Posts tagged with "intoxicated"

Though Defendant’s Statement Was Not A “Model of English Grammar and Spelling,” It Was Voluntarily Made

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress a written statement, claiming his Miranda waiver was not properly made and his statement was voluntary.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 4, 2004 in Danbury, Connecticut. Following a roadway altercation, two victims were subject to a brutal beating inflicted by the defendant and his friends. One victim was repeatedly punched and kicked in the head, resulting in very significant head-related injuries, the need for an abdominal feeding tube for two months, and extensive physical, speech, and occupational therapy.

The defendant was later apprehended in Rhode Island by federal authorities. En route to Connecticut, Danbury officers transporting the defendant stopped at a McDonald’s restaurant to get him food. There, the defendant wished to give a statement, which was taken after he was given his Miranda warnings and signed a waiver of rights form.

Defendant Claims Statement was Involuntary

Prior to trial, the defendant moved to suppress his statement. He claimed that he drank roughly one gallon of Hennessy cognac with a codefendant twenty hours before being arrested. The defendant argued he was still intoxicated at the time he gave the written statement, so his waiver was not voluntary. To bolster his position, he cited the statement, “which was replete with typographical and grammatical errors, evincing that he merely wrote what the police instructed him to write.”

The State countered that due to the passage of time, the defendant was not under the influence at the time he gave his statement. One Danbury officer testified that the defendant did not appear as such at the McDonald’s, and that he had eaten two meals while in custody prior to giving the statement.

The trial court denied the motion, agreeing with the State’s argument. It noted the defendant’s express interest in giving the statement and that he voluntarily signed the form, among other findings. In addition, the court stated that the statement was “clear and not reflective of someone who was under the influence of alcohol.” Though it was not a “model of English grammar and spelling,” the statement was comprehensible.

Court’s Ruling

The defendant was subsequently convicted of assault in the first degree, conspiracy to commit assault in the first degree, and two counts assault in the first degree as an accessory. Post-sentencing he appealed, arguing in part that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the motion to suppress. The defendant reiterated his previous arguments that the statement was not voluntarily made.

A waiver of Miranda rights must be made voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently. It is the burden of the State to prove a valid waiver by the preponderance of the evidence, and a reviewing court will look at the totality of the circumstances to determine whether the waiver is valid. In this case, the Appellate Court determined that there was substantial evidence supporting the trial court’s findings that the statement was voluntary and the waiver valid. As such, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress the written statement.

When faced with a charge of assault or conspiracy, 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.

Liability Under Dram Shop Act Requires “Visible Intoxication”

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

The Appellate Court of Connecticut considered whether or not a trial court’s denial of a motion to set aside the verdict in a case involving the Dram Shop Act was an abuse of discretion, because a required element of the offense charged was not established by the plaintiff.

Case Background

In this case, a citizen and his friend were at a restaurant-bar where they were playing billiards. The citizen consumed five beers, two alcoholic shots, and a blackberry brandy within a four-hour period, but did not exhibit any physical signs of intoxication. Nonetheless, while drunk, he purchased an alcoholic beverage from the restaurant’s bartender. Subsequently, the citizen and his friend left the restaurant-bar and were involved in an accident, resulting in the friend’s death.

The estate of the friend (plaintiff) brought a wrongful death action against the owners of the restaurant (defendant), claiming liability under the Dram Shop Act, Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 30-102. A jury found in the plaintiff’s favor and awarded $4 million in damages, though the defendant sought reduction to the statutory $250,000, which the court granted. The defendant also filed a motion to set aside the verdict and a directed verdict, arguing, in part, that “no evidence was presented from which the jury reasonably could have concluded that [the citizen] was intoxicated” under CGS § 30-102. The motion was denied, and the defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the motion.

Proof of “Visible Intoxication” Required

CGS § 30-102 is the statutory mechanism through which a plaintiff may recover damages from one who sells alcohol to an intoxicated person, and such person subsequently causes an injury. For the plaintiff to prevail in such an action, he or she must prove that “there was (1) a sale of intoxicating liquor (2) to an intoxicated person (3) who, in consequence of such intoxication, causes injury to the person or property of another.” At issue on appeal in this case was whether or not the second element requires proof of “visible intoxication” or what amounts to per se intoxication.

