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Changes to Connecticut’s DUI Laws

In 2011, Connecticut lawmakers passed some major amendments to the state's drunk driving laws that went into effect January 1, 2012. Advocates of the new DUI laws believe that the changes will reduce the number of drunk driving accidents and help offenders get treatment.

CT Breathalyzer ignition lock law now may get you locked out​

Sentencing for a drunk driving conviction can impact you in many ways - from the loss of a license, heavy fines, to jail time. And since 2015, one additional measure that can haunt a driver is the inclusion of an ignition lock device on their current or future vehicle(s). To start the car, you must breathe into these ignition interlocks - which must show a strictly limited blood alcohol content (.025 in Connecticut!) before a car may be started.

Connecticut used to require locks only for repeat DUI and DWI offenders, but as of July 1, 2015, it is now required for first-time offenders.  The law states:

"If you are suspended for any of the following offenses you will be required to install an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) before your driver's license can be reinstated in Connecticut:

- Failing or refusing a chemical alcohol test
- Operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Vehicular manslaughter
- Vehicular assault"

In-car breathalyzer locks are one of the many hurdles that may be faced by a driver pressed with DUI or DWI charges - which is why it is important to talk to a drunk driving defense attorney. For information on how to build a strong defense, contact us.

One of the changes to the law that will have a significant impact for many individuals is that those with multiple DUI convictions will be able to regain their driving privileges if they install ignition interlock devices in their vehicles. The law also allows Department of Corrections officials to release those incarcerated for DUI offenses to serve their mandatory minimum sentences through home confinement, rather than remaining in jail.

For a first time offense, an individual may be eligible to participate in Connecticut's Alcohol Education Program, a diversionary program that results in the dismissal of an individual's DUI charge upon successful completion of a Court approved Alcohol Education Program and a Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Victim Impact Panel.

A first time offender who is not convicted of DUI is not eligible for the ignition interlock device, and if his or her license is suspended through the Department of Motor Vehicles, he or she must apply for a work permit (Special Operator's Permit to Operate a Motor Vehicle to and From Work) or a permit to travel for educational purposes (Special Operator's Permit for Higher Education) in order to be able to drive during the period of suspension.

For a first time DUI conviction, a person faces a penalty of up to six months in jail, with either 48 hours of incarceration being mandatory or the performance of 100 hours of community service as a condition of probation; a fine of not less than $500; and a mandatory license suspension of 45 days. Now included in the statute is a mandatory one-year ignition interlock order; under the previous law, the sentencing judge had discretion whether to require the defendant to use an ignition interlock device. Such interlock device can be installed after the 45-day license suspension.

For a second DUI conviction, a person faces a mandatory sentence of 120 days in jail. Although the law has changed to allow a portion of this sentence to be served through home confinement, that process currently involves an unspecified time to be served in jail. Such person's license will be suspended for 45 days, and he or she cannot operate a motor vehicle unless it is equipped with an ignition interlock device for a three-year period following the 45-day suspension period.

A third DUI conviction (within ten years after a prior conviction for the same offense) carries a mandatory jail sentence of one year in jail, as well as permanent license revocation. However, after two years a person may petition to have his or her driver's license reinstated. If the driver's license is reinstated, the driver must use an ignition interlock device for at least 15 years afterward.

Dash Cams making a comeback

In Connecticut and beyond, people have come to realize that more can be done to uphold the rights of drivers who face drunk driving criminal charges. But the challenges of implementation persist.

In fact, one politician took up the cause of protecting drivers from fabricated accusations because he found his own his rights in jeopardy because of false charges. State Assemblyman Paul Moriarty was pulled over in 2012 by a police officer for allegedly cutting him off on the road. Despite Moriarty's adamant claims that he hadn't been drinking, he refused to submit to a breath test and was charged with drunk driving. But the officer's accusations were discredited when the recorded dashboard camera footage from the officer's patrol vehicle was reviewed, and all charges were dropped. Moriarty then pushed for new legislation requiring that dashboard cameras be in all future municipal police cars. Video evidence of traffic stops would then eliminate the need to rely on personal accounts, granting suspects the opportunity to defend themselves against false claims. The case played out in an interesting manner: Moriarty's bill passed but was declared unconstitutional in 2016 - but the policeman was later fired and denied the ability to get his job back in 2019.

Happily, in Connecticut, body and dashboard cameras are now making a comeback. Bridgeport has launched a body and dash cam program, with funding in place to implement it.  Since state federal legislation may not always protect the rights of some people facing DUI charges, it is important to protect yourself against false drunk driving charges - and to seek legal advice and representation in the event that you are suspected of such an offense.    

Drunk driving restrictions may get tougher - and BAC limit get lower

It's the job of law enforcement and legislatures to protect the public’s safety - but sometimes, measures intended to promote safety may infringe upon Connecticut citizens’ rights.

Since 2013, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been arguing that the limit is too high. Currently, the federal government and most states have set 0.08 as the legal limit for a driver’s blood alcohol level (BAC). That standard was established over 20 years ago. But now the NTSB feels that a driver’s blood alcohol level should not exceed 0.05. Lowering the threshold so severely essentially translates to implementing a zero-tolerance policy. Factoring in metabolism and weight, the new limit would prohibit many men from consuming two drinks, while some women couldn’t even have one drink.

In addition to suggesting lowering the national limit for blood alcohol content, the NTSB offered over a dozen other sanctions it would like to see approved, such as the use of alcohol ignition interlock devices around the country, including promoting the development of technology for all vehicles that could monitor drivers’ alcohol levels constantly.

