Posts tagged with "permissive inferences"

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

Case Background

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 Charges

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.

The Court’s Decision

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.

Jury Instruction Relating to Defendant’s Refusal to Submit to a Breath Test Upheld by State Appellate Court

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut did not find that a trial court’s jury instruction on consciousness of guilt, as it related to a defendant’s refusal to submit to a breath test, was improper.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 7, 2005. The defendant and his friend spent approximately six hours fishing on Long Island Sound, during which the defendant drank four beers. Approximately an hour later, the defendant drove his friend to Danbury. While returning to his home in Norwalk, the defendant approached a well-marked construction zone that closed down one lane.

The defendant swerved into this lane and crashed into a large orange sign, then continued toward the construction site. He nearly struck an off-duty Wilton police officer, who ordered the defendant into a nearby parking lot. The defendant was arrested after he failed multiple field sobriety tests administered by two officers, in conjunction with their observations of the smell of alcohol, glassy and glazed eyes, and disheveled clothing.

The Trial

At the police station, the defendant was asked to submit to a breath test and advised of his right to counsel. He unsuccessfully attempted to contact an attorney, and then was asked once more to submit to the breath test. Because the defendant again insisted on speaking to an attorney, he was advised that his continued request would be deemed a refusal to take the test, but the defendant persisted.

During trial, the judge instructed the jury that the defendant’s conduct may tend to show consciousness of guilt, and “if [the jury found] the defendant did refuse to submit to [the breath test, the jury] may make any reasonable inference that follows from that fact.” The defendant was convicted of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of State law. He appealed on multiple grounds, including, in part, the claim that the court improperly instructed the jury that refusing to submit to a breath test could be treated as evidence of consciousness of guilt.

Determining a Charge of the Court

When a court considers a charge of the court, it must determine “whether [the instruction] fairly presents the case to the jury in such a way that injustice is not done to either party.” The instructions are not dissected in a piecemeal fashion; rather, when the challenge to a jury instruction does not raise a constitutional question, the reviewing court will consider its total effect. General Statute § 14-227a, the State’s OMVUI law, includes a subsection that reads, “[T]he court shall instruct the jury as to any inference that may or may not be drawn from the defendant’s refusal to submit to a … breath … test.” In other words, the Connecticut legislature intended for courts to instruct juries on “permissive inferences.”

The Court’s Decision

In this case, the Appellate Court reviewed the language of the jury instruction and determined it was “well within the parameters of § 14-227a.” The court repeatedly told the jury that consciousness of guilt was only a permissive inference; as such, the trial court did not abuse its discretion. The Appellate Court argued that even if the instruction was improper, the defendant failed to provide evidence that it was harmful. The Court noted the amount of evidence, other than the defendant’s refusal, that indicated he was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the incident.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

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.