Posts tagged with "reasonable suspicion"

Defendant’s Refusal to Comply with Officer’s Legitimate Identification Request Constituted Interference with the Officer’s Duties

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed the Appellate Court’s decision to vacate a criminal defendant’s conviction for interfering with a police officer, because the State provided sufficient evidence of the essential elements.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 14, 2002. The defendant had a history of trespassing on a business’ property, and an employee discovered the defendant apparently tampering with pumping equipment. The defendant urged the employee to call police, and when they responded, an officer asked the defendant to identify himself. The defendant failed to do so immediately, claiming that “he did not need to produce identification, that he was on public property and that ‘this isn’t Russia. I’m not showing you any [identification].’”

The defendant was arrested and subsequently convicted of interfering with a police officer in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-167a, as well as other charges. When asked how the State provided sufficient evidence, the court responded that police were “acting within the scope of their duties in investigating the defendant’s alleged trespass,” and the defendant knew why he was being asked for identification.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the State provided insufficient evidence that he hindered the investigation by failing to promptly identify himself, and that his conduct was outside the scope of § 53a-167a. The State countered that the statute prohibits both verbal and nonverbal conduct calculated to interfere with the completion of an officer’s duties. In addition, the State contended that “a refusal to comply with a legitimate police request is equivalent to interfering with an officer,” thus there was sufficient evidence to convict. The Appellate Court agreed with the defendant and overturned his conviction. The State appealed this ruling, arguing that where a police officer makes “a legitimate investigatory stop under Terry, the person subject to the Terry stop must honor the officer’s reasonable demand for identification.” It stated that in this case, the officer had reasonable suspicion that the defendant was engaged or had engaged in criminal activity, and his refusal to promptly identify himself “provided a sufficient factual basis for the defendant’s conviction.”

Upon review of the statute, the Supreme Court noted that the words used are broad in scope, indicating that the legislature “intended to prohibit any act which would amount to meddling in or hampering the activities of police in the performance of their duties.” The Court agreed with the State that a refusal to provide identification in conjunction with a Terry stop “may hamper or impede a police investigation into apparent criminal activity,” regardless of whether the offending conduct is active, passive, aggressive, or peaceable. The Court explained that because § 53a-167a was drafted in such a way as “to encompass a wide range of conduct,” it is unreasonable to determine that because the legislature did not explicitly include refusals to identification requests, such conduct is exempt.

In order to effectuate an investigation, it is only natural that officers ask questions, and “questions concerning a suspect’s identity are a routine and accepted part of many Terry stops.” The government has several legitimate interests in ascertaining a suspect’s identity, and “[t]he request for identity has an immediate relation to the purpose, rationale, and practical demands of a Terry stop.” The Supreme Court agreed with the State that the defendant’s conduct fell within the purview of § 53a-167a, and was left to determine whether the elements of the offense were satisfied: namely, whether the defendant intentionally hindered the investigation. The Court agreed that there was sufficient evidence to convict: the defendant’s refusal delayed the police investigation “to [an] appreciable degree.” The delay need not be substantial. In addition, the defendant knew why the police were present, and his refusal “reflected an intent by the defendant to hinder, delay or impede the police.” Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment with respect to this charge and remanded the case to affirm the judgment of conviction.

When faced with a charge of interfering with a police officer, 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.

In Light of Reasonable Suspicion, Police Properly Detained Burglary Suspect

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed the convictions of a burglar who argued that officers had no reasonable or articulable suspicion to detain him.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on March 21, 2007. Earlier that year, a neighborhood was suffering from a series of residential burglaries. On February 14, a victim was leaving her home when she saw a man wearing a dark sweatshirt with dark pants, with the hood pulled up, looking down while walking in front of her house. She later returned to find her house burglarized and many possessions, including a handgun, were stolen. She recalled seeing a similar person two days earlier, and conveyed this as well as the physical description to police; a similar description was developed from victims of other burglaries.

On March 21, the victim saw the defendant, who matched the appearance of the person near her house the day it was burglarized. Her husband called police, who were dispatched to the defendant’s location, and officers were aware that a gun was stolen during the burglary. The defendant was detained, and a pat down revealed a handgun in his sweatshirt pocket. The defendant informed police that “he was not properly licensed nor legally permitted to carry the gun.” The defendant was arrested and charged for numerous crimes on several dockets. He filed a motion to suppress all evidence because it was obtained during an unlawful search and seizure. The court denied this motion, finding that police had a reasonable and articulable suspicion that justified the search.

