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Articles Posted in Motor Vehicle Crimes

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Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion that will have a significant impact on many Massachusetts criminal law cases. The opinion, Kansas v. Glover, presented the court with the question: whether a police officer can reasonably assume that the person who is operating a motor vehicle is that vehicle’s registered owner. The Court answered the question in the affirmative. The case is important because, under the Court’s new ruling, police officers can now pull over a vehicle for no reason other than the owner of that vehicle has an outstanding warrant.

The case arose when a deputy ran the license plate of a pick-up truck to find out that the registered owner’s driver’s license had been revoked. The deputy assumed that the person who was driving the car was the registered owner, and pulled over the vehicle. The deputy was correct, and the defendant was cited for driving on a revoked license.

The defendant argued that the deputy lacked reasonable suspicion to pull him over. Specifically, the defendant claimed that the deputy was relying on a “hunch” when he assumed that the driver of a vehicle was also the vehicle’s registered owner. The defendant also argued that the fact that the registered owner’s license was revoked decreased the likelihood that the driver of the vehicle was the registered owner.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Judicial Court issued a written opinion in a case involving a Massachusetts OUI arrest in which the defendant also had an open container of alcohol in the car. The case required the court to determine if the state’s prohibition on driving with an open container of alcohol constituted a criminal offense or if it was considered correctly a civil motor vehicle infraction. Ultimately, the court found that the open container statute was an “automobile law violation,” making it a civil motor vehicle infraction.

According to the court’s opinion, police pulled the defendant over under suspicion of driving under the influence. When police approached the defendant’s vehicle, they saw an open container of alcohol. Police charged the defendant with OUI and possessing an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle. At trial, the jury found the defendant not guilty of OUI but guilty of the open container violation. The defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that the open container violation was not a criminal offense, and that it should have been resolved through a ticket.

The fundamental question posed to the court was whether the open container statute defined a criminal offense or a traffic violation. The court’s framework for answering the question was fairly sophisticated. First, the court noted that a “civil motor vehicle infraction” is one involving an “automobile law violation” that cannot result in imprisonment. The court then acknowledged that the open container statute did not provide for the possibility of imprisonment. Thus, the court’s next step was to determine if an open container violation was properly considered an “automobile law violation.”

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Police officers make assumptions every single day. For example, a police officer may observe a motorist drift over the center line once or twice and assume that the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In this example, the officer relies on the assumption that a driver is intoxicated because they are not able to maintain a single lane of travel.

Massachusetts criminal law allows police officers to make certain assumptions, within reason. Recently, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case involving whether police officers can assume that the driver of a vehicle is also the owner of the vehicle. The case is important for Boston criminal defense lawyers and their clients to understand because, if the court sides with the prosecution, police officers across the country can make similar assumptions when deciding whether to pull over a vehicle.

The case arose after a police officer ran the tags on a pick-up truck and noticed that the owner of the truck had a suspended license. Assuming that the driver of the vehicle was the vehicle’s owner, the officer initiated a traffic stop. During the stop, the officer confirmed that the defendant owned the vehicle and then issued him a citation.

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Last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts car theft case discussing whether the police had probable cause to arrest the defendant. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officers had probable cause to believe that the car was stolen and that the defendant was in possession of the car, but not that the defendant knew the car was stolen. Thus, the court suppressed the post-arrest statements made by the defendant, because his arrest was illegal.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was seen leaning next to a car. As police drove by, they ran the car’s plates and determined that the vehicle was stolen. The police observed the defendant open the car door, throw something in, and then close the door. The defendant eventually got into the car through the passenger’s side door and sat down in the front passenger seat. There was no one else in the car.

Based on their observations, the police arrested the defendant. After his arrest, the defendant admitted to knowing that the car was stolen. The defendant was charged with receipt of stolen property.

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In a recent Massachusetts criminal law appellate opinion, a state court discussed the difference between the two types of battery, attempted and threatened, and whether the latter requires a finding that the victims were aware of the defendant’s conduct. Ultimately, the court concluded that a threatened battery does require that the victim be aware of the defendant’s conduct, and reversed two of the defendant’s four convictions on that theory.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was charged with four counts of assault for allegedly using his vehicle to intentionally crash into another vehicle containing his ex-girlfriend, her new boyfriend, and two other passengers.

