Operating Under the Influence: What really happens?

By Joseph R. Serrantino, Esq.
Associate Attorney at Brignole, Bush and Lewis

Getting arrested for an OUI can be a scary and confusing experience. Defending this charge is not something you should attempt to handle on your own. If you've been charged with operating your motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, you will be facing an uphill battle with both the Court system and the CT DMV. However, many people in Connecticut who are charged with an OUI see their charges dismissed or are acquitted at trial. Recently, Connecticut has been hammering down on those who've been arrested and charged with an OUI. So you may ask yourself . . . What will happen if I'm charged with an OUI for the first time? The following is a brief description of what happens to a first time offender in the State of Connecticut:

  • The Motor Vehicle Stop

    There are many ways that an officer can pull you over for suspicion of operating under the influence. First, the officer can pull you over if he or she observes you driving erratically. Second, the officer can stop you at a field sobriety checkpoint. Field sobriety checkpoints are roadblocks set up by police where drivers are briefly stopped and interviewed. If an officer has reasonable suspicion that a driver is under the influence of alcohol, the driver will be detained asked to submit to further testing. Although these checkpoints are legal in Connecticut, law enforcement agencies are required to publicize the checkpoints ahead of time. You can find out the time and place of these checkpoints at duiblock.com or roadblock.org.

  • The Field Sobriety Tests

    Once an officer has "reasonable suspicion" that you are operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, you will be asked to submit to Field Sobriety Testing. There are three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST)s that police use regularly. The first test is the Horizontal Gaze test. This is when an officer moves a small stimulus, such as a pen, in front of your eyes. Police are looking for an involuntary jerking movement of your eyeball at different degrees of deviation. When you are drunk, your eye balls are more likely to jerk back and forth involuntarily (there is no way for you to control this, and you don't even know it's happening). The next SFST administered is the Walk and Turn Test. This is when the officer directs you to walk heel to toe on a straight line, turn slowly, and then walk back. The police are looking specific "clues" to see if you pass or fail the test (clues include: walking off the line, using your arms for balance, failing to follow directions or failing to turn properly). The final SFST is the "Stand on one leg" test. This is when an officer asks you to stand on one leg with your other leg lifted approximately 6" off the ground. They then ask you to count to a certain number while balancing on one leg. "Clues" for this test are similar to the clues police look for during the Walk and Turn test. It is important to note that you can REFUSE to submit to these tests without penalty. However, you will then be taken into police custody and asked to submit to a blood alcohol concentration test.

    These Standardized Field Sobriety Tests are supposed to be performed under certain conditions. Most officers have received formal training on how to administer these tests. There are many ways to fight the results of these tests, and keep them out of evidence in a Court or DMV proceeding. However, this will require the assistance of an experienced OUI attorney like the attorneys here at Brignole, Bush and Lewis.

  • The Arrest and Blood Alcohol Concentration Test (BAC)

    If you fail the Field Sobriety Tests (or if you refuse to take the tests), you will be arrested, read your Miranda rights and taken to the local police station for further processing. Once at the station, you will be asked to submit to a BAC test. If you refuse to submit to this test, you WILL BE PENALIZED. The penalties for refusal will be discussed below. The standard BAC test is the breathalyzer test. You will be asked to blow into a breathalyzer device two different times, about 20 minutes apart. IMPORTANT NOTE: Prior to the test being administered, police are required to offer you reasonable time to contact an attorney for advice. This office is ALWAYS ON CALL, no matter what time you are arrested. It is good to have an attorney's cell phone number or late night contact information in case you are in this situation.

    If you are over the age of 21, and your BAC test result is .08% or higher, you have failed the test (if you are under the age of 21, then .02% or higher). This test is the most reliable test that law enforcement has to prove that you were operating under the influence of alcohol. Again, there are ways to keep the results of this test out of evidence, but it will require the assistance of an experienced OUI attorney such as the attorneys at Brignole, Bush and Lewis.

  • Penalties

    When you are arrested and charged with operating under the influence, you will be facing penalties in both the Connecticut Criminal Court system AND the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles. It is important to contact your attorney the day following your arrest as time is of the essence. The DMV is the agency responsible for: 1. Suspending your license; and 2. Requiring the installation and maintenance of an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) in your vehicle. The Court is tasked with prosecuting you for the actual crime of operating under the influence, and if convicted, ensuring that the conviction remains on your criminal record.

    1. DMV Penalties: If you are arrested for an OUI, and your BAC test results are .08% or higher OR if you refuse to submit to a BAC test at the police station, your license will be automatically suspended for a period of 45 days. You will receive a notice of suspension in the mail from the DMV within 1 week after the OUI arrest. IMPORTANT NOTE: It is important to notify your attorney of this suspension notice IMMEDIATELY because the time to request a hearing to fight the license suspension is limited.

      License Suspension: If the license suspension is upheld, your license will be suspended for 45 days. You may be eligible for a work and/or school permit that will allow you to drive during your suspension between certain hours. Once your suspension is over, you will be required to apply for license restoration. However, prior to restoration, you must install an Ignition Interlock Device(IID) in the vehicle that you will be operating.

      IID Requirements are as follows: 1. If you fail the BAC test (.08% or higher), you are required to maintain the IID on your vehicle for 6 months after license restoration. 2. If you REFUSE to submit to the BAC test, you must maintain the IID in your vehicle for 1 year after license restoration. You will also be required to pay a monthly fee to an authorized IID carrier for maintenance and calibration of the device.

      These penalties CAN BE FOUGHT in what's called a DMV Per Se Hearing. This is a formal hearing in front of a DMV case officer where you can plead your case and question any adverse witnesses. This is not something you should do without the assistance of an experienced OUI attorney.

    2. Court Penalties: In Connecticut, an OUI is generally a misdemeanor charge. However, if you have multiple OUI convictions in the past 10 years, you may be charged with a felony. If this is your first OUI arrest, you may qualify for the "Alcohol Education Pre-trial Diversionary Program". This is a program that will eventually allow the Court to dismiss the charge against you without a conviction. You are NOT eligible for this program if you have used this program within past 10 years, or if you have any prior OUI convictions within the past 10 years. It is important to contact your attorney to see if you are eligible.

Although this seems like a difficult and confusing experience, YOU CAN BEAT THESE CHARGES! Of course, this often does not happen without a skilled, experienced defense attorney at the helm. The Hartford law firm of Brignole, Bush and Lewis, LLC has successfully defendant clients for decades in both DMV Per Se Hearings and in Criminal Court Proceedings. Put our experience to work for you. We'll take the time to listen to your wants and needs, and can aggressively fight to make sure those needs are met. Call Brignole, Bush & Lewis, LLC today in Hartford, Connecticut, at 860-527-9973 to discuss your case.