

[12] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-185.