Posts tagged with "Fourth Amendment"

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.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Superior Court Denies Motions to Suppress in DUI Case, Finding Defendant’s Constitutional Rights Were Not Violated

This case arose from an incident that occurred on April 6, 2008. A police officer received word from dispatch that a restaurant drive-thru employee called in to report a customer, the defendant, who appeared to be under the influence of alcohol. The officer was given specific information about the vehicle and told that this was the third such report received. The officer promptly located the defendant’s vehicle and initiated a traffic stop.

When the officer approached the vehicle, he observed beer cans on the back floor of the defendant’s car in plain sight. Some of these were empty, and all were seized as evidence. After additional officers arrived on the scene, they conducted field sobriety tests and then arrested the defendant and brought her to police headquarters. There, the officers advised the defendant of her Miranda rights and had her review a Notice of Rights form, which included information regarding implied consent and the chemical alcohol test refusal. The defendant was told she could call an attorney, but she was unable to successfully make contact with one. After fifteen minutes passed, officers advised the defendant that she had to decide whether or not to take the test, so she refused.

The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a. She moved to suppress statements she made as well as evidence collected from the motor vehicle stop and during a search of her car. In support of her motions, the defendant argued that police violated her rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures, and generally police must have a warrant to conduct a search. However, there are four recognized, narrow exceptions where the warrantless search of a vehicle is reasonable, including “when there was probable cause to believe that the car contained contraband or evidence pertaining to a crime.” Officers may seize contraband that it finds in plain view, and “such observations give rise to probable cause justifying a search of the vehicle.”

The Fifth Amendment, in part, prohibits compelled self-incrimination. The well-known recitation of Miranda warnings stem from the construction of this Amendment, and two conditions are required before an officer must invoke this warning: custody and interrogation. Waiver of Miranda rights must be made knowingly and voluntarily, which must be proven by the State by the preponderance of the evidence.

Under Connecticut law, in an action where a defendant is charged with OMVUI, the jury may draw permissive inferences from the fact that the defendant refused to submit to a breathalyzer test. In addition, identifiable citizen informants are presumptively reliable, and officers are justified when they assume that the informant is providing truthful information. Because of the pervasive state interest in preventing drunk driving, officers do not have to wait for the defendant to drive erratically or cause an accident before pulling them over.

In this case, the Superior Court of Connecticut adjudicating the case denied all of the defendant’s motions. It found that police had a reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop the defendant, based on the information provided by the restaurant employee, an identifiable citizen informant. The seizure of the beer cans, which were in plain view, was permissible. In addition, because there was no interrogation at the police station, the defendant was not compelled to incriminate herself. Rather, pursuant to General Statutes § 14-227b(b), police officers have the explicit authority to request that a defendant arrested for OMVUI sub

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.

What Is the Law Controlling Drug Testing in the Workplace or in Public Schools in Connecticut?

Among employees there are a variety of times in which they may legally be drug tested in the workplace.  Employees are often tested prior to being hired to prevent employers from hiring people who use illegal drugs.  After an employee is hired, if an employee’s supervisor has reasonable suspicion that the employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they may test the employee for illegal drug use.  Employees in a workplace may also be tested post-accident to determine whether drugs or alcohol contributed to the event.  Lastly, employers may choose to conduct random testing to deter drug use.  However, Connecticut law prohibits private-sector employers from requiring employees to undergo random drug tests.  An employer must have a reasonable suspicion that the employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol that is affecting, or could affect, his job performance before he may require a test.

State and municipal employees are not covered by the state law that prohibits random drug testing, however they are protected by the Fourth Amendment which prohibits the government from carrying out unreasonable searches.  The Supreme Court has ruled that urine tests are searches and that the Fourth Amendment applies to governments acting as employers.

Federal law and regulations also require the operators of commercial vehicles over a certain size, to undergo drug tests before they are hired, after serious incidents, and when there is a reasonable suspicion.   In the private sector, pre-employment drug testing is fairly common.

There are no federal or state statutes that cover drug testing of students in public schools.  Students do not have the same level of constitutional rights as adults however.  A 2002 Supreme Court decisions permits schools to conduct random drug testing of students who participate in extracurricular activities, but drug testing cannot be a condition for attending school.

