Posts tagged with "totality of the circumstances"

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.

Reasonable and Articulable Suspicion Allowing Police to Pull Over Intoxicated Driver

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut upheld a trial court’s decision that police officers had reasonable and articulable suspicion to pull over a defendant they believed was driving under the influence of alcohol.

This case arose from an incident that occurred at approximately 10:30pm on July 16, 2006. Two citizens (informants) were driving in their car when they observed a dark SUV driven poorly by the defendant. They decided to follow, and then called police because they were concerned for the safety of the public and the defendant. The informants provided dispatch with a description of the defendant’s vehicle, the direction he was traveling, and the following observations: he frequently swerved and crossed the center yellow line, weaved in and out of the travel lane, and nearly collided with another vehicle. Dispatch relayed this information to a nearby patrol car, which saw the defendant’s car stopped at a green light and driving only 15 miles per hour (mph) in a 40mph zone. After spotting the informants pointing to the defendant’s vehicle, the officers pulled him over. The defendant was later charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of State law.

The defendant submitted a motion to suppress evidence, which the trial court denied. It found that officers had at least “reasonable suspicion to believe the defendant was driving under the influence of alcohol,” given the informants’ information and the police officers’ personal observations. The defendant entered a conditional plea of nolo contendere, and upon conviction and sentencing, he appealed. The defendant argued that the record did not have enough corroborative evidence to establish a reasonable and articulable suspicion to pull him over. He further argued that the trial court improperly found that the stop was based, in part, on the police officers’ observations of his erratic driving.

When a police officer conducts an investigatory stop or seizure, he must have a “reasonable and articulable suspicion at the time the seizure occurred.” To determine whether such suspicion exists, a reviewing court will determine whether the trial court’s factual findings were clearly erroneous, and whether the conclusion based on those findings was legally correct. This decision relies on the totality of the circumstances, and the facts of a case are reviewed objectively. In the context of citizen informants, our State Supreme Court has held that there are situations involving an anonymous tip which, with police corroboration, “exhibits sufficient indicia of reliability to provide reasonable suspicion to make an investigatory stop.” Identifiable citizen informers are presumptively reliable because they can easily be located and held accountable if they provide false information to police.

In this case, the Appellate Court stated that in determining whether the police officers had a reasonable and articulable suspicion, the trial court did not have to rely on only their observations. It noted that the trial court declared the informants to be “identifiable citizen informant[s],” a finding with which the Appellate Court did not disagree. The Court described the extensive corroboration of the informants’ information by police officers, and noted that the police were “not required to wait for erratic driving or an accident to occur before pulling over the defendant.” Therefore, the Court found the presence of reasonable and articulable suspicion, and that the trial court did not commit clear error in their findings.

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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