In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut held that the jury could reasonably conclude beyond a reasonable doubt, based on the evidence presented in court, that the defendant was operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.
This case arose from an incident that occurred at approximately 3:45pm on April 15, 2005. An employee at Stonington Institute observed, without an unobstructed view, a blue SUV traveling through the parking lot and striking a parked vehicle. As the vehicle drove off, the employee recorded the license plate and called police to report the accident. A state police trooper received a call to look for the vehicle, which he spotted en route to Stonington Institute on the side of the road along Route 2. As he approached the vehicle, the officer observed the driver defendant with her key in the ignition and attempting to start the car. The officer secured the key and ordered the driver to exit the vehicle.
The officer noted the following observations: the defendant smelled of alcohol, stumbled, had slurred speech, and was combative, verbally abusive, and jumping up and down. The defendant admitted to consuming “a couple of drinks” earlier, then started to suffer from an apparent asthma attack. Because the car’s passenger, the defendant’s twin sister, continuously ran into the road, and in light of the asthma attack, the officer concluded that it was unsafe to conduct field sobriety tests. When an ambulance arrived, the defendant stopped having breathing problems and refused medical assistance.
Based on his personal observations of the defendant, the officer concluded she was intoxicated, so he placed her under arrest and brought her to police barracks. There, the defendant refused to submit to an intoximeter test and would not sign a form indicating she had been advised of her rights. Therefore, she was charged, and later convicted, of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol. The defendant appealed her conviction, claiming insufficient evidence.
General Statutes § 14-227a is our State’s OMVUI law. To sustain a conviction under this statute, the State must prove three elements: “(1) operation of a motor vehicle, (2) on a public highway or other designated area, (3) while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs.” “Operation” occurs where a defendant intentionally acts or uses a mechanical or electrical part of a vehicle that, on its own or as part of a sequence, will allow the car to move. In addition, the third element is satisfied where the State shows that “a driver has 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 only contested existence of the first and third elements. The Appellate Court ruled that it was reasonable for a jury to conclude that the defendant operated the vehicle. The vehicle was first located at Stonington Institute, then along Route 2 on the side of the road, where the officer observed her in the driver’s seat. Based on this evidence, the Court agreed that the jury could reasonably conclude the defendant drove the car from one location to the other. In addition, the State presented sufficient evidence that the defendant was intoxicated, as presented by the officer’s testimony regarding what he observed on the scene. Therefore, the Appellate Court sustained the conviction.
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.