The Appellate Court agreed that a showing of visible intoxication was required, and stated that for purposes of CGS § 30-102, “an individual must exhibit some type of physical symptomology in such a way that an observer could perceive that the individual was indeed under the influence of alcohol to some noticeable extent.” In addition, the plaintiff must present evidence that shows the subject in question was either visibly or perceivably intoxicated.

Appellate Court Ruling

In this case, the Appellate Court noted that while the evidence presented at trial may establish intoxication as it is used in our DUI law (CGS § 14-227a), it was insufficient to prove intoxication under CGS § 30-102. As the Court elaborated, the plaintiff did not present any evidence of visible intoxication – indeed, there was no evidence at all showing that the citizen “was exhibiting any visible or perceivable indications that he was intoxicated.” Therefore, the court abused its discretion in denying the motion to set aside the verdict, because based on the evidence presented, a jury could not have found the required element of “intoxicated person.” Therefore, the judgment was reversed and case remanded.

Should you have any questions, 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

High Court of Connecticut Sustains DUI Conviction, Noting Field Sobriety Test Evidence Was Properly Admitted

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut found that a trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing into evidence the results of a horizontal gaze nystagmus test (nystagmus test), because its administration satisfied a two-part admissibility requirement.

This case arose from an incident that occurred in the early morning hours of December 18, 2005. The defendant was involved in a single-car accident after consuming several alcoholic beverages. Suspecting the defendant was intoxicated after making observations of his appearance and demeanor, a police officer administered several field sobriety tests, including the nystagmus test, all of which the defendant either failed or was unable to perform. The defendant was then arrested for and charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a, among other charges.

Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude all evidence related to the nystagmus test. He argued that “it had not been administered according to the ‘strict’ standards established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration” (NHTSA). The court denied the motion, stating that compliance with the NHTSA standards “went to the weight of the evidence, not its admissibility.” After the officer who performed the nystagmus test testified at trial, the defendant filed a motion to strike, which was denied. The defendant was convicted on all counts and thereafter appealed.

The nystagmus test is one of three standard field sobriety tests administered by police officers in Connecticut when they suspect that an individual is intoxicated. In a previous case, the Appellate Court described what this test involves:

To administer the [nystagmus] test, the officer positions a stimulus approximately twelve to eighteen inches away from and slightly above the subject’s eyes. The stimulus, usually a pen or the officer’s finger, is then moved slowly from the midline of the nose to maximum deviation, the farthest lateral point to which the eyes can move to either side. The officer observes the subject’s eyes as he tracks the stimulus and looks for six clues, three for each eye, to determine whether the subject passes or fails the test. The officer looks for (1) the inability of each eye to track movement smoothly, (2) pronounced nystagmus at maximum deviation and (3) the onset of nystagmus at an angle less than forty-five degrees in relation to the center point. A finding of four clues indicates failure of the test and is a sign of intoxication.

State v. Commins, 83 Conn. App. 496, 499 (2004). However, nystagmus test evidence can potentially mislead a jury. As such, the State must “lay a proper foundation” regarding the credentials of the person who administered the test, and that the administration itself “was conducted in accordance with generally accepted standards,” such as those promulgated by the NHTSA.

In this case, the Supreme Court found that the State laid the proper foundation regarding the officer’s credentials, and that the manner in which she administered the nystagmus test complied with NHTSA regulations. At trial, the officer testified that she received training in both the administration of field sobriety tests and the interpretation of their results. In particular, she stated that she received “advanced training” from the NHTSA. Furthermore, her description of how she administered the test to the defendant was deemed proper by the Court. More telling, the defendant had the opportunity on cross-examination to call into question the weight of this evidence. Therefore, the Supreme Court did not view admission of this testimony as an abuse of discretion by the trial court.

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 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.

The Prosecutor’s Job in a DUI Case: Demonstrate the Defendant was Intoxicated, Not Educate the Jury About Field Sobriety Tests

In March, the Appellate Court of Connecticut reviewed a defendant’s insufficiency of the evidence claim as it related to his recent conviction of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at approximately 9pm on August 20, 2006. Police officers saw the defendant driving his moped on Route 12, a public roadway, in an erratic manner. After officers initiated a traffic stop, they made the following observations of the defendant: bloodshot glassy eyes, the smell of liquor, and disheveled clothing. When asked for his driver’s license, the defendant stated, “[y]ou don’t need a license to operate a moped… give me a break, I just got out on a DWI offense,” and indicated he should not have been driving. The defendant became uncooperative with the officers, was unable to complete one field sobriety test, and refused to undergo other field tests and a breathalyzer test. The defendant was charged and convicted of OMVUI and operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license in violation of General Statutes §§ 14-227a and 14-215(c), respectively. On appeal, the defendant argued that the evidence presented by the State was insufficient to sustain his conviction for OMVUI.

To be found guilty of OMVUI, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant “operated a motor vehicle, on a public highway and while the defendant was under the influence of an intoxicating liquor.” To establish the third element, there must be sufficient evidence demonstrating that the defendant “had become so affected in his mental, physical or nervous processes that he lacked to an appreciable degree the ability to function properly in relation to the operation of his vehicle.”

In this case, the defendant contested that the State failed its burden in proving the third element. However, the Appellate Court was persuaded that the State satisfied this element through officer testimony regarding the defendant’s appearance and behavior. The defendant argued that the State failed to establish what a person must do to pass field sobriety tests and how the tests measure a driver’s ability to operate their car. However, the Appellate Court wrote, “The state… did not bear the burden of educating the jury with regard to field sobriety tests, but of demonstrating that the defendant was intoxicated.” After addressing additional grounds for appeal, 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.

Since Defendant Filed Appeal After Statutory Deadline, Trial Court Lacked Jurisdiction to Adjudicate

In April, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed a trial court’s determination that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear plaintiff’s appeal because the statutory filing period had already expired.

In this case, the plaintiff was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol. At the police station, the plaintiff was informed that, under General Statutes § 14-227b(b), if he refused to submit to either a breathalyzer test or other sobriety tests, his license would be suspended for six months. The plaintiff refused to take the tests, and the defendant Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) began the process of suspending the plaintiff’s license. The plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on August 28, 2009. The hearing officer found that police had probable cause to arrest the plaintiff and that the plaintiff refused to take sobriety tests and operated a motor vehicle at the time he was arrested.

On September 16, 2009, the plaintiff moved for reconsideration, and this motion was denied on September 29. The plaintiff filed a recognizance bond with the clerk’s office on November 12, and then submitted his appeal on November 27. The trial court found it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the appeal because it was submitted after the statutory filing period. When the plaintiff appealed this decision, he argued that the trial court erred with this finding: he claimed he actually filed his appeal at the same time as his recognizance bond.

Under General Statutes § 4-183(c), a party must file an appeal with the agency that renders a decision either within forty-five days 1) after mailing of the final decision or 2) after the agency denies a petition for reconsideration. In the context of administrative appeals, courts will strictly comply with statutory dictates, and § 4-183(c)’s forty-five day filing requirement is “a mandatory jurisdiction in the first instance.” A reviewing court will not disturb the findings of a trial court unless there is no evidence to support it, or if a review of the evidence leaves the sense that a mistake was made. This is known as the clearly erroneous standard of review.

In this case, the forty-five day statutory period began to run on September 29, 2009, and expired on November 12, 2009, the day the plaintiff filed his recognizance bond. The plaintiff claimed that he handed a copy of his appeal to the clerk at the same time. However, the trial court found that the filing of the bond “did not constitute a ‘filing’ with the clerk of the court” and that the plaintiff did not file his appeal until November 27, 2009. The Appellate Court stated that the trial court was within its discretion to weigh the evidence, and could not hold that the findings made in this case were clearly erroneous. Therefore, it 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.