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Duplicative OUI Charges in Massachusetts

the-last-drop-1083566-m.jpgIf you hurt someone while drunk driving in Massachusetts, you may be charged with multiple counts, some of which may seem quite similar. In a recent case, a Massachusetts defendant was convicted of (1) drunk driving (operating under the influence or OUI), (2) drunk driving that caused a serious bodily injury, (3) driving on a suspended license, (4) manslaughter by motor vehicle, and (5) motor vehicle homicide. The case arose because the defendant was driving drunk on the wrong side of an access road and crashed into a Saturn. A 17-year-old passenger in the Saturn was killed and the driver seriously injured.

A state police trooper later testified that when the crash happened, the defendant was driving at 55 mph in a 25-mph zone, and the defendant didn’t try to avoid the crash. The defendant claimed he had drunk two 16-oz. mojitos and a vodka-Red Bull drink before the crash happened. The trooper also noted the defendant’s slurred speech, glassy eyes, unsteadiness, and failure to pass a sobriety test. The trooper arrested the defendant.

During the booking process, blood ran from the defendant’s ear, and he asked for medical assistance. Paramedics examined him. He agreed to a breathalyzer test with two measurements, and his blood alcohol level measured at .17 and .18. Next, he was taken to the hospital, where his blood alcohol level was measured at .15.

The defendant was sentenced to 10-12 years in prison and fined $1000 for the manslaughter conviction. The defendant was fined $500 and sentenced to 15 years probation for the OUI causing serious bodily injury. The rest of the guilty verdicts were put on file.

The defendant appealed from the convictions and argued the indictment related to motor vehicle homicide should have been dismissed when he was found guilty of manslaughter. The defendant also argued that he shouldn’t have been sentenced to probation for an OUI causing serious bodily injury. Among other things, he argued that a conviction for an OUI duplicates the conviction for an OUI that causes serious bodily injury.

The defendant argued he should not be punished both under the vehicular homicide and manslaughter statutes. He cited a case that held multiple punishments should not be imposed where proof of the same conduct led to convictions for both vehicular homicide and manslaughter. The appellate court explained that the conduct-based analysis only applied to successive prosecutions, not multiple charges in a single proceeding. It found no error.

The defendant also argued that the judge’s jury instructions had limited the Commonwealth’s theory of the case to operating under the influence of alcohol and excluded per se liability. No expert testimony had been submitted in connection with the defendant’s BAC. The appellate court explained that the judge had first instructed as to the impaired ability theory.

Under the impaired ability theory, the Commonwealth can show that a defendant is operating under the influence of alcohol if it proves beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant had a diminished capacity to operate safely because he drank alcohol and that drinking alcohol adversely affected his ability to control himself.

Under the per se theory, about which the judge also instructed the jury, the Commonwealth can prove a defendant operated under the influence if it shows that he had a BAC of .08 or more. In this case, the Commonwealth had shown the defendant had a .15 BAC. The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision to offer both instructions.

With regard to the claim that there were duplicative charges, the Commonwealth argued the convictions should stand because each conviction depended upon distinct acts. However, the appellate court found that the facts that gave rise to the charges of operating under the influence and operating under the influence so as to cause serious bodily injury were so closely related that they constituted a single crime. The first OUI was vacated.

If you were arrested for an OUI or other motor vehicle crime, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss your Massachusetts criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.

More Blog Posts:

U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Defendant in Mandatory Minimum Case Alleyne v. U.S., Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 19, 2013
Court of Appeals Ruling Affirms Prior Conviction Record Insufficient to Establish Identity, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 11, 2013