Posts tagged with "prejudice"

Connecticut Now Requires Insurers to Prove Prejudice from Late Notice of Claim

Most insurance policies require the insured to give the carrier notice of a claim “as soon as practical,” or words to that effect. For the past 24 years, in order to avoid denial of their claims, Connecticut has required policyholders to demonstrate that their insurance company was not prejudiced on the ground of late notice.  The Connecticut Supreme Court recently reversed itself to the extent prior law allocated to the insured the burden of disproving prejudice.  In so doing, Connecticut joins the vast majority of states that require carriers to prove prejudice as a result of late notice of claims in order to deny coverage on that ground.

Arrowood Indemnity Co. v. King, 304 Conn. 179 (2012) arose from an insured’s son towing a friend on a skateboard behind an all-terrain vehicle.  The friend fell and was severely injured.  The respective families continued to socialize and there was no mention of the commencement of litigation as a result of the incident.  Nearly a year later, the insured got a not-so-friendly letter from the attorney representing the friend’s family informing them of a potential lawsuit.  Then, and only then, did the insured’s family report the incident to their insurance company.  The insurance company declined coverage, in part, on the basis of an untimely claim.  Under preexisting law, in order to obtain coverage, the insured would have to prove that the carrier was not prejudiced by the delay.

The Connecticut Supreme Court used Arrowood as an opportunity to overrule its 1988 decision that allocated to the insured the burden of disproving prejudice to the insurance company.  The Court had earlier opined that a strict litmus test of delayed notice (without regard to actual prejudice) would likely result in the forfeiture of insurance coverage. Now, post-Arrowood, the burden of proving prejudice from delay is on the insurer.  As a practical matter, it is the insurer that is best able to assess and prove any prejudicial effect of delay on its investigation of a claim or the mounting of a legal defense.  The result should be better informed trial court decisions on the existence or extent of prejudice to carriers from delayed notice.  Connecticut policyholders are better off as a result as they are more likely to be able to access the insurance coverage for which they have over years paid premiums.

The commercial litigation attorneys in the Westport, Connecticut office of Maya Murphy, P.C. have extensive experience in the negotiation and litigation of all sorts of insurance-related disputes and assist clients from Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk, Westport and Fairfield in resolving such issues. Please contact our Westport office by phone at (203) 221-3100

Attorney Did Not Ineffectively Represent Her Non-Citizen Client, Despite Failing to Seek Plea Agreement That Would Avoid Deportation

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut denied a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, because the petitioner’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel were unpersuasive.

In this case, the petitioner, a legal resident of the U.S., was charged with larceny in the first degree and possession of narcotics. Trial counsel discussed the possibility of participation in the Connecticut Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission (CADAC) program, which upon successful completion would result both in dropped charges and avoiding deportation. However, the petitioner did not want to undergo drug addiction treatment, so this option was not pursued.

Trial counsel was extremely knowledgeable about the immigration consequences of non-citizen defendant convictions. As such, she made it a part of her regular practice to thoroughly discuss such with her clients. The State presented the petitioner with a plea agreement that would result in no jail time. While trial counsel told her client that the deal was good for that reason, because of the petitioner’s legal status and the nature of the charges, accepting the plea would subject the defendant to mandatory deportation. She did not attempt to provide an alternative agreement or counteroffer that would avoid deportation, nor did she discuss such possibilities with the petitioner. Thus, the petitioner accepted the State’s terms, and during the plea canvass, he responded that he understood the possible immigration consequences of the plea.

The petitioner was given a suspended sentence, but violated his probation with another drug offense. New defense counsel unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate terms that would avoid deportation, and the petitioner came to the attention of immigration authorities once he was incarcerated. He filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus claiming ineffective assistance of trial counsel because counsel did not properly investigate the petitioner’s legal status and risk of deportation; he was not properly advised regarding the risk of deportation; and counsel did not include his immigration status and deportation risk as part of the plea bargaining process.

