In early 2019, Connecticut’s Supreme Court decided a case about the kind of evidence that can be used against you in your DMV hearing. This decision will impact anyone who is charged with DUI and challenges the suspension of their driver’s license. Learn more about the new rules here.
Angel Huang Do v. Commissioner of Motor Vehicles
The Supreme Court ruled that mistakes in the arresting police officer’s reports do not stop the reports from being used as evidence in the hearing. Instead, your attorney must argue that the mistakes demonstrate that the police officer’s credibility is in doubt, and that the DMV Hearing Officer should factor the police officer’s errors into his or her decision concerning your license suspension.
Let’s discuss this court decision a little further. The name of the case is Angel Huang Do v. Commissioner of Motor Vehicles. In this case, the police claim that Mrs. Do drove her car while intoxicated. The arresting police officer watched Mrs. Do’s car swerve across the center line of the road. When he spoke to her, the police officer smelled a strong odor of alcohol on her breath, and Mrs. Do also admitted to drinking two glasses of alcohol prior to driving. In addition, Mrs. Do failed the standard field sobriety tests, and she breath tested for blood alcohol numbers above the legal limit of .08 percent.
By law, after someone is arrested for driving under the influence, the arresting police officer needs to submit a written report of the arrest to the DMV. The police officer’s written reports about Mrs. Do’s arrest contained several mistakes and inconsistencies.
Police Officer Errors
The police officer’s errors included:
- The report listed Mrs. Do as having driven two different cars, with different license plates, and different vehicle registrations at the time of her arrest.
- The report contained inconsistent dates for the incident.
- The report was inconsistent as to whether the plaintiff wore contact lenses or glasses during her Field Sobriety Tests.
- The report listed a witness to an alleged “Refusal” to take breath testing when Mrs. Do consented and took the breath tests.
- The report had hand-written notations by the arresting officer on its pages that were not witnessed and/or signed under oath.
Based on the arrest report, the DMV suspended Mrs. Do’s driver’s license. Mrs. Do timely requested a DMV Hearing to contest the suspension. She then challenged whether the police officer’s written report was reliable enough to be used as evidence against her. The police officer did not appear and testify at her hearing, and she did not testify either. So, the error-filled police report was the only evidence. Mrs. Do’s lawyer argued that the report contained so many mistakes and errors that it was just not reliable enough to even be used against her. Despite her arguments, the DMV Hearing Officer allowed the report into evidence, and ultimately, suspended her license.
Mrs. Do refused to quit, and she appealed her case through the court system. She lost again at the trial court level, but she continued her fight. There are two levels of appellate courts in Connecticut. At the first appellate level, the Appellate Court agreed with Mrs. Do. The Appellate Court felt that the report was not reliable and should not have been used against her. Unfortunately for Mrs. Do, and for the rest of us, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court’s decision last month. The Supreme Court, which is the second level of appellate courts in our state, is the final word on Connecticut law.
The Supreme Court rejected the claim that errors or inconsistencies in the officer’s report rendered the report unreliable. Furthermore, the Supreme Court believed that any mistakes were overcome by the better evidence of Mrs. Do’s intoxication contained within the report itself. The Court also concluded that DMV Hearings are limited administrative hearings that are strictly focused on four issues:
(1) Did the police officer have probable cause to arrest the person for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug or both?
(2) Was such person placed under arrest?
(3) Did such person refuse to submit to such test or analysis or did such person submit to such test or analysis, commenced within two hours of the time of operation, and the results of such test or analysis indicated that such person had an elevated blood alcohol content?
(4) Was such person operating the motor vehicle?
In Mrs. Do’s case, the Supreme Court found all four issues were proven and upheld the suspension of her driver’s license.
Understanding the Ruling
Here’s what can be taken from the Do decision:
- DMV Hearings only address the four issues listed above. To win your DMV Hearing, you will need to convince the Hearing Officer to find at least one issue in your favor.
- Administrative hearings at the DMV are not full evidentiary trials, like in criminal court. The Hearing Officer has discretion on what evidence can be used at your hearing.
- When a police officer makes mistakes, your attorney can argue that the officer’s facts and conclusions lack credibility. Your attorney can still argue that any of the four issues have not been proven because of the officer’s mistakes.
- Even an error-filled police report will be used against you at your DMV Hearing. The trick is to argue that the errors are so bad that the police officer’s findings are not believable. You can’t stop the report itself from coming into evidence.
As you can see, success at DMV Hearings requires the assistance of an experienced DUI lawyer. My team is ready to go. Please contact us to discuss your DUI case.