If you have any questions regarding employment law in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Cyberbullying and the Fourth Amendment Right to Privacy

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has swiftly responded to the Fairfield school board’s proposed amendments to its Internet use policy, contending that the proposed policy amendments will run afoul of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Fairfield School Board, under the direction of Superintendent David Title, has outlined changes to the type of content that students can access while at school.  While bans on viewing pornography and other illegal or explicit content have always been enforceable, the ACLU has taken issue with the amendment’s policy that would allow school administrators to look through students’ personal computers and devices to ensure that not only are students not looking at illegal or explicit content, but that they are not harassing or bullying other students online.  Such a policy, of course, invokes the right to privacy guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.

Specifically, the ACLU has taken issue with a particular provision of the policy that reads, “Digital storage and electronic devices used for school purposes, whether district or personally owned, will be treated as district technology resources.  Therefore, all students must be aware that they should not have any expectation of personal privacy in the use of these resources.”  The provision does not distinguish between personally owned computers or devices, and school-owned devices.  So long as the device is used for “school purposes,” it would fall under the umbrella of this policy.

The school board met again last night, and was tasked with striking a better balance between a student’s right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment and the need for schools to ensure that students are not viewing illegal content or harassing other students using devices meant for school purposes. The results of that meeting have yet to be released.

If you have questions relating to your child’s rights when it comes to personal devices used in school settings, or about education or bullying law in general, contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq., in our Westport office, at 203-221-3100, or at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

Sources:

http://fairfield.patch.com/articles/school-board-rethinks-changes-to-student-internet-use-policy

www.fairfieldcitizenonline.com/news/article/ACLU-Schools-Internet-policy-changes-would-3893322.php

http://www.fairfieldcitizenonline.com/news/article/ACLU-asks-school-board-to-reject-amendment-to-3914671.php

http://fairfield.dailyvoice.com/schools/fairfield-schools-web-policy-faces-aclu-challenge

Is Warrantless Drug Testing in Our Schools Constitutional?

In a previous post, I discussed the lessened requirements of searches conducted by school officials, that of reasonableness under all of the circumstances surrounding the search. This is because the Supreme Court has recognized the need to balance a student’s privacy interests against the need for teachers and administration to maintain order and control over the classroom environment.[1] This framework works particularly well in the traditional sense of searching a student’s belongings, automobile, and even their school desks and lockers.[2]

What happens, however, if your school seeks to subject its students to random drug testing, without having reasonable suspicion to do so? This qualifies as a search, subject to the reasonableness standard, but “certain exceptions to the reasonable standard [exist], whereby your child may be subject to drug testing regardless of whether or not they are suspected of taking illicit drugs.”[3]

In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that random drug testing of student-athletes via urinalysis did not run afoul of the Fourth Amendment.[4] The Court articulated a three-part balancing test that must be used in determining whether a constitutional violation occurs in this context: the nature of the privacy interest upon which the search intrudes,[5] the character of intrusion,[6] and the nature and immediacy of the governmental concern and the efficacy of the means to meet it.[7] A school’s interest in combating student drug use has long been recognized. The Court reasoned that student-athletes have a further diminished expectation of privacy compared to regular students (consider communal showers and shared locker rooms) and noted the voluntary nature of participation.

Seven years later, the U.S. Supreme Court extended these principles to allow random drug testing of students who participate in any extracurricular school activities.[8] This includes chess clubs, band and choral ensembles, or even teams that participate in academic competitions. As my colleagues explained, “The circumstances surrounding a urinalysis test are no different than going to the restroom in a public facility, and a monitor is present only to make sure that your child does not tamper with the urine specimen,” a process that has been constitutionally upheld.[9]

So as a parent, what’s the take-away from this discussion? When your child wishes to participate in an extracurricular activity and the school intends to implement a suspicionless drug testing program, they may do so, but are required to adhere to the principles of Vernonia and Earls. In addition, it is comforting that the Court in Earls specifically articulated that access to the results is on a strict “need to know” basis;[10] in addition, schools are not permitted to either punish your child or hand over the results to the police.

Of course, the balancing test applied to drug testing renders a subjective analysis, and as such it is important to seek the advice of an experienced school law practitioner if your child is subject to one at his or her school.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions regarding school discipline, searches, or any other education law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.


[1] New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 341 (1985).

[2] Connecticut General Statutes § 54-33n.

[3] “Advocating on Your Child’s Behalf: A Parent’s Guide to Connecticut School Law,” by Joseph C. Maya, Esq., at 60.

[4] Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646 (1995).

[5] Id. at 654.

[6] Id. 658.

[7] Id. 660.

