Posts tagged with "reliability"

Administrative Decision to Suspend Plaintiff’s License After DUI Arrest Upheld

This February, a Superior Court of Connecticut dismissed a plaintiff’s appeal of an administrative decision to suspend his license, despite his assertion that the breath test readings were inaccurate.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on May 8, 2010. Police observed the plaintiff revving the engine of his car and then traveling at a high rate of speed down a public road. After police initiated a traffic stop, he admitted that he drank two beers at a bar. The officer observed the “strong distinct odor of an alcoholic beverage” and the plaintiff’s bloodshot, glassy eyes. The plaintiff failed three field sobriety tests and was then arrested. At the police station, he agreed to submit to breath tests, which returned blood alcohol content (BAC) readings of 0.206 and 0.135.

The police notified the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), who held an administrative hearing to determine whether to suspend the plaintiff’s license. An expert witness for the plaintiff testified that the BAC readings might be unreliable because the machine’s gas calibration readings were above the acceptable level of 0.105. Nonetheless, the hearing officer found that the police arrested the plaintiff while he was operating under the influence and that the Intoxilyzer machine was working properly at the time of the plaintiff’s tests. He ordered that the plaintiff’s license be suspended for ten months.

The plaintiff appealed this decision to the Superior Court, which ordered the DMV to hold another hearing regarding the reliability of the Intoxilyzer used on the night of the plaintiff’s arrest. After additional testimony, the hearing officer made the same findings, and credited the State toxicologist’s conclusion that the machine was properly working. The State toxicologist stated that these higher-end readings simply indicated that the gas canister needed to be replaced, but that this did not impact the subsequent BAC readings from the plaintiff’s tests. The hearing officer again suspended the plaintiff’s license for ten months, and the plaintiff appealed this decision, claiming he was not adequately tested.

When a court reviews the rulings of an administrative agency, it is guided by the Uniform Administrative Procedure Act (UAPA). The court must determine whether the agency issued an order that was unreasonable, arbitrary, illegal, or which constituted an abuse of discretion. Pursuant to the substantial evidence rule of UAPA, administrative findings are upheld so long as the record “affords a substantial basis of fact from which the fact in issue can be reasonably inferred.” It is the plaintiff’s burden to prove “that substantial rights possessed by him were prejudiced because the administrative decision was clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative and substantial evidence on the whole record.”

In this case, the Superior Court rejected the plaintiff’s claim of inadequate testing. It found that under the substantial evidence rule, the hearing officer made an appropriate determination that the intoxilyzer readings were accurate. In addition, the plaintiff did not provide any evidence that his own BAC readings were affected by the higher-range calibration readings. Therefore, the appeal was dismissed.

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.

Defendant Argued Concussion Led to Failed Field Sobriety Tests

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed the Appellate Court’s decision that the State did not prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol at the time he was involved in an accident.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on January 21, 2004, in Westport, Connecticut. The defendant consumed at least two alcoholic beverages between 4pm and 5pm, and was involved in an accident with another vehicle at approximately 6:15pm. The other driver stated that she noticed the defendant’s truck “accelerate rapidly toward her,” and there were no skid marks on the road, indicating the defendant did not attempt to apply his brakes. When police officers arrived, they observed the defendant bleeding from the nose, swaying and having difficulty standing, and one officer smelled alcohol on the defendant’s body and breath. The defendant became belligerent when the officers administered three field sobriety tests, all of which he failed. At the police station, the defendant refused to submit to a Breathalyzer test, and only partially filled out a refusal form.

The defendant requested medical attention and was brought to Norwalk Hospital. Doctors diagnosed him with bilateral nasal bone fractures, but not a concussion. The CT scan did not show any “cranial abnormalities,” and the defendant did not exhibit any of the common symptoms of a concussion. Furthermore, the doctors did not discharge the defendant with “instructions consistent with an individual suffering from a concussion.” The defendant was subsequently charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of State law.

At trial, the defendant had two doctors testify that he suffered a concussion as a result of the accident, which explained why he failed the field sobriety tests. The trial court was not persuaded, stating that while the testimony “raised the specter that the defendant may have suffered a concussion, [it] did no more.” The court relied on additional evidence indicating intoxication and the nonexistence of a concussion, and the defendant was thereafter convicted. However, the Appellate Court viewed the testimony of the doctors differently: it stated that one of the doctors “remained firm in rendering his expert medical opinion that the defendant had suffered a concussion.” Therefore, the Appellate Court reversed the conviction, citing insufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant was intoxicated when the accident occurred. The State appealed this decision.

The trier of fact, be it a judge or jury, is “free either to accept or reject, in whole or in part,” testimony of the defendant’s witnesses, especially when subject to cross-examination by the State. However, there is no mandate that trial courts must accept un-contradicted expert testimony. Appellate courts will defer to trial court rulings “[a]s long as evidence existed from which the [trier of fact] reasonably could have found the facts and drawn the inferences leading to its guilty verdict.”

In this case, the Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that there was ample evidence to support a conviction of OMVUI. It noted the various findings of the trial court and stated that each was supported by the record. The Supreme Court further wrote that the trial court was “free to weigh the credibility and reliability of the two experts,” and its rejection of their testimony was not clearly erroneous. Therefore, the judgment of the Appellate Court was reversed and the case remanded.

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.