Most people know that driving under the influence is a serious offense that can hurt or kill innocent people and land the driver in jail, regardless of whether anyone is hurt or killed.
However, as I was sitting at a red light the other day watching the driver of the vehicle next to me drink a beer I realized that many people do not think this is a criminal offense, as long as they are not “drunk” or “impaired” or “over the limit” (pick one, since all of the definitions are ones I have heard over the years from clients).
If you are one of these people you are wrong about the law in Connecticut. In fact, in the Constitution state, if you drink alcohol while driving a motor vehicle you face up to 3 months in jail – even if you are “under the limit”!
The law is called “Drinking while Operating a Motor Vehicle”. The statute (law) that defines this offense is contained in C.G.S. 53a-213 and reads in pertinent part as follows:
a person is guilty of drinking while operating a motor vehicle when (he/she) drinks any alcoholic liquor while operating a motor vehicle:
- upon any public highway of the state.
- upon any road of any specially chartered municipal association or any district, a purpose of which is the construction and maintenance of roads and sidewalks.
- in any parking area for ten cars or more.
- upon any private road on which a speed limit has been established.
- upon any school property.
If you are arrested for drinking while operating a motor vehicle the prosecutor for the State of Connecticut must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt: 1a
Element 1 – Operated a motor vehicle
The first element is that the defendant operated a motor vehicle. “Motor-powered vehicle” includes any vehicle used on a public highway.1b
A person “operates” a motor vehicle within the meaning of the statute when, while in the vehicle, such person intentionally does any act or makes use of any mechanical or electrical agency that alone, or in sequence, will set in motion the motive power of the vehicle. A person acts intentionally with respect to conduct when (his/her) conscious objective is to engage in such conduct.
Element 2 – On certain roadways
The second element is that the defendant was operating the motor vehicle:
- upon any public highway of the state. This includes any state or other public highway, road, street, avenue, alley, driveway, parkway or place, under the control of the state or any political subdivision of the state, opened to the public for travel or other use.2
- upon any road of a specially chartered municipal association or district, a purpose of which is the construction and maintenance of roads and sidewalks.3
- in any parking area for ten cars or more. “Parking area” includes lots, areas or other accommodations for the parking of motor vehicles off the street or highway and open to public use with or without charge.4
- upon any private road on which a speed limit has been established.5
- any school property.
Element 3 – While drinking alcohol
The third element is that while operating a motor vehicle, the defendant drank alcoholic liquor. “Alcoholic liquor” is defined by statute and includes alcohol, beer, spirits and wine and every liquid or solid, patented or not, containing alcohol, spirits, wine or beer and capable of being consumed by a human being for beverage purposes. The definition does not apply to any liquid or solid containing less than one-half of one per cent of alcohol by volume.
So, if you are going to drink, get a designated driver and don’t even have a sip of alcohol while you are actually in the process of driving.
At Zeisler & Zeisler our experienced criminal defense and personal injury department can help you if you are arrested or hurt due to a driver that is drinking.
Call attorney Jim Miron at 203.339.5991 for a free, confidential and no obligation consultation.
1a Source: State of Connecticut Criminal Jury Instructions.
1b A General Statutes § 14-212 (5).
2 General Statutes § 14-212 (1) adopts the definition of “highway” in General Statutes § 14-1 (39). “The plain meaning of the word ‘highway’ is ‘a main road or thoroughfare; hence, a road or way open to the use of the public.’” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Harrison, 30 Conn. App. 108, 118 (1993). Thus, “[t]he expression `private highway’ is a misnomer and `public highway’ is tautology.” Stavola v. Palmer, 136 Conn. 670, 684 (1950). The dictionary definition of highway is “any road freely open to everyone; public road.”
3 Municipalities may charter municipal associations or special districts for various purposes, one of which is the construction and maintenance of roads and sidewalks. See General Statutes § 7-326.
4 General Statutes § 14-212 (6).
5 The speed limit on a private road is established pursuant to General Statutes § 14-218a.