Posts tagged with "substantial evidence"

Plaintiff Operated Motor Vehicle Within Meaning of Suspension Statute; Case Reversed and Remanded to Dismiss His Appeal

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed and remanded a case where the lower courts improperly ruled that the plaintiff did not operate his motor vehicle within the meaning of the State license suspension statute.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at 3:20am on May 30, 2004. A police officer observed the plaintiff’s car parked on the shoulder of Interstate 95. The vehicle’s left turn signal was flashing and the windshield wipers were moving, even though there was no rain. In addition, the officer heard the heater blower motor running, and observed that the car key was in the ignition and turned to “On.” The plaintiff was asleep in the driver’s seat and was the vehicle’s sole occupant. With some effort, the officer woke up the plaintiff and observed that he was intoxicated. After performing poorly on the field sobriety tests, the plaintiff was arrested and charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a.

Pursuant to CGS § 14-227b, the officer sent a report to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), who notified the plaintiff that his license was being suspended for ninety days as a result of the OMVUI charge. The plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, after which the hearing officer suspended the plaintiff’s license for ninety days. The plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court, which upheld the appeal because “there was not substantial evidence of operation.” The Appellate Court affirmed judgment, and the DMV Commissioner appealed to the Supreme Court.

At the time this appeal was filed, but prior to oral argument, the Supreme Court of Connecticut rendered its decision in State v. Haight, 279 Conn. 546 (2006). This case had an identical factual scenario, and the high court ruled that “[m]ere insertion of the key into the ignition is an act… which alone or in sequence will set into motion the motive power of the vehicle… and, therefore, itself constitutes operation of the vehicle.” In addition, that the defendant in that case was asleep behind the steering wheel was not dispositive.

Because the facts of this case were indistinguishable from those in Haight, the Supreme Court determined that the Appellate Court erred in holding that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that the plaintiff was operating his car. Though this case involved a sister statute to the one from Haight, “the word ‘operating’ as used in § 14-227b has the same meaning that it does in § 14-227a.” Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded this case “with direction to dismiss the plaintiff’s appeal.”

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.

Appellate Court Upholds License Suspension, Citing Circumstantial Evidence That Plaintiff Operated the Motor Vehicle in Question

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a plaintiff’s argument that the commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) had insufficient evidence to suspend his driver’s license.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at 2:31am on May 19, 2007. Police dispatch received emergency phone calls from two citizen informants (informants) regarding an erratic driver. They described the driver as male, provided a description of his vehicle, and indicated they were both following him in their own cars. The informants conveyed to dispatch that the driver was constantly switching lanes, traveling slowly then accelerating rapidly, and swerving, and that he pulled into a Home Depot parking lot.

When officers arrived at this location, they saw the plaintiff sitting alone in his vehicle, which matched the description given by the informants. His car was turned off and the ignition key was in his pocket. Additionally, no one else was in the vicinity, including the informants. When officers engaged in a conversation with the plaintiff, they observed slurred speech, glassy eyes, and the smell of alcohol. In addition, after the plaintiff exited the vehicle he was unsteady on his feet. The plaintiff failed three field sobriety tests and was arrested for and charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI). Approximately a half hour later at the police station, the plaintiff spoke to an attorney and then refused to submit to a breathalyzer test.

Because the plaintiff refused to submit to a chemical alcohol test, the DMV suspended his license for one year. The plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, during which the hearing officer found: 1) that police had probable cause to arrest the plaintiff for OMVUI; 2) the plaintiff was arrested; 3) the plaintiff refused to submit to the breathalyzer test; and 4) the plaintiff operated a motor vehicle. The one-year suspension was upheld, and the plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court, who dismissed the appeal. The plaintiff sought recourse with the Appellate Court, where he argued that the record lacked sufficient evidence to support a finding that he operated the motor vehicle at issue.

To be found guilty of OMVUI, the State must prove that the defendant operated a motor vehicle on a public highway while under the influence or with an elevated blood alcohol content. Direct evidence is not required to establish “operation;” oftentimes, circumstantial evidence “may be more certain, satisfying and persuasive.” Pursuant to the substantial evidence rule, the findings of an administrative agency are upheld “if the record affords a substantial basis of fact from which the fact in issue can be reasonably inferred.” This is a highly deferential standard, and the plaintiff must prove that the DMV commissioner abused his discretion in suspending the plaintiff’s license.

The Appellate Court was not persuaded that there was insufficient evidence proving the plaintiff was the driver of the vehicle. It cited police observations that the defendant was alone in the vehicle and at the location precisely identified by the informants, whose absence was immaterial. In addition, because the commissioner determined “operation” on the basis of the informant’s observations and subsequent identification of the plaintiff as the operator of the erratically driven vehicle, it was not relevant that the plaintiff’s car was not running when officers arrived. Therefore, the Appellate Court concluded there was substantial evidence of the commissioner’s finding that the plaintiff operated the motor vehicle in question and affirmed judgment.

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.

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.

Where Officers Did Not Conduct Field Sobriety Tests, the Totality of the Circumstances Still Established Probable Cause to Arrest

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut considered, among many claims, whether a hearing officer erred by finding that police had probable cause to arrest the plaintiff for DUI.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at approximately 1:25am on June 20, 2010, in Fairfield, Connecticut. At this time, the plaintiff was driving her car when she swerved out of the travel lane and struck a wall and shrubbery on a homeowner’s property. The homeowner called police, and when officers arrived, they found the plaintiff alert inside her car. They observed the strong odor of alcohol, and the plaintiff had red glossy eyes and slurred speech. The plaintiff admitted to having four or five cocktails the earlier that night, and started to complain about neck pain. As a result, the officers did not administer field sobriety tests and had the plaintiff transported to a hospital in Bridgeport.

At approximately 4:00am, officers asked the plaintiff to submit to a urine test. She declined, and signed paperwork to that effect. The plaintiff was given a misdemeanor citation for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI), in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a. Fairfield police notified the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) of this arrest, and the DMV held a hearing to suspend the plaintiff’s license on July 13, 2010, at which the plaintiff was present. The hearing officer made numerous findings, including the existence of probable cause to arrest, and ordered that the plaintiff’s license be suspended for a period of six months. The plaintiff moved for reconsideration, and when this was denied, she appealed to the Superior Court on multiple grounds, including lack of probable cause to arrest.

When the state courts review the actions of an administrative body, they must decide whether the agency “acted unreasonably, arbitrarily, illegally or in abuse of its discretion” when it issues in order. The substantial evidence rule applies, meaning an administrative finding will be upheld “if the record affords a substantial basis of fact from which the fact in issue can be reasonably inferred.” Probable cause is established:

[W]hen the facts and circumstances within the knowledge of the officer and of which he has reasonable and trustworthy information are sufficient in themselves to warrant a person of reasonable caution to believe that the person arrested had committed an offense.

Thus, an arrest for driving under the influence may take place if probable cause is established based on the totality of the circumstances, as supported by direct and circumstantial evidence alike. In this case, the Superior Court determined the hearing officer had ample evidence to support probable cause to arrest, as shown by testimony of the plaintiff’s appearance when officers arrived at the scene of the accident. Furthermore, the fact that the officers did not conduct field sobriety tests did not negate this finding: such tests are but one factor in making conclusions on probable cause. After the Superior Court considered the plaintiff’s other contentions and did not find in her favor with respect to any of them, it dismissed her administrative appeal.

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.

Though Defendant’s Statement Was Not A “Model of English Grammar and Spelling,” It Was Voluntarily Made

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress a written statement, claiming his Miranda waiver was not properly made.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 4, 2004 in Danbury, Connecticut. Following a roadway altercation, two victims were subject to a brutal beating inflicted by the defendant and his friends. One victim was repeatedly punched and kicked in the head, resulting in very significant head-related injuries, the need for an abdominal feeding tube for two months, and extensive physical, speech, and occupational therapy. The defendant was later apprehended in Rhode Island by federal authorities. En route to Connecticut, Danbury officers transporting the defendant stopped at a McDonald’s restaurant to get him food. There, the defendant wished to give a statement, which was taken after he was given his Miranda warnings and signed a waiver of rights form.

Prior to trial, the defendant moved to suppress his statement. He claimed that he drank roughly one gallon of Hennessy cognac with a codefendant twenty hours before being arrested. The defendant argued he was still intoxicated at the time he gave the written statement, so his waiver was not voluntary. To bolster his position, he cited the statement, “which was replete with typographical and grammatical errors, evincing that he merely wrote what the police instructed him to write.”

The State countered that due to the passage of time, the defendant was not under the influence at the time he gave his statement. One Danbury officer testified that the defendant did not appear as such at the McDonald’s, and that he had eaten two meals while in custody prior to giving the statement. The trial court denied the motion, agreeing with the State’s argument. It noted the defendant’s express interest in giving the statement and that he voluntarily signed the form, among other findings. In addition, the court stated that the statement was “clear and not reflective of someone who was under the influence of alcohol.” Though it was not a “model of English grammar and spelling,” the statement was comprehensible.

The defendant was subsequently convicted of assault in the first degree, conspiracy to commit assault in the first degree, and two counts assault in the first degree as an accessory. Post-sentencing he appealed, arguing in part that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the motion to suppress. The defendant reiterated his previous arguments that the statement was not voluntarily made.

A waiver of Miranda rights must be made voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently. It is the burden of the State to prove a valid waiver by the preponderance of the evidence, and a reviewing court will look at the totality of the circumstances to determine whether the waiver is valid. In this case, the Appellate Court determined that there was substantial evidence supporting the trial court’s findings that the statement was voluntary and the waiver valid. As such, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress the written statement.

When faced with a charge of assault or conspiracy, 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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