Posts tagged with "probation revocation hearing"

When ATVs are Driven on Public Highways, They Are “Motor Vehicles” for Purposes of State Suspension Laws

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut affirmed a trial court’s revocation of a defendant’s probation after he operated his all-terrain vehicle (ATV) on public roads while his driver’s license was suspended.

In this case, the defendant pled guilty to driving under the influence as a third-time offender. He was sentenced to three years’ incarceration, execution suspended after one year, with three years’ probation. The following conditions of probation were imposed: a general condition prohibiting the violation of any state criminal statute, and a special condition prohibiting the operation of a motor vehicle with a suspended license. The Department of Motor Vehicles permanently suspended the defendant’s driver’s license due to his history of suspensions. The defendant served the one unsuspended year in jail, then began his probation. Before the term expired, he received two criminal citations after he operated an ATV in the travel lanes of town roads. Therefore, he was subsequently charged with operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license in violation of CGS § 14-215, as well as violation of probation.

A probation revocation hearing was held, where the trial court determined that the defendant violated the general and special conditions. His probation was revoked, and he was ordered to serve the remaining two years of his suspended sentence. The defendant appealed, arguing that CGS § 14-215(c) was unconstitutionally vague with respect to application to ATV usage. As he emphasized, “a person of ordinary intelligence could not reasonably have been expected to know that the term ‘motor vehicle’ included an ATV.”

Everyone is presumed to know the law, and ignorance is no excuse from criminal punishment. However, laws must be drafted so that “ordinary people understand what conduct is prohibited and in a manner that does not encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.” So long as the meaning of the statute can be fairly ascertained, it won’t be struck down as void for vagueness. In this case, the burden rested with the defendant to “demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that [CGS § 14-215(c)], as applied to him, deprived him of adequate notice of what conduct the statute proscribed or that he fell victim to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”

CGS § 14-215(c) makes it a crime for a person to operate a motor vehicle while their driver’s license is under suspension. This statute is located in Chapter 248, which defines “motor vehicle” as including “all vehicles used on public highways.” In CGS § 14-212(9), “vehicle” is synonymous with “motor vehicle,” so the Supreme Court opined that if an ATV qualifies as a vehicle, it is a motor vehicle for purposes of the suspension law. The Court considered the definitions of ATV under other statutes, which use the language “a self-propelled vehicle” and “motorized vehicle.” CGS §§ 14-379 and 23-26a. Thus, for purposes of CGS § 14-215(c), an ATV was a motor vehicle when used on a public highway.

With this statutory framework in mind, the Supreme Court determined that the defendant failed to meet his burden. Rather, CGS § 14-215(c) “affords a person of ordinary intelligence with fair warning that he is prohibited from operating an ATV on a public highway while his license is suspended.” The Court found that the statute was not unconstitutionally vague, and the trial court did not err in revoking the defendant’s probation.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or operation under 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.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Facebook Photographs Depicting Alcohol Consumption Properly Considered in Probation Revocation Hearing

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut upheld a defendant’s probation revocation, finding that photographic evidence had a “minimal indicium of reliability” allowing their consideration by the trial court.

In this case, the defendant was convicted of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence by a person under age twenty-one, in violation of General Statutes § 14-227g, following an accident resulting in the drowning death of a passenger. She was sentenced to five years incarceration, execution suspended after one year, and five years probation. Eleven special conditions of probation were imposed, including operation of a car only with a valid license and the installation of an ignition interlock device on any car she owned or operated.

While on probation, the defendant was involved in a minor non-alcohol-related accident, and police determined she violated the above two conditions. A probation hearing was held, where the State sought revocation and imposition of the remaining four years incarceration. It argued the defendant was a “marginal probationer… worshipping at the altar of alcohol and debauchery and lewd behavior.” To support its position, the State referenced photographs (photos) posted on Facebook which, it asserted, depicted the defendant while on probation. Some of the photos “demonstrate or suggest alcohol consumption by the defendant” in various social settings. Defense counsel argued for a more lenient sentence because the violations were not severe and alcohol was not involved in the accident. He asserted that the images did not represent the defendant and were undated.

The court stated that alcohol consumption was an aggravating factor in the original sentence and it was appalled that the defendant “still has the audacity to go back on Facebook and show herself in the condition of being intoxicated.” When given the opportunity to respond to the prosecutor’s and court’s statements, the defendant simply apologized for what she did and asserted she did not drive after drinking. When the State sought to introduce the photos, defense counsel objected, arguing a potential due process violation. However, the court overruled, stating that “it could consider any evidence in a sentencing hearing as long as the evidence was found to be reliable.”

At the conclusion of the hearing, the court imposed a three-year sentence because the court believed that “the beneficial purposes of probation are no longer being served.” The defendant appealed, claiming that the Facebook photos were not reliable. However, the Appellate Court affirmed, noting that the claim was unpreserved and did not warrant special review because it did not involve a constitutional violation. The defendant then sought remedy with the Supreme Court.

When trial courts consider whether to impose an original sentence and order incarceration, it must exercise an informed use of discretion. The sentencing judge has authority to consider “a wide variety of information… only if it has some minimal indicium of reliability.” Particularly telling, “the absence of a denial itself provides an important [indicium] of reliability.” Therefore, a judge’s determination will be upheld “[a]s long as [he] has a reasonable, persuasive basis for relying on the information which he uses to fashion his ultimate sentence.”

In this case, the Supreme Court noted that the only suggestion the defendant denied as that she drove after drinking. She did not contest the prosecutor’s and court’s statements, and did not deny that the behavior depicted in the photos occurred while she was on probation. Rather, the court noted, “the defendant merely challenged the probative force of the evidence itself, not the underlying truth to which the evidence purportedly speaks.” Therefore, the Court concluded that the photos had the minimal indicia of reliability which would survive constitutional analysis in a probation revocation hearing setting. It affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Court.

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.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.