When a court considers an ineffective assistance claim, it applies a two-part test from Strickland v. Washington: deficient performance and prejudice to the outcome of the case. A habeas petition can be denied on either ground. In this case, the Superior Court did not believe that trial counsel’s conduct was deficient. It credited the extent of her background and training in immigration matters, and found that she properly advised her client on the consequences of accepting the plea agreement.

The Court further noted the petitioner’s unwillingness to participate in the CADAC program, which “demonstrates that the petitioner was not concerned with the possible immigration consequences of his situation.” Further evidence of the petitioner’s understanding is found in the plea canvass, where the trial court specifically asked whether he knew the consequences of pleading guilty, to which he responded “yes.” Finally, that trial counsel did not present an alternative plea or counteroffer is not a duty imposed on attorneys in this State in the context of ineffective assistance of counsel. Therefore, the Superior Court denied the habeas petition.

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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Captured Fugitive Could Not “Reap the Benefit” of His Status When Appealing Burglary Conviction

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut held that the fugitive felon disentitlement doctrine applies not just to fugitives in flight, but also those who are arrested prior to filing their appeals.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on April 27, 1999. The victim arrived at his workplace and discovered the unauthorized presence of the defendant, who immediately ran off. Police found that two computers were unplugged with their keyboards in the garbage. The defendant was charged and convicted of burglary in the third degree and attempt to commit larceny in the first degree. However, prior to sentencing in December 2000, the defendant posted bond and fled to England, though he was rearrested and extradited to Connecticut. He once more posted bond and fled the country prior to his second sentencing date, was rearrested, and finally sentenced in November 2008. The defendant appealed his conviction, in part claiming insufficient evidence to convict for attempted larceny. However, the State argued that the defendant’s appeal should be wholesale dismissed because of the fugitive felon disentitlement doctrine.

The doctrine of fugitive felon disentitlement gives the court authority to dismiss a fugitive defendant’s appeal under certain circumstances. It is not accepted in all U.S. jurisdictions, and Connecticut has only addressed the doctrine in three cases where the fugitive filed his appeal while still on the run. Therefore, the Supreme Court set to the task of determining whether the doctrine applied to a fugitive who filed an appeal after being arrested, and if so, the scope of its application.

There are several rationales for the doctrine, only one of which applied in this context: “the promotion and protection of the dignified and efficient operation of the appellate system.” Courts want to ensure that defendants do not game the system through their fugitive status “by gaining unfair advantages due to the passage of time at the expense of the integrity of the appellate process.” In this case, the Supreme Court held that a fugitive’s post-arrest appeal may be dismissed if his conduct undermined the appellate process. Thus, if the State seeks to assert the doctrine, it must show specific instances of prejudice caused by the fugitive’s flight, such as the loss of evidence or witness-related issues. If the State meets this burden, it is then shifted to the defendant, who must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that his flight was not prejudicial.

The Supreme Court found that in this case the State alleged sufficient evidence that the defendant could not rebut. “The appellate process has been prejudiced by the loss of trial exhibits and by the effect that the passage of time has had on the availability and reliability of witnesses.” Therefore, all of the defendant’s claims on appeal, including insufficiency of the evidence, were not reviewable because the doctrine applied.

When faced with a charge of larceny, burglary, or attempt, 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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Where Defendant Created Multiple Problems for Representation, Court Determined Counsel Did Not Render Ineffective Assistance

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut denied a petition for a writ of habeas corpus where petitioner could not successfully argue ineffective assistance of trial counsel.

In this case, the petitioner pled guilty to first-degree manslaughter, operation under suspension, and evading responsibility. Pursuant to the plea agreement, he faced fifteen years incarceration, execution suspended after four years, with five years’ probation. The petitioner asked that sentencing be briefly postponed to “[allow him] to get his affairs in order.” The request was granted, though the trial court stressed the ramifications for failure to appear at sentencing.

