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People v. Mojica

February 24, 2009

THE PEOPLE, ETC., RESPONDENT,
v.
MIGUEL MOJICA, APPELLANT.



APPEAL by the defendant from a judgment of the County Court (Gerald V. Hayes, J.), rendered April 18, 2007, in Dutchess County, convicting him of vehicular assault in the second degree (two counts) and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol (two counts), upon a jury verdict, and imposing sentence. The appeal brings up for review the denial, after a hearing, of that branch of the defendant's omnibus motion which was to suppress the results of a blood alcohol test.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: McCARTHY, J.

Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.

This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the Official Reports.

STEVEN W. FISHER, J.P., JOSEPH COVELLO, WILLIAM E. McCARTHY and JOHN M. LEVENTHAL, JJ.

(Ind. No. 107/06)

OPINION & ORDER

Penal Law § 120.03(1) provides that a person is guilty of vehicular assault in the second degree when he or she causes serious physical injury to another person, inter alia, while operating a motor vehicle while impaired or intoxicated and causes that serious physical injury as a result of such intoxication. The statute also provides that proof of such operation and the causation of such serious physical injury raises a rebuttable presumption that the serious injury is the result of such intoxication. This appeal presents us with the principal questions of whether the rebuttable presumption violates the defendant's right to due process or whether the statute is unconstitutionally vague for failing to provide fair notice to a person of ordinary intelligence of the conduct it forbids and failing to provide clear law enforcement standards. We find that the statute does not violate due process and is not void for vagueness.

I. Pretrial Dunaway/Huntley Hearing

The defendant Miguel A. Mojica was indicted for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol (two counts), in violation of Penal Law § 1192(2) and (3), and vehicular assault in the second degree (two counts), in violation of Penal Law § 120.03(1). In his pretrial omnibus motion, the defendant moved, inter alia, to suppress the results of a blood alcohol test, which the trial court granted to the extent of conducting a joint Dunaway/Huntley hearing (see Dunaway v New York, 442 US 200; People v Huntley, 15 NY2d 72). At that hearing, the People adduced the following evidence. On July 28, 2006, at approximately 4:00 A.M., in the City of Poughkeepsie, the defendant drove a pickup truck through a red traffic light and struck a marked patrol car driven by a City police officer, Richard Poluzzi. Officer Poluzzi, who was removed from the scene by ambulance and transported to St. Francis Hospital, suffered head injuries and spent one month in an in-patient rehabilitation facility before returning to work six months after the accident, in January 2007. Immediately after the accident, patrol officer Edward Fenichel observed the defendant, who was still seated in the driver seat of his pickup truck, detected alcohol on his breath, and saw that his eyes were glassy and bloodshot. The defendant told Officer Fenichel that he had consumed one half of a beer and was on his way to a bar when the accident occurred. Because the defendant complained of possible head injuries, no field sobriety test was conducted. Officer Fenichel could not determine at that time whether the defendant was intoxicated. When the ambulance arrived, the defendant exited the truck without assistance and was transported by ambulance to Vassar Brothers Hospital (hereinafter the hospital).

At approximately 4:45 A.M., Dutchess County Deputy Sheriff Tyler Wyman arrived at the hospital, where Officer Fenichel briefed him on the circumstances of the accident, his observations of the defendant at the scene, and the defendant's statement to him at the scene that he had consumed one half of a beer earlier that night. Approximately 20 minutes later, at 5:04 A.M., Deputy Sheriff Wyman administered a prescreening test called an Alco-Sensor, which indicated the presence of alcohol in the defendant's system. Based upon his observations, training, and experience, Deputy Sheriff Wyman was by then of the opinion that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol. At approximately 6:01 A.M., Deputy Sheriff Wyman placed the defendant under arrest and read him his Driving While Intoxicated (hereinafter DWI) warnings (see Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1194[2][b]), which the defendant indicated he understood.

The defendant immediately indicated he would consent to a chemical test, which requires a blood draw, and signed a consent form at 6:04 A.M. At that point, which was approximately two hours after the accident and within minutes of his arrest, the defendant's blood was drawn by a hospital nurse and his blood alcohol content (hereinafter BAC) was later determined to be .18%, which is more than twice the legal limit (see Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192[2]).

More than one hour later, at 7:19 A.M., Deputy Sheriff Wyman advised the defendant of his Miranda rights (see Miranda v Arizona, 384 US 436), and the defendant, both in writing and orally, indicated he understood those rights and agreed to speak with Deputy Sheriff Wyman. In response to Deputy Sheriff Wyman's inquiry, the defendant stated that he had consumed a mixed alcoholic drink known as a Long Island iced tea approximately four hours before the accident, and was on his way to a bar when the accident occurred.

The defendant was the sole witness for the defense at the hearing. In his testimony, the defendant stated that he was not advised of his Miranda rights or DWI warnings until a judge, accompanied by police officers and state troopers, arraigned him in his hospital room between 8:00 A.M. and 9:00 A.M. The defendant asserted that it was only at that time that he realized he was under arrest. The defendant further testified that, at the time he signed the consent form for his blood to be drawn, he believed his blood needed to be drawn as part of his medical care, not as part of the criminal investigation.

In rebuttal, the People called as a witness Deputy Jeffrey Wilkinson, who had been present at the defendant's arraignment in the hospital. Deputy Wilkinson testified that, during the arraignment, the ...


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