An arrest for Operating under the Influence in violation of Section 14-227a C.G.S., commonly referred to as a "DUI", results in serious consequences, including loss of operating privileges and the possibility of probation or even jail time. Due to the political climate in Connecticut, scarecely a year goes by where the penalties are not increased.
The essential elements of a DUI which the State must prove are: that the defendant was operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or with an elevated blood alcohol content ("BAC") of at least .08%, by weight. "Operation" can be found when the key is in the ignition, even if the engine is not running. "Drugs" can include prescribed medications. For purposes of the DUI statute, "motor vehicle" includes ATVs, motorcycles, and even snowmobiles.
A person charged with DUI must deal with both the court sytem and the Department of Motor Vehicles("DMV").
Assuming that an operator has no prior conviction for DUI in Connecticut, nor in any other state whose DUI statute was substantially similar to Connecticut's at the time of the prior arrest, a defendant may apply for entry into the "Alcohol Education Program" ("AEP") if he or she has not had such program invoked on their behalf within the preceeding 10 years. If the offense resulted in serious physical injuries to another person, "good cause" must be shown for the program to be granted.
The State charges a fee of $200 for the application and for an evaluation, which is to be paid at the time the application is submitted to the court. Depending on the evaluation and the results of the BAC tests, the defendant will be referred to either a ten session intervention program, at an additional cots of $350, or a fifteen session intervention program, at an additional cost of $500. The sessions are scheduled weekly and typically last about 90 minutes. In some courts, a defendant will also be required to attend one session of a MADD Victim Impact Panel.
Successful completion of the required sessions and no further DUI arrests will result in a dismissal of the charges one year after the granting of the program. "Dismissal" means that there is no conviction, and under Connecticut law, the arrest itself is deemed not to have occurred, and arrest records will be returned upon request of the defendant. However, the DMV will list the entry into the AEP on the driver's history for 10 years.
DMV "per se" suspension
Even if the charge in court will likely end up in a dismissal, the operator still faces a period of suspension of his or her operating privileges if the BAC results are .08 or higher, or if the operator is deemed to have "refused" to submit to chemical testing. This is known as a "per se" suspension.
The suspension begins 30 days after the date the operator is notified of his or her arrest, and will last for a period of 45 days. Thereafter, the driver can only operate a motor vehicle that is equipped with an ignition interlock device ("IID") for a period of time, the length of which depends upon the BAC reading and prior history. The suspension periods are longer if the operator's privileges had been previously suspended during the preceeding 10 years for a DUI related offense, or if the operator is under 21 years of age.
Before any suspension is imposed, the operator will receive a notice from DMV regarding the length of the suspension, and the notice will advise the operator that he or she can request a hearing to contest the suspension. The hearing must be scheduled by the date set forth in the notice.
If a hearing is requested, it is limited to a determination of four issues: 1) did the police officer have probable cause to arrest for operating under the influence of liquor or drugs; 2) was the operator placed under arrest; 3) did the operator submit to chemical testing and if so, did the result indicate an elevated BAC; 4) was the defendant operating the motor vehicle.
Issues relating to the hardship caused by the suspension, such as being the sole driver in the family etc., are not part of the DMV per se hearing.
If a suspension is imposed with or without a hearing, the operator cannot drive for any reason except a genuine medical emergency, unless a work permit or educational permit has been granted. A conviction for operating while under suspension for a DUI related offense carries a mandatory 30 day jail sentence and a $500 fine.
Because of the obvious hardship created by a total loss of driving privileges, Connecticut allows operators to apply for a work permit to go back and forth to work and for work related travel. It also allows for a similar permit to attend classes at a community college or university.
No hearing is provided for applicants seeking either permit. Instead, a simple application is filled out, sworn to, verified by a work supervisor or college registrar, and then sent to DMV. If the application is promptly made, the special permit is often effective by the date the suspension period is scheduled to begin.
If a permit is granted, any operation outside the permitted hours will result in the mandatory 30 day jail sentence and $500 fine.
An operator with a CDL is not eligible for a work permit, nor is an operator who has had a previous suspension for a DUI related offense. An operator whose operating privileges are suspended due to a refusal to submit to chemical testing cannot obtain a work permit until 90 days after the suspension period begins.
If an operator previously was granted the Alcohol Education Program, even if it was successfully completed, he or she is not eligible to apply again for a period of 10 years. Therefore, a new DUI arrest within that 10 year period means that the defendant will be treated as first offender.
For conviction of a first offense, the operator will typically be fined between $500-1000; required to either perform 100 hours of community service or serve 48 hours in jail;be placed on probation for 18 months; and have his or her operating privileges suspended for 45 days; thereafter, the operator must use an ignition interlock device for a year. The law allows the court to impose a maximum jail sentence of 6 months for a first offense, but such a sentence is relatively rare unless serious injuries were involved.
For conviction of a second offense within 10 years of a prior conviction. the operator may be fined between $1000-4000; may be imprisoned not more than two years, 120 days of which are mandatory and cannot be suspended or reduced; be placed on probation and required to perform 100 hours of community service; and must use an IID for a period of 3 years. However, a recent change in the law allows the possibility of "home supervision" for part of the mandatory jail sentence.
Because the consequences of a DUI arrest are so serious and life altering, anyone arrested for a DUI, even for the first time, should strongly consider having an attorney represent him or her.
An experienced attorney can make strong arguments to a court in order to gain entry into the Alcohol Education Program; can explain the often mysterious workings of the court sytem and communicate with court staff including the bail commissioner and probation department on your behalf; and can address issues relating to the DMV "per se" suspension.
A competent DUI attorney can advise you of the merits of seeking an hearing at the DMV to contest a "per se" suspension. Although the issues at such a hearing are limited, an attorney can review the police reports and statements and potentially challenge issues such as probable cause; the timing of the chemical testing; whether an alleged "refusal" to take a test was really just an "inability" to do so; and whether the reports were properly sworn to and submitted.
An experienced DUI attorney can negotiate with the prosecutor regarding possible plea bargains in the event that the Alcohol Education Program is not an option.
In some cases, a trial is the best option. A skilled trial attorney can present a variety of potential defenses at trial, such as challenging the basis for the motor vehicle stop; the manner in which the field sobriety tests were administered and the conclusions drawn from those tests; the manner in which the chemical testing was done; the accuracy of the testing equipment; and the conclusions to be drawn from the tests.
I was an Assistant State's Attorney in the Danbury Superior Court for nearly 7 years, where I prosecuted hundreds of DUI cases. For the last 33 years, I have defended hundreds of people in various courts who were charged with DUI, including several who were involved in fatal crashes resulting in the charge of manslaughter with a motor vehicle. I have also appeared for operators in dozens of DMV per se hearings, many of which resulted in a restoration of the operator's driving privileges.