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.
Enforcement Powers of Officers
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.”
The Court’s Decision
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.