The two rear-seat passengers testified that they got in the car, everything seemed fine, and then the next thing they knew they had been hit by another vehicle. They both believed they had been struck by a drunk driver. The two front seat passengers saw the defendant’s car approaching, although only one of them was able to make out the defendant as the driver.

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In Commonwealth v. Anderson, a Massachusetts appellate court considered a criminal hit and run case. The defendant was charged with leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident after causing personal injury and property damage, as well as reckless operation of a motor vehicle.

The case arose after 2:00 a.m., when police officers and firefighters responded to a car accident. A Ford Mustang had crashed through the wall of a house, such that it was partially inside and partially outside. A woman and her boyfriend occupied the house. The boyfriend was injured and had to go to the hospital. By the time the police arrived, nobody was inside the Ford Mustang, and nobody identified himself as the driver. The key was left in the ignition, and the glass and locks were intact. The defendant was the registered owner.

When police tried to reach the defendant, they got his parents. Later, the defendant came to the police station and talked to one of the officers who’d responded to the scene. He told the officer that he’d lost control of the Mustang, hit the house, and in a panic, left for a friend’s house. Other than this confession, nobody came forward to identify him.

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Under G. L. c. 90, § 24G(b), somebody who operates a car or other vehicle recklessly or negligently and endangers the lives of others, and thereby causes another’s death, can be convicted of homicide by a motor vehicle. The punishment is imprisonment in jail or a house of correction for a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of 2 1/2 years, or a fine of $300-3,000, or both of these.

In Commonwealth v. Gallien, the defendant was convicted of motor vehicle homicide by negligent operation. The evidence showed the defendant didn’t stop the tow truck he was driving, resulting in a crash with a Honda Civic stopped at a red light. The collision killed a passenger in the rear-seat of the Honda.

The judge precluded the defendant from presenting evidence about modifications made to the Honda. The court explained that in criminal cases, a victim’s contributory negligence, even if it is a big part of the cause of a homicide, doesn’t excuse the defendant for also causing the victim’s death. To the extent that the defense’s goal was to show the victim was also negligent, excluding the evidence was proper. On appeal, however, the defendant argued that the modifications evidence should have been admissible not to show the victim’s negligence, but to show that the driver’s actions were an intervening or superseding cause of the victim’s death. The driver was a third party, not the victim.
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If 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.
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Miranda rights are frequently misunderstood. When police officers take a suspect into custody intending to conduct an interrogation, they must advise the suspect of his (1) right to remain silent, (2) that what he says can be used against him/her, (3) right to an attorney and that one will be provided at no charge if he can’t afford one. However, Miranda rights need not be given before asking questions at a crime scene, before a suspect volunteers statements, questioning for fact-finding purpose and questioning someone during an investigatory stop.

In a recent case that is not binding precedent, a defendant appealed the jury’s finding he was guilty of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, negligent operation of a motor vehicle and assault. He appealed on the grounds that statements he made at the time of his arrest should have been suppressed.

The appellate court explained that a jury could have found facts that supported the conviction. In the version the jury believed, a police officer was sent to a car crash at 2:00 a.m. and found the car near a broken telephone pole on a lawn with heavy tire marks. The defendant was at the scene, smelling of alcohol and slurred his speech.
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Massachusetts State Police announced that an arrest has been made in the case of a motorcyclist believed to have been traveling on highways around the greater Boston area at speeds in excess of 100 MPH, and using the breakdown lanes in order to evade police for several weeks.The 29 year old motorcyclist was recently arraigned on various charges, including reckless driving and speeding. An arrest was made on Tuesday morning, after the motorcyclist was found allegedly hiding behind a tractor-trailer in a parking lot in Randolph, just minutes after he was seen speeding along Route 24, where he was also reportedly making sudden lane changes, traveling in the median, and traveling south in a northbound lane.

A State Trooper reported that on a prior occasion, when he activated his lights, the driver flipped down his clear visor, and sped off at approximately 100 miles per hour. The motorcycle on which the man was riding had no license plates, and his helmet obscured his features. Another trooper reported a similar exchange, whereby the man reportedly took off onto the sidewalk, and then down the wrong side of the road. State Police reportedly posted information regarding the wanted motorcyclist on Facebook and Twitter, which led to a trucker informing police when he saw the motorcyclist behind his tractor trailer.
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