Drunken people don't actually have to drive their cars to be charged with operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The court's 5-0 ruling came in the case of Michael Cyr, who was arrested in Manchester in February 2005 in a parking lot near a bar. He had started his car remotely and then sat in the driver's seat intoxicated, but never put the key into the ignition and didn't drive anywhere.
Justices ordered the state Appellate Court, which had thrown out Cyr's conviction, to reinstate it and send the case back to Superior Court in Manchester for sentencing.
Cyr, 50, of Andover, faces a year in prison followed by three years of probation. He pleaded no contest after a judge rejected his motions to dismiss the case. It's his third conviction for drunken driving, following others in 1997 and 1998.
"In starting the engine of his vehicle remotely then getting behind the steering wheel, the defendant clearly undertook the first act in a sequence of steps necessary to set in motion the motive power of a vehicle," Chief Justice Chase Rogers wrote in the opinion.
The "motive power" phrase comes from a 1939 Connecticut court decision, cited by the Supreme Court on Monday, that defines what constitutes "operating" a motor vehicle.
Rogers wrote that Cyr's case was the latest in a series that have raised questions about the definition of operating a vehicle under Connecticut's drunken-driving laws.
A message seeking comment was left for Cyr at his home.
His wife, Jessica, said that she was overwhelmed by the court ruling. The couple live with her two children, aged 12 and 13, from her previous marriage, and she was laid off from her job.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," she said in a phone interview as she cried. "I've got no job. My husband won't be able to work. If I turn my heat on, the boiler leaks. ... I can't believe it."
Jessica Cyr said that she knows the dangers of drunken driving, because both she and her mother were in accidents in which the other drivers were intoxicated. She said that she has had neck pain, while her mother suffered a traumatic brain injury and was blinded.
The Cyrs could appeal Monday's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, but Jessica Cyr said that's not likely because they couldn't afford it.
Steven Tomeo, Michael Cyr's lawyer, said that the court has set a bad precedent.
"It sounds like they're saying if you're under the influence, if you're impaired, you have no right to go into the car in the driver's side and if you do, you do so under you're own peril with the chance of being charged with operating under the influence," Tomeo said. "I just would like them to stick with the facts."
http://www.courant.com/news/politics/hc ... ?track=rss