For many individuals facing DUI charges in Massachusetts, the absence of breathalyzer evidence might seem like a silver lining. However, a recent judicial opinion sheds light on how prosecutors can still secure DUI convictions without relying on this traditional piece of evidence. At the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy, we understand the intricacies of DUI cases and aim to equip potential clients with knowledge about the evolving landscape of DUI trials.

Understanding the Judicial Opinion

In a recent case, the absence of breathalyzer evidence took center stage, with the judge delivering a specific instruction to the jury to disregard any considerations related to the breathalyzer. Despite the defendant’s objection, the judge emphasized the appropriateness of the instruction, creating a unique scenario where the trial continued without breathalyzer evidence playing a role. Although the defendant was not required to submit to a breathalyzer test, his counsel feared that the lack of breathalyzer evidence could make the jury think that the defeadnt refused the test, which could suggest he was impaired at the time.

Admission of the Booking Video

The defendant also contested the admission of a booking video, arguing that it was prejudicial. The court, however, maintained that the video was relevant to establishing the defendant’s impairment. In DUI cases, driving performance, appearance, demeanor, and field sobriety test execution are crucial aspects. The booking video, taken shortly after roadside tests, became a focal point, providing insights into the defendant’s walking ability and potential limitations due to injury.

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With the increasing seriousness and public awareness of the nationwide opioid epidemic, Massachusetts lawmakers, prosecutors, and courts seem eager to address the problems by seeking quick convictions and harsh sentences for crimes relating to the distribution of heroin, fentanyl, and other opioids. While this strict enforcement of drug laws may ultimately support public health, overeager police officers and prosecutors often violate Massachusetts residents’ constitutional rights in the process of enforcing drug laws. A criminal defendant recently appealed his conviction for heroin distribution, alleging that the search leading to his arrest was unconstitutional.

The case in question involved a defendant accused of distributing heroin. After a jury-waived trial, a Superior Court judge found the defendant guilty. The defendant subsequently appealed his conviction, challenging pretrial rulings made by the trial court. One of the primary defenses raised by the defendant was a motion to suppress evidence. The crux of this argument was whether the police had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle, leading to the discovery of evidence that could potentially incriminate him.

In assessing this motion, the court followed the established legal framework. It’s essential to note that police officers can affect a motor vehicle stop based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. In this case, the defendant contended that the police lacked such reasonable suspicion, which would render the subsequent evidence inadmissible. The court’s decision emphasized that when the basis for reasonable suspicion is a perceived drug transaction, it is not necessary for the police to observe an actual exchange of drugs or cash. Instead, it is essential that their observations occur in a factual context that points to criminal activity.

In the realm of criminal defense law, few issues are as critical as the effectiveness of legal counsel. The United States and Massachusetts Supreme Courts have both established that Massachusetts residents are entitled to a constitutional right to effective criminal defense counsel after being charged with a crime. A panel of The Appeals Court of Massachusetts recently reversed a lower court ruling denying a defendant the opportunity to withdraw a guilty plea for a drug possession charge, after his counsel failed to accurately advise him of the immigration consequences of the guilty plea.

The defendant, originally from the Dominican Republic, arrived in the Boston area in 2003. According to the facts discussed in the judicial opinion, the defendant was stopped by police in August 2008 on suspicion of a traffic violation. During the stop, police discovered suspected narcotics in his car’s center console, leading to multiple charges, including possession of a class B substance with intent to distribute. This charge carried a potentially severe punishment—up to ten years in a state prison.

In December 2008, the defendant opted to plead guilty to the drug offense and received a sentence of probation for one year, which he successfully completed. Fast forward to 2021, and the defendant, represented by new counsel, filed a motion for a new trial. His claim was centered on the allegation that his original plea counsel had failed to provide accurate advice regarding the immigration consequences of his guilty plea. According to the defendant’s affidavit, if he had been correctly informed of these consequences, he would not have pleaded guilty.

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In the pursuit of justice, one of the most fundamental principles is that every individual should be treated fairly, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or background. However, there are instances where law enforcement officers may engage in selective enforcement practices, targeting individuals based on their race, which raises serious concerns about civil rights violations. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently released an opinion addressing an allegation that the defendant was illegitimately stopped because of his race. If proven, this allegation could be fatal to the prosecution’s case.

According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the defendant was arrested after a late-night traffic stop in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The initial reason for the stop was the lack of illumination on the rear license plate of his vehicle. However, before approaching the driver, the arresting officer learned that the car’s owner had an outstanding arrest warrant and was Black. Upon confirming that the defendant was both the driver and the owner of the vehicle, the officer proceeded with the arrest, subsequently discovering a handgun in the defendant’s possession, which ultimately led to his arrest on several felony charges.

