Under the Sixth Amendment and article 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, a defendant is supposed to be advised of the right to an attorney before a critical stage of criminal proceedings. In Commonwealth v. Neary-French, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court considered whether the 2003 amendment to M.G.L. chapter 90 section 24, which created a theory whereby a breath test reading .08 or more is an element of the offense, made the decision of whether to take a Breathalyzer a critical stage, such that the defendant needed to be advised of the right to counsel.
The case arose when a woman signaled to the police department that the defendant’s car was bumping into another car. An officer approached the defendant and observed she might be operating under the influence. Another officer came to the scene to administer a field sobriety test.
Due to his observations and her performance on the tests, the defendant was arrested. At the police station, she was advised of her Miranda rights and given a statutory rights and consent form, which advised her of her right to make a phone call, her right to a physician, the consequences of a refusal to submit to a chemical test, and other warnings. The defendant initially refused the Breathalyzer but a few minutes later agreed. The test showed her blood alcohol content was greater than .08.