[8] Board of Education Independent School District No. 92 v. Earls, 536 U.S. 822 (2002).

[9] Id. at 833.

[10] Id.

Searches by School Resource Officers

On Searches by School Resource Officers: Are They School Officials or Police Officers?

It Depends.

In light of school safety concerns that have plagued the nation since the 1990s, resource officers have become commonplace our public schools. They are the collaborative effort of local police department and boards of education, serving a myriad of roles as educator, investigator, advisor, and a source of interaction and resource for students. However, what are the constitutional burdens imposed on a resource officer when he or she conducts a search of a student or the student’s property?

First, let’s rewind to 1985, when the U.S. Supreme Court held that while the Fourth Amendment in general applies to searches conducted by teachers or school officials, they are not held to the stringent warrant requirements that constrain police action. As further elaborated:

[T]he accommodation of the privacy interests of schoolchildren with the substantial need of teacher and administrators for freedom to maintain order in the schools does not require strict adherence to the requirement that searches be based on probable cause to believe that the subject of the search has violated or is violating the law. Rather, the legality of a search of a student should depend simply on the reasonableness, under all the circumstances, of the search. Determining the reasonableness of any search involves a twofold inquiry: first, one must consider whether the … action was justified at its inception, second, one must determine whether the search as actually conducted was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place.[1]

In other words, school personnel are permitted to search student property (which includes purses, backpacks, and automobiles on school property) so long as the search is “justified at its inception” and permissible in scope. The search cannot be excessively intrusive. However, what the Court in T.L.O. declined to produce was “the appropriate standard for assessing the legality of searches conducted by school officials in conjunction with or at the behest of law enforcement agencies, and we express no opinion on that question.”[2]

Thus, we return to our original inquiry: because a resource officer serves functions both on behalf of the school and of the local police agency, what is the standard that applies? It does not appear that this question has been put to the test here in Connecticut, though other jurisdictions have progressively contemplated this scenario, and it boils down to three hypotheticals:

  1. School official initiates search/police involvement is minimal: reasonableness test applies.
  2. School resource officer initiates search on own initiative or at direction of a school official so as to “further educationally related goals”: reasonableness test applies.
  3. “Outside” police officer initiates search: warrant and probable cause requirements implicated.[3]

In determining the level of police involvement, various factors are considered:

[W]hether the officer was in uniform, whether the officer has an office on the school campus, how much time the officer is at the school each day, whether the officer is employed by the school system or an independent law enforcement agency, what the officer’s duties are at the school, who initiated the investigation, who conducted the search, whether other school officials were involved, and the officer’s purpose in conducting the search.[4]

Because of the lack of a uniform standard as promulgated by a Supreme Court decision, different courts have come to wholly divergent conclusions purely based on application of the above factors. In Alaniz, the North Dakota Supreme Court determined that the school resource officer involved was “more like a school official,” thus implicating the less stringent reasonableness standard.[5] Conversely, this past August the Washington Supreme Court ruled that “the school resource officer was not a school official and thus the more lenient standard of ‘reasonable suspicion’ applied to searches by school personnel did not apply.”[6]

Every instance of school searches conducted by resource officers is unique, and as such determining whether it was reasonable or implicated greater Fourth Amendment protections may be difficult without the assistance of an experienced school law practitioner.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions regarding school discipline, searches, or any other education law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.


[1] New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 341 (1985).

[2] Id. at 342 n.7.

[3] State v. Alaniz, 2012 N.D. 76, ¶ 10. See, e.g., T.S. v. State, 863 N.E.2d 362, 367-68 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007); Myers v. State, 839 N.E.2d 1154, 1160 (Ind. 2005); State v. Burdette, 225 P.3d 736, 750 (Kan. Ct. App. 2010); In re D.L.D., 694 S.E.2d 395, 400 (N.C. Ct. App. 2010); State v. J.M., 255 P.3d 828, 832 (Wash. Ct. App. 2011). Accessed October 4, 2012: http://www.ndcourts.gov/_court/opinions/20110259.htm

[4] Id. at ¶ 11. See T.S., at 369-71; Burdette, at 740; R.D.S. v. State, 245 S.W.3d 356, 368 (Tenn. 2008).

[5] Id. at ¶ 12.

[6] “Court Invalidates Backpack Search by School Resource Officer,” by Mark Walsh. Accessed October 4, 2012: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/school_law/2012/08/court_invalidates_backpack_sea.html

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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