Before trial, the Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence and statements obtained during the stop. To support his motion, the defendant presented several exhibits, including statistics on the officer’s prior citations, which indicated a disproportionately high number of citations issued to Black motorists. He argued that these statistics created a reasonable inference of racial discrimination and thus warranted an evidentiary hearing. At this hearing, the trial judge determined that the officer truthfully testified that he did not know that the defendant was black before initiating the traffic stop. Under Massachusetts law, the Commonwealth can present a reasonable, race-neutral argument to rebut an accusation that a stop or arrest was racially motivated, which the trial judge accepted, allowing the case to proceed toward a trial.

Sexual assault and rape prosecutions in Massachusetts involve some of the most serious allegations and consequences envisioned by the criminal code. Because the facts of a sexual assault case are often based upon the credibility of both the victim and the defendant, evidence that discredits a victim can be highly beneficial to a defendant in such cases. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently affirmed a defendant’s rape conviction, in spite of the defense’s objections to the exclusion of relevant evidence from the trial which placed the credibility of the victim at issue.

The Rape Shield Statute and Evidence Admissibility

An important point of law in this case is the Massachusetts rape shield statute, G.L. c.233, §21B. This statute limits the admissibility of evidence related to a victim’s sexual conduct, aiming to protect the victim’s privacy and prevent the introduction of irrelevant or prejudicial information. The statute outlines exceptions, allowing evidence that pertains to the victim’s sexual conduct with the defendant or recent conduct that explains physical characteristics alleged to be the result of a defendant’s conduct. The defendant sought to introduce evidence regarding the victim’s underpants collected during a medical examination performed after the alleged assault.

The state Supreme Court upheld the denial of the motion to admit this evidence, emphasizing that the defendant failed to establish a connection between the underpants collected and the ones worn by the victim on the night of the alleged rape. The court noted that the defendant’s argument of proving the victim’s intercourse with another individual and explaining her testimony about physical discomfort lacked substantive evidence that would permit the evidence’s admission at trial.

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Massachusetts is the home to over 250,000 people who do not have legal status to live in the United States. Many undocumented residents arrived in the country legally but overstayed their visas or were not granted asylum and elected to stay without legal status. The Massachusetts House and Senate recently passed a law that will allow many of those 250,000 residents to obtain a Massachusetts driver’s license without regard for their federal legal status. Under the new law, this 4% of the state’s population can become eligible to drive on roads in the state legally if they complete an application and pass the requisite examinations to become licensed.

The passage of the new law helps to reconcile state laws with the reality on the ground; that undocumented persons comprise a significant part of the state population, and their contributions to the economy and culture of the state demonstrate that they shouldn’t be required to live in the shadows. Under the law, a properly licensed and otherwise law-abiding resident does not need to fear criminal prosecution for driving to work or heading to the store to buy diapers.

Before the passage of the new law, many undocumented residents made the difficult choice to use fraudulent information to obtain a driver’s license for employment or other purposes. People who have fraudulently obtained a driver’s license may not be permitted to legally obtain a license now that the law has changed. Specifically, facial recognition technology used by the Registry of Motor Vehicles will prevent a person with an existing license obtained using fraudulent information from applying for a new license under their actual identity unless the person admits to fraudulently obtaining the license in the first place.

Courts in Massachusetts and nationwide are faced with a difficult task in prosecuting and sentencing juvenile offenders for serious crimes. Under certain circumstances, juveniles can be tried and sentenced as if they were adults, while judges also have the discretion to place the children in the custody of a youth services division, which may work to educate and rehabilitate the children before releasing them back into society as adults. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently heard an appeal by state prosecutors, who challenged a judge’s imposition of a suspended commitment to the Department of Youth Services (DYS) for a child convicted of a firearm offense.

According to the facts discussed in the recently published appellate opinion, the child was arrested and charged with the possession of an unregistered firearm after police noticed the gun in his car after a traffic stop. After his arrest, the youth was committed to a DYS juvenile detention facility pending his trial. The juvenile entered into a plea agreement after 8 months in DYS custody. At sentencing, the judge found that the youth had done “very well” during the eight months he spent in DYS custody and that he had a supportive home environment, and that no further incarceration would be necessary. The judge sentenced him to a three-year term in DYS custody but suspended the incarceration pending the youth’s participation and completion of a probation program. As a result of his sentence, the youth would be permitted to return home and live with his family while he fulfilled the probation conditions.

The Commonwealth appealed the judge’s sentence to the state Court of Appeals, arguing that state law gave the judge no authority to issue such a lenient sentence. Specifically, the state argued that a commitment to DYS custody after sentencing could not be suspended under the conditions present in the case. The Massachusetts Supreme Court took jurisdiction of the case. The high court disagreed with the prosecutors, ruling that it is well within the discretion of a sentencing judge to issue a commitment to DYS but to hold that commitment pending the completion of probation. As a result of the high court ruling, the youth will be permitted to return to his family and remain free as long as he follows the probation conditions implemented by the judge.

