Posts tagged with "opeating a motor vehicle while intoxicated"

Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Denied, as DUI Convict’s Claims Lacked Merit

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut considered a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, in which the petitioner claimed that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of DUI and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on the evening of December 24, 2005. State troopers on routine patrol observed the petitioner driving his vehicle erratically and initiated a traffic stop. The petitioner admitted that he consumed a few beers, but would not answer any follow-up questions. He smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech and glassy eyes, and had trouble handling his license and papers. Because the petitioner had one leg, troopers could only administer the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, which the petitioner failed. He was arrested and transported to barracks, where he was belligerent and argumentative. In the processing room, the petitioner was seen slumped over his chair.

The petitioner was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(1). At trial, he was represented by the Chief Public Defender, a veteran in the practice of law. The petitioner wanted a bench trial for reasons of expediency, even though defense counsel both advised against this decision and explained the ramifications of waiver. In formulating a defense strategy, counsel chose to minimize the testimony regarding the HGN test. He was not convinced that asserting a head injury would discredit such testimony, and felt a motion to suppress would be unsuccessful. Defense counsel robustly cross-examined all of the troopers, and the petitioner agreed to testify on his own behalf regarding his head injury.

Nonetheless, the petitioner was convicted of OMVUI and sentenced to two years incarceration, one year probation, and 500 hours of community service. However, he did not appeal his decision and instead filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The petitioner argued that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of OMVUI, that his constitutional right to a jury trial was violated, and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, among other claims.

In a bench ruling, the Superior Court was not persuaded by any of the petitioner’s claims and denied his petition. It noted that even absent the HGN test evidence, there was sufficient evidence to prove the petitioner committed OMVUI. The petitioner knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his right to a jury trial: indeed, it was the petitioner who insisted on a bench trial, and defense counsel properly explained the consequences of going this route. Finally, the Court believed that petitioner failed to prove the existence of deficient performance by counsel and prejudice in the outcome of his case. Defense counsel employed sound trial strategy and zealously advocated on behalf of his client. As the Court explained, “An analysis of the record below indicates an experienced trial attorney who was not successful when faced with a strong case presented by the state.”

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.

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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.

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