The petitioner did not appear at court on the rescheduled sentencing date, and a warrant was issued for felony failure to appear, which has a maximum potential sentence of five years. Soon thereafter, the petitioner was brought before the court on this warrant, and defense counsel negotiated a plea agreement with the State: a two-year non-suspended sentence to be served consecutively to the original sentence. When the court initiated a plea canvass, the petitioner stated, “I want to know if I can try my case over because I’m not guilty for this, ma’am.” The judge declined to accept the guilty plea and continued the matter.

At the next court date, the State withdrew the two-year sentence and instead sought the imposition of three years. The petitioner accepted this new agreement and was sentenced to fifteen years incarceration, execution suspended after seven years, with five years probation. He filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel.

When a court considers an ineffective assistance claim, it applies a two-part test from Strickland v. Washington: deficient performance and prejudice to the outcome of the case. A habeas petition can be denied on either ground. “There is no constitutional right for a defendant to enter into a plea agreement with the state.” Courts are free to accept or reject a plea agreement, and such decisions will be overturned only upon a showing of abuse of discretion. However, a court is within its discretion to deny an agreement “when there is even the slightest manifestation of a hesitance or a reluctance on part of a defendant to enter into a plea.”

In this case, the Superior Court determined that defense counsel did not provide ineffective assistance, but instead pointed to the petitioner as “his own worst enemy.” As the Court explained, the petitioner “grossly complicated” his defense counsel’s representation: he failed to appear at court, then “created a problem with that plea canvass by indicating he did not want to plead guilty because he didn’t commit the offense.” In addition, the State was not obligated to enter into a plea agreement with the petitioner, and that it took back the initial two-year agreement was not illegal. Furthermore, the Superior Court determined that the judge did not abuse his discretion in declining to accept the plea agreement, noting that “he would have been remiss had he not done so.” Therefore, the Superior Court denied the writ of habeas corpus petitioner.

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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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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Despite Trial Court’s Abuse of Discretion, Defendant Failed to Prove Specific Harm Warranting Reversal

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed judgment after a defendant, convicted of DUI, unsuccessfully claimed that his constitutional rights were violated when the trial court arbitrarily denied his motion for a minor continuance.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on November 22, 2003, in Stratford. The defendant crashed his vehicle into an unoccupied parked car, and responding officers noticed visible signs of intoxication. The defendant failed several field sobriety tests and was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a(a)(1). The defendant wanted a jury trial, and during jury selection, the defendant used up all his peremptory challenges. When Juror T was selected as the alternate, defense counsel challenged him for cause. The reason given was because Juror T’s vehicle had been rear-ended by an intoxicated driver, he had been the passenger of an intoxicated driver, and he managed an alcoholic employee. The court would not excuse Juror T for cause, and defense counsel did not seek any additional peremptory challenges.

Due to a miscommunication, a regular juror did not appear at court on the scheduled trial date. However, because the alternate was present, the court stated that the trial would proceed that afternoon. Defense counsel immediately objected and requested a continuance to the next morning, when the regular juror would be available. The court denied the request “without giving any reason… other than that the alternate juror was selected in the same manner as the regular jurors were selected.” The defendant was convicted of OMVUI and thereafter appealed, arguing that the court abused its discretion when it denied the motion, therefore depriving him of the right to an impartial jury.

Trial courts have wide discretion in deciding whether or not to grant a motion for a continuance. These decisions will not be overturned on appeal unless the appellant shows that the denial of this motion was arbitrary. A reviewing court will consider a number of non-exclusive factors:

[T]he timeliness of the request for continuance; the likely length of the delay; the age and complexity of the case; the granting of other continuances in the past; the impact of delay on the litigants, witnesses, opposing counsel and the court; the perceived legitimacy of the reasons proffered in support of the request; [and] the defendant’s personal responsibility for the timing of the request.