Both the Massachusetts State Constitution and the United States Constitution protect criminal defendants’ right to be effectively represented by counsel during their prosecution. A convicted person who can demonstrate that their attorney was ineffective in representing them may be entitled to the reversal of a conviction, even when the defendant pleaded guilty to the charges against them. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently reversed a man’s conviction for sex trafficking charges after it came to light that his court-appointed defense attorney had been publishing extremely bigoted statements against both the religion and the race of the defendant to social media while he was representing the defendant.

According to the facts discussed in the recently published appellate opinion, the defendant in the case was a black man who was also a practicing Muslim. The defendant was unable to afford an attorney, and was appointed a public defendant to represent him through the prosecution. While representing the defendant, his attorney chastised him for wearing a Muslim prayer cap in the courthouse, made other derogatory statements toward the man’s race and religion, and told the defendant that he would be unable to obtain a different attorney if he tried. As a result of advice given to him by his attorney, the man pleaded guilty to the crimes against him and was sentenced to over seven years in state prison for his crimes.

Several years later, it was discovered that the defendant’s attorney had been publishing bigoted and derogatory statements toward both Muslims and nonwhite people throughout his time representing clients as a court-appointed attorney. Based upon this newly discovered information, the defendant requested a new trial, arguing that the biases of his attorney prevented him from effectively representing and advising the defendant. The trial judge rejected the defendant’s motion, finding that the defendant failed to demonstrate any actual prejudice to himself based upon the attorney’s personal controversial beliefs.

Massachusetts law enforcement officers and agencies rely heavily on tips and testimony offered by confidential informants (CIs) when investigating and charging alleged criminal activity. Police often acquire CIs from the community in which they are investigating crimes. CIs who have previously been involved in criminal conduct are often offered incentives by prosecutors and law enforcement to encourage them to cooperate against their former compatriots. Because CIs are often involved in several investigations and are essentially working “undercover” in the criminal community while they are assisting law enforcement, the identities of active and inactive CIs are kept closely guarded by law enforcement agencies and prosecutors. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently ruled that prosecutors do not need to disclose the identity of a confidential informant, even after a defendant argued that the identity may assist in mounting a defense against charged crimes.

The defendant in the recently decided case was stopped and arrested on suspicion of selling cocaine after a confidential informant notified police that the defendant was selling drugs on a Springfield street corner. Based on the informant’s tip, surveilling police officers witnessed the defendant performing apparent drug transactions and ultimately stopped him based upon a traffic violation after he entered the vehicle to leave the street corner. Before trial, the defendant requested the identity and other information about the confidential informant who allegedly told the police about his criminal activity. The trial judge granted the defendant’s motion, ruling that the information would assist the defendant in defending against the charges.

The prosecution immediately appealed the ruling to a higher court, and it was put on hold pending appellate review. On appeal, the Massachusetts High Judicial Court ruled that state law requires a trial judge to apply a two-step formula in deciding whether to unmask the identity of a confidential informant. After finding that the prosecution has properly invoked the informant privilege, a court must balance the competing factors of the defendant’s right to mount a defense with the state’s interest in protecting the functionality and physical safety of the CI. Because the trial court in the recent case did not appear to perform the two-step analysis, the high court reversed the trial judge’s ruling. Furthermore, the high court found that under the two-step analysis, the defendant would not be entitled to know the identity of the CI. As a result of the appellate ruling, the case against the defendant will proceed with the CIs identity undisclosed.

The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution protect Massachusetts residents from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement when a crime is being investigated. The most accepted and common way for law enforcement officers to ensure compliance with the Fourth Amendment is for them to obtain a valid search or arrest warrant from a judge before performing a search or making an arrest. For a judge to issue a search warrant, the applicant must demonstrate that there is probable cause that the search or arrest is valid. A properly obtained search warrant is difficult to challenge in a criminal prosecution, and evidence gained therefrom is generally admissible during a criminal trial.

Although a valid warrant sets the gold standard for a permissible search, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement which permit law enforcement officers to perform a search without a warrant. One exception exists when an officer is performing a brief investigatory stop of a criminal suspect. The Massachusetts Court of Appeal recently affirmed the conviction of a man who was searched and arrested for burglary after the responding officers approached and searched him without a valid warrant.

The defendant in the recently decided appeal was arrested about a block away from the scene of an alleged burglary. The defendant partially matched the description of the perpetrator as recounted by the victim from her observation of security camera footage taken of the alleged burglary. After the defendant was stopped and detained, the witness confirmed in person that he was the person that she witnessed burglarizing her home on the surveillance footage. The defendant was then searched, revealing that he possessed items stolen from the victim’s home, and he was arrested and charged with burglary.

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