However well-intentioned, such measures may result in innocent drivers ending up facing criminal charges. Lowering the legal alcohol limit has the potential to put capable, responsible drivers on the wrong side of the law, while increasing authorities’ dependence on technology to test drivers increases the likelihood of false readings.

Right now, the legal BAC limit for Connecticut remains at 0.08 - and 0.02 for underage drivers.

Connecticut's drunk driving program: Continuous Alcohol Monitoring (CAM) laws

In Connecticut and states around the country, drunk driving (DUI) laws are becoming increasingly strict. Some zero-tolerance policies have set precedents for other courts to follow, as criminal defense attorneys voice concerns over the infringement of defendants' rights. But if proven successful, a new program may start a trend which both promotes safety and addresses the needs repeat drunk driving offenders.

Some states are testing a drunk driving program aimed at curbing repeat DUI incidents while offering a more constructive alternative to prison sentences for some offenders. Proponents of the plan point out how defendants can benefit from the structure and accountability needed in the program to successfully address their drinking problems. As an alternative to serving a prison term, some repeat offenders are given the option of participating in continuous monitoring for alcohol consumption. Several types of technology can be used to test participants' blood alcohol levels throughout the day, helping to ensure they don't drive drunk. Actively complying with the sobriety agreement helps them stay out of prison. But some plans (such as ankle bracelets) are being challenged as not infallible. In Connecticut, Continuous Alcohol Monitoring (CAM) Laws are such (SB365) that CAM may be required when there is considered to be a child endangerment in the DUI.

In CT, warrants now are required in most cases for DUI blood tests - but not breath tests (breathalyzers)

In 2013, the US Supreme Court decided on how law enforcement should administer blood alcohol tests to suspected drunk drivers throughout the US. In the case, a man was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol after having both refused to take a breath test and failing a field sobriety test. He then was brought to the hospital, where he was forced against his will to
submit to a blood alcohol test. That state's Supreme Court through out the results of that blood test on the grounds that the test was administered without a warrant. So it went to the US Supreme Court, who ruled that law enforcement must make a reasonable effort to obtain a warrant before having drunk driving suspects submit to blood tests. According to the Supreme Court decision, officers must do their best to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of suspects by first obtaining a warrant for blood whenever possible. Since law enforcement generally have the opportunity to get warrants in any number of ways, it was ruled not to be an unreasonable requirement.

Connecticut's DUI law specifies conditions about samples taken from apparently injured drivers requiring medical treatment: A different set of admissibility standards applies to blood or urine samples taken from an injured driver in the course of his or her medical treatment. Results of a chemical analysis of the sample are competent evidence to establish probable cause for the person's arrest by warrant and are admissible in a subsequent prosecution if (1) the sample was taken for the diagnosis and treatment of the injury, (2) if a blood sample, it was taken in accordance with DPS regulations, (3) a police officer satisfies a Superior Court judge that he or she has reason to believe the person was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and the blood or urine sample constitutes evidence of this offense, and (4) the judge issues a search warrant authorizing seizure of the test results. The warrant may also authorize seizure of hospital medical records prepared in connection with the diagnosis and treatment of the injury.

But for breath tests, the law has a rule called "implied consent." (CGS § 14-227B) Anyone who drives implicitly consents to the testing of his or her blood, breath, or urine. If the driver is a minor, his or her parents or guardians are considered to have given their consent.

On arresting someone for DUI and before administering the test, the police officer must:

1. inform the driver of his or her constitutional rights;
2. give the driver a chance to call a lawyer;
3. inform the driver that his or her license will be suspended if he or she refuses to take the test, or if the test results indicate an elevated BAC; and
4. inform the driver that evidence of a refusal may be used against him or her in a criminal prosecution.

A warrant is not needed to take a breath sample, and the driver is required to complete a breath test as a valid search incident to arrest. If you're arrested or detained on suspicion of drunk driving in Connecticut, you may refuse to take a breathalyzer test - but it can hurt you both in court and with your drivers license. In court, the refusal can be argued as evidence of consciousness of guilt, and held against you - and it can lead to severe consequences related to your license.

​The moral of the story: anything's possible when someone is pulled over for suspicion of DUI. To stop drunk driving suspects from automatically being vulnerable under the law, the American legal system is built on the foundation that every citizen is innocent until proven guilty, rather than incriminating individuals unless they can prove their innocence. Decades ago, a U.S. Supreme Court case set precedent to be able to penalize suspects who refuse to submit to breath tests - in other words, to actually force suspects to offer evidence to be used against them. While this is a highly questionable standard, it currently is the law, and a reason why you should definitely consult an attorney.

Impact of the Changes

Supporters of the laws hope that the changes will make the roads safer for everyone. Studies show that approximately 78 percent of individuals who lose their licenses end up driving regardless of whether their license is under suspension. Officials hope that ignition interlock devices will prevent more people from driving while intoxicated, and ultimately reduce the number of alcohol-related auto accidents. Authorities cite the 30 percent decrease in DUI fatalities in New Mexico after that state passed similar legislation as evidence that ignition interlock devices make the roads safer.

Proponents of the new laws believe that it will benefit the offenders, as well. Rather than having those convicted of DUI offenses without transportation or in a jail cell, the new law allows them the mobility to get treatment and maintain employment so they do not offend again in the future, provide for their families, and/or support themselves.

If you are charged with a DUI, or have any questions related to a DUI arrest or motor vehicle license suspension or the ignition interlock device, contact a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.

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