State v. Coney, 266 Conn. 787, 801 (2003). Even if the Appellate Court finds that the trial court acted arbitrarily, it must also determine that the denial was harmful, a burden placed on the appellant. If the denial implicates the violation of a constitutional right, prejudice is presumed. In addition, with respect to alternate jurors, they must have “the same qualifications and be selected in the same manner as regular jurors.” General Statutes § 54-82h(a).

In this case, the Appellate Court considered the factors listed above and came to the conclusion that the trial court’s denial of the motion for a continuance was “unreasonable and arbitrary under the unique circumstances of the case.” However, though the defendant cited a deprivation of his Sixth Amendment protections, he did not cite any case law or provide any analysis in support of his claim. As such, prejudice was not presumed, and the defendant had to show he was harmed by Juror T sitting on the jury. The defendant failed to demonstrate specific harm, and the Appellate Court declined to presume that Juror T was not “an impartial juror under these circumstances.” Therefore, the judgment was affirmed.

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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In Case Involving Lifetime Suspension of DUI Suspect’s Commercial Driver’s License, Hearing Officer Properly Applied Statutory Dictates

This past April, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed judgment dismissing a plaintiff’s appeal from the decision of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to suspend his commercial driver’s license (commercial license) for life.

In this case, the plaintiff’s license was previously suspended in 2005 for six months pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227b after he refused to submit to a breathalyzer test. He thereafter obtained a commercial license in 2009. On March 28, 2010, the plaintiff was involved in an automobile accident. He failed several field sobriety tests, and two breathalyzer tests yielded results of 0.182 and 0.176, more than twice the legal limit. Therefore, the plaintiff was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of CGS § 14-227a. The DMV held a suspension hearing, where over objection of plaintiff’s counsel the court admitted a case/incident report prepared by the arresting police officer as well as an A-44 form, which is used in reporting OMVUI-related arrests. After making four statutory findings, the hearing officer suspended the plaintiff’s license for ten months and imposed a lifetime suspension on his commercial license.

The plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court, who dismissed the appeal. The plaintiff sought remedy with the Appellate Court, stating that the hearing officer erroneously admitted the A-44 form into evidence. He argued that the A-44 form did not disclose the implications of refusing or taking a chemical alcohol test as it related to his commercial license. In addition, the plaintiff contended that under CGS § 14-44k(h), the lifetime suspension of his commercial license was improper because “this statutory requirement does not apply… because he had not obtained a commercial driver’s license at the time of his first license suspension.”

Under CGS § 14-227b(g), a hearing officer must make findings of fact related to the following four inquiries: 1) whether the police officer had probable cause to arrest a person for OMVUI; 2) whether the person was arrested; 3) whether the person refused or consented to take a chemical alcohol test (with additional inquiries if consent existed); and 4) whether the person operated a motor vehicle. The Supreme Court of Connecticut has held that these are the only dispositive questions at a suspension hearing. In light of legislative intent, “[W]hether an operator was warned of the consequences of refusing to submit to chemical tests is not made one of the issues to be adjudicated.” In this case, it was immaterial that the plaintiff did not receive warnings regarding what would happen if he refused or consented to the breathalyzer test as it related to his commercial license. As such, the Appellate Court found that the plaintiff did not suffer prejudice by the A-44 form’s entry into evidence.

CGS § 14-44k(h) dictates the circumstances under which a person’s commercial license may be suspended. In reviewing the language of the statute, the Appellate Court noted the distinct lack of “language limiting application [of the statute] to suspensions ordered after [a] person has obtained a commercial driver’s license.” Therefore, if a person is twice charged with OMVUI, his commercial license may be suspended for life, though reinstatement is possible. The purpose of this statute is to further promote the legislature’s goal of protecting the public on our highways from “potentially dangerous drivers,” such as OMVUI offenders. In this case, the Appellate Court found that adopting the plaintiff’s interpretation of § 14-44k(h) would frustrate this purpose, and statute “means what is says” and was unambiguous. Therefore, the judgment was affirmed.

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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