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Articles Posted in OUI/DUI/DWI

Jurisdictions across the country, including in Massachusetts, have relied on legal loopholes referred to as implied consent laws to allow law enforcement officers to obtain a blood-alcohol test from a suspect without a warrant. Implied consent laws generally function as a part of the motor vehicle licensing code and have been used to allow officers to assume that a licensed motorist has consented to a blood alcohol test simply being licensed to drive in the state. The Court of Appeals of Massachusetts recently heard a challenge to this law. The court considered new rulings by the United States Supreme Court and reversed a defendant’s conviction for operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol (OUI).

The defendant in the recently decided case was charged with an OUI offense after officers responded to the scene of an accident where the defendant had crashed his vehicle into a utility pole. The defendant was injured in the accident, and police were initially unable to obtain his consent for a blood draw as he was not fully conscious and coherent at the scene of the accident. After the defendant’s demeanor had changed and he was able to comprehend the officer’s questions at the hospital, he was provided a form explaining the implied consent laws in Massachusetts, and he was instructed to sign the form, after which blood was taken from him. The blood sample indicated that the defendant had been operating a motor vehicle at or above the legal limit, and he was charged with OUI.

Before trial, the defendant asked the court to suppress the blood test evidence, as it was obtained without a warrant and without the direct consent of the defendant. The trial judge denied the motion, finding that the defendant signed the implied consent waiver that was handed to him and did not directly object to the blood draw. The defendant appealed the ruling to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals, arguing that recent Supreme Court rulings heightened the standard for consent to a blood alcohol test. The high court agreed with the defendant, finding that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Mitchell v. Wisconsin, 139 S. Ct. 2525 (2019) clearly states that implied consent laws do not give constitutionally adequate consent for all the searches they appear to authorize. The Court found that the defendant did not give constitutionally adequate consent for the blood draw. As a result of this ruling, the defendant’s consent was deemed invalid, and the blood test evidence should not have been admitted at trial. Because of this, the high court reversed the defendant’s conviction for OUI.

Last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts drunk driving case, discussing whether a police officer can take a motorist’s blood against their will. Ultimately, the court concluded that any involuntary blood testing done at the direction of the police without the defendant’s consent is inadmissible at trial.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the driver of an SUV lost control while exiting the highway, causing her vehicle to spin out of control, blocking most of the off ramp. A few moments later, the defendant’s vehicle collided with the woman’s SUV. The SUV struck the woman, who was standing along the road’s edge, seriously injuring her.

When the police arrived, they noticed that the defendant exhibited signs of intoxication, including bloodshot eyes and an unsteady gait. He also smelled of alcohol and had a gash on his head. The defendant was transported to the hospital, where a nurse noted he may have suffered a concussion.

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One of the most common questions we get from our clients who have been arrested for a Massachusetts OUI offense is whether the police officers were allowed to take their blood without a warrant. The determination as to whether a police officer can take a motorist’s blood when they are under suspicion of driving while intoxicated is complex, and has recently been the focus of several U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Recently, a Massachusetts appellate court had occasion to weigh in on the issue in an operating under the influence (OUI) case involving a warrantless blood draw.

The facts of the case can be briefly summarized. The defendant was involved in a car accident. When police arrived, they noticed he smelled of alcohol and that there were several open containers of alcohol in the car. After being Mirandized, the defendant told police that he had been drinking and was “guilty.” Police transported the defendant to the hospital, where the officers read the defendant a pre-written statement indicating that they intended to take a “chemical test” to determine the defendant’s blood-alcohol content. Nothing was mentioned of a blood draw. The test revealed that there was alcohol in the defendant’s blood, and he was charged with OUI.

The defendant argued that the officers’ warrantless blood draw was taken in violation