Posts tagged with "investigatory stop"

In Light of Reasonable Suspicion, Police Properly Detained Burglary Suspect

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed the convictions of a burglar who argued that officers had no reasonable or articulable suspicion to detain him.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on March 21, 2007. Earlier that year, a neighborhood was suffering from a series of residential burglaries. On February 14, a victim was leaving her home when she saw a man wearing a dark sweatshirt with dark pants, with the hood pulled up, looking down while walking in front of her house. She later returned to find her house burglarized and many possessions, including a handgun, were stolen. She recalled seeing a similar person two days earlier, and conveyed this as well as the physical description to police; a similar description was developed from victims of other burglaries.

On March 21, the victim saw the defendant, who matched the appearance of the person near her house the day it was burglarized. Her husband called police, who were dispatched to the defendant’s location, and officers were aware that a gun was stolen during the burglary. The defendant was detained, and a pat down revealed a handgun in his sweatshirt pocket. The defendant informed police that “he was not properly licensed nor legally permitted to carry the gun.” The defendant was arrested and charged for numerous crimes on several dockets. He filed a motion to suppress all evidence because it was obtained during an unlawful search and seizure. The court denied this motion, finding that police had a reasonable and articulable suspicion that justified the search.

The defendant entered into a conditional plea to larceny in the first degree, burglary in the third degree, and stealing a firearm. Following sentencing he appealed, arguing that the court improperly denied his motion because police had no reasonable or articulable suspicion to stop him. He noted that “the record contains no indication that he was observed directly engaging in criminal conduct or suspicious activity.”

An officer may temporarily detain an individual for investigative purposes if he has a reasonable and articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. The scope of an investigatory stop must be “carefully tailored to its underlying justification,” and an officer may make “reasonable inquiries” to confirm or dispel his suspicions. The ultimate question is “whether a reasonable person, having the information available to and known by the police, would have had that level of suspicion.”

In this case, the Appellate Court noted that the defendant’s presence in this neighborhood, the time of day, how he was dressed, and the manner in which he walked would not, on their own, be sufficient to justify a stop. However, in light of the additional information provided by victims, such factors provide sufficient reasonable and articulable suspicion to justify an investigatory stop. “The possibility of an innocent explanation does not deprive the officers of the capacity to entertain a reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct.” Therefore, the judgment was affirmed.

When faced with a charge of larceny or burglary, 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.

Because New Information Warranted Additional Investigation, Traffic Stop Was Not Unduly Prolonged

In a recent criminal law matter, the Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Fairfield at Bridgeport denied a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence which he argued, in part, was illegally obtained because the traffic stop was “unduly prolonged.”

This case arose from an incident that occurred at 10:50pm on June 30, 2007. A police officer was on patrol when she observed a dark-colored sport utility vehicle (SUV) swerving and crossing over the double yellow lines in the opposite lane. Less than one minute later, the officer came upon a fresh accident and witnesses stated they were struck by a dark-colored SUV. Within five to ten minutes, the scene was secured and the officer radioed for assistance, describing the SUV and noting it may have front-end damage.

Approximately ten to fifteen minutes later, a sergeant on patrol spotted a dark-colored SUV a mile and a half from the accident scene. He conducted an investigatory stop of this vehicle, whose driver was later identified as the defendant. The sergeant quickly assessed the vehicle and found no damage, then approached the driver to explain the purpose of the stop, thank him for his cooperation, and inform him he was free to leave. This followed standard procedure and lasted no more than one and a half minutes. During this conversation, the sergeant observed the defendant’s slurred speech and glassy eyes, as well as the smell of alcohol, and the defendant admitted he was drinking at a party. The sergeant radioed for the assistance of a specialized DUI unit, which promptly arrived, and three field sobriety tests were conducted.

The defendant was arrested and charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence, which violated General Statutes § 14-227a. The defendant moved to suppress evidence, arguing, in part, that even if the stop was lawful, it was “unduly prolonged” because he should have been let go once the sergeant found that no damage was done to the defendant’s vehicle.

An officer may temporarily detain an individual for investigative purposes if he has a reasonable and articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. The scope of an investigatory stop must be “carefully tailored to its underlying justification.” In addition, though it may be initially proper, the stop may become unconstitutional “if unduly prolonged or intrusive beyond what would be necessary to complete the investigation for which the stop was initiated.” To determine whether a stop was unduly prolonged, the reviewing court will consider whether officers “diligently pursued a means of investigation that was likely to confirm or dispel their suspicions.”

In this case, the Superior Court determined that the officer’s actions did not unduly prolong the stop. If the sergeant had not made new observations that led him to suspect the driver was driving under the influence, the entire counter would have lasted less than ninety seconds. The sergeant acquired new suspicion, based on the smell of alcohol and the defendant’s slurred speech and glassy eyes, which justified an expanded scope of investigation to either confirm or dispel it. The Court did not view the sergeant’s personal interaction with the defendant as improper, stating: “It is not intrusive or unreasonable for an officer to terminate a stop in the same manner in which it was initiated, by approaching the driver and engaging him or her in conversation.” Therefore, with respect to this aspect of the defendant’s motion to suppress, the court denied the motion.

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.

Court Suppresses Evidence After MTAPD Illegally Arrested DUI Suspect, Citing Jurisdictional Limitations

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

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

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

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

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

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence), an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.