The defendant entered into a conditional plea to larceny in the first degree, burglary in the third degree, and stealing a firearm. Following sentencing he appealed, arguing that the court improperly denied his motion because police had no reasonable or articulable suspicion to stop him. He noted that “the record contains no indication that he was observed directly engaging in criminal conduct or suspicious activity.”

An officer may temporarily detain an individual for investigative purposes if he has a reasonable and articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. The scope of an investigatory stop must be “carefully tailored to its underlying justification,” and an officer may make “reasonable inquiries” to confirm or dispel his suspicions. The ultimate question is “whether a reasonable person, having the information available to and known by the police, would have had that level of suspicion.”

In this case, the Appellate Court noted that the defendant’s presence in this neighborhood, the time of day, how he was dressed, and the manner in which he walked would not, on their own, be sufficient to justify a stop. However, in light of the additional information provided by victims, such factors provide sufficient reasonable and articulable suspicion to justify an investigatory stop. “The possibility of an innocent explanation does not deprive the officers of the capacity to entertain a reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct.” Therefore, the judgment was affirmed.

When faced with a charge of larceny or burglary, 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.

High Court Finds Officer Lacked Reasonable and Articulable Suspicion in DUI Traffic Stop Based Solely on Object Hanging From Rearview Mirror

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut considered whether the lower courts erred in dismissing charges against the defendant because the arresting officer did not have a reasonable and articulable suspicion warranting a traffic stop.

In this case, a police officer received anonymous tips about an intoxicated driver, and the make and license plate number provided matched the defendant’s vehicle. The officer did not observe any erratic driving, though he noticed a chain and cross hanging from the rearview mirror. This wooden object was a total of one inch wide and ten inches long. Because of the officer’s “mistaken, albeit good faith, believe that [Connecticut General Statutes (CGS)] § 14-99f(c) makes it an infraction for a car to be driven with any object hanging from a rearview mirror,” he initiated a traffic stop on the basis of the wooden object alone.

The defendant was subsequently arrested and charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI), operation without a license, and operation with an obstructed view, in violation of CGS §§ 14-227a, 14-213, and 14-99f(c), respectively. The defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence, alleging the traffic stop was illegal because the officer had neither probable cause nor reasonable suspicion to initiate it. The trial court agreed and granted the motion, noting that the officer did not personally corroborate the unreliable tips. When the trial court later issued a Supplemental Finding of Fact, it wrote:

A reading of [§ 14-99f(c)] makes it clear that a violation of the statute is predicated upon an object obstructing the view of the driver or distracting the driver. [The officer’s] stop of the defendant was not based on a violation of the statute, but was based solely on the fact that there was something hanging from the defendant’s mirror.

The trial court dismissed all charges against the defendant, and the State appealed. The Appellate Court agreed with the trial court’s determination, additionally noting that “our statute does not proscribe all items hanging from a rearview mirror.” The State promptly appealed.

Investigatory stops under Terry v. Ohio are legal so long as the officer has a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot, a reasonable purpose for the stop, and the scope and character of the stop is reasonable in light of the purpose. The reasonable suspicion standard requires “some minimal level of objective justification for making the stop.” This requires factual support rather than hypothetical possibility.

In this case, the State was required to prove, under § 14-99f(c), that the officer had a reasonable and articulable suspicion “that the chain and/or cross that he had observed was, or had been, obstructing the defendant’s vision or distracting his attention.” In this regard, the state failed to meet its burden. The officer simply testified seeing the object – nothing more. As the court elaborated:

[The officer] did not say that he had seen the defendant peering around the object, glancing toward the object and away from the road ahead of him or driving his car in such a manner to suggest that his view was obstructed or that he was distracted. Indeed, the state presented no testimony that [the officer] considered the hanging chain to present an obstruction to the defendant’s view of the roadway.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court found that the wooden object simply was not objectively large enough to obstruct the defendant’s view. Therefore, the Supreme Court upheld the Appellate Court’s decision that the trial court properly dismissed the case.

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.