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State v. Torma

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 15, 1990

STATE of Connecticut
v.
Antal TORMA.

Argued Jan. 9, 1990.

Page 829

Michael K. Courtney, Asst. Public Defender, with whom, on the brief, was Valerie J. Quinn, Deputy Asst. Public Defender, for appellant (defendant).

Jacqueline J. Footman, Deputy Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, was Walter Flanagan, State's Atty., and James Diamond, Deputy Asst. State's Atty., for appellee (State).

Before DUPONT, C.J., and FOTI and LAVERY, JJ.

[21 Conn.App. 497] FOTI, Judge.

The defendant appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of operating a motor vehicle while his license was under suspension, in violation of General Statutes § 14-215. The defendant claims that the trial court erred (1) in denying his motions for judgment of acquittal, (2) in failing to charge as requested, and (3) in enhancing the sentence imposed pursuant to General Statutes § 14-215(c). We find error in the court's sentencing.

The jury could reasonably have found the following facts. On May 20, 1988, at approximately 11:30 p.m., the defendant was operating a new black pickup truck northbound on Main Street in Danbury when he collided with another vehicle. The defendant, who concedes[21 Conn.App. 498] that he was operating a motor vehicle at that time and that he was on a public highway, produced a license, a registration and an insurance card for the investigating officer. The address listed on those documents was 20 Grandview Avenue, Danbury. A motor vehicle department check disclosed that the defendant's driver's license had been suspended. He was issued a summons for operating a motor vehicle while his license was under suspension and for improper

Page 830

passing. [1]

The defendant first claims that the trial court erred in not granting his three motions for judgment of acquittal, each claiming that the state had produced insufficient evidence. The defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal at the close of the state's case, at the close of his own case, and finally when the jury returned its verdict of guilty.

It is the defendant's claim (1) that notice of suspension is required pursuant to General Statutes § 14-111(a), [2] (2) that the state did not and could not [21 Conn.App. 499] prove that "notice [was] forwarded by bulk certified mail," (3) that the state must prove at least constructive delivery by certified mail, and (4) that no admissible evidence was offered on this issue.

The following facts are relevant to the disposition of this issue. The defendant knew that a notice of suspension was due to arrive in the mail because of an earlier conviction for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. Torma, an immigrant who had lived in the United States for three years, testified that he did not know that he was obligated by law to notify the motor vehicle department of his change of address. [3]

The state introduced a copy of the suspension notice that had been forwarded to the defendant, and an alleged receipt for "certified bulk mail" into evidence through Sergeant John MacSweeney, an employee of the motor vehicle department. MacSweeney, who had been employed at the motor vehicle department for over eighteen years, was familiar with the system of suspending an operator's license. He explained that, upon being notified that someone's license has been suspended, his department sends a letter to that person's last known address, two weeks prior to the date of suspension, so as to allow that individual an opportunity to request a hearing to stay the suspension. These notices are mailed in bulk, and the motor vehicle department[21 Conn.App. 500] retains a list that corresponds to the notices sent. The motor vehicle department calls this process "bulk certified mail." The United States Postal Service, however, does not recognize a form of mail specifically termed "bulk certified mail." The department's list of notices mailed is called a receipt. It is not a postal receipt for a piece of certified mail, but it is a certificate of mailing prepared by the motor vehicle department showing that the mail was put into the United States Postal Service, and that the letters were received by the postal service. In spite of

Page 831

the confusion in terms, MacSweeney's testimony sufficiently established that the notice of suspension was mailed to the defendant and that it was never returned to the motor vehicle department as unclaimed mail.

The defendant testified that he never received a suspension notice. He explained to the court that he had moved from 20 Grandview Avenue to another address during the period in question, and had not notified the motor vehicle department of his change of address. Although Torma failed to notify the motor vehicle department of his change of address, he did notify the postal service on November 23, 1987. The postal notification remained in effect until June 3, 1988. The defendant's suspension was effective as of April 30, 1988, and the operation under suspension occurred on May 20, 1988.

The defendant was charged with a violation of General Statutes § 14-215 [4] which requires proof of three elements: (1) that the defendant operated a motor vehicle; (2) that it was operated upon a public highway; and [21 Conn.App. 501] (3) that the operation occurred while his license was under suspension by the commissioner of motor vehicles. The first and second elements of the violation have been conceded by the defendant. The ...


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