In a recent criminal law matter, the Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Fairfield at Bridgeport denied a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence which he argued, in part, was illegally obtained because the traffic stop was “unduly prolonged.”
This case arose from an incident that occurred at 10:50pm on June 30, 2007. A police officer was on patrol when she observed a dark-colored sport utility vehicle (SUV) swerving and crossing over the double yellow lines in the opposite lane. Less than one minute later, the officer came upon a fresh accident and witnesses stated they were struck by a dark-colored SUV. Within five to ten minutes, the scene was secured and the officer radioed for assistance, describing the SUV and noting it may have front-end damage.
Approximately ten to fifteen minutes later, a sergeant on patrol spotted a dark-colored SUV a mile and a half from the accident scene. He conducted an investigatory stop of this vehicle, whose driver was later identified as the defendant. The sergeant quickly assessed the vehicle and found no damage, then approached the driver to explain the purpose of the stop, thank him for his cooperation, and inform him he was free to leave. This followed standard procedure and lasted no more than one and a half minutes. During this conversation, the sergeant observed the defendant’s slurred speech and glassy eyes, as well as the smell of alcohol, and the defendant admitted he was drinking at a party. The sergeant radioed for the assistance of a specialized DUI unit, which promptly arrived, and three field sobriety tests were conducted.
The defendant was arrested and charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence, which violated General Statutes § 14-227a. The defendant moved to suppress evidence, arguing, in part, that even if the stop was lawful, it was “unduly prolonged” because he should have been let go once the sergeant found that no damage was done to the defendant’s vehicle.
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.” In addition, though it may be initially proper, the stop may become unconstitutional “if unduly prolonged or intrusive beyond what would be necessary to complete the investigation for which the stop was initiated.” To determine whether a stop was unduly prolonged, the reviewing court will consider whether officers “diligently pursued a means of investigation that was likely to confirm or dispel their suspicions.”
In this case, the Superior Court determined that the officer’s actions did not unduly prolong the stop. If the sergeant had not made new observations that led him to suspect the driver was driving under the influence, the entire counter would have lasted less than ninety seconds. The sergeant acquired new suspicion, based on the smell of alcohol and the defendant’s slurred speech and glassy eyes, which justified an expanded scope of investigation to either confirm or dispel it. The Court did not view the sergeant’s personal interaction with the defendant as improper, stating: “It is not intrusive or unreasonable for an officer to terminate a stop in the same manner in which it was initiated, by approaching the driver and engaging him or her in conversation.” Therefore, with respect to this aspect of the defendant’s motion to suppress, the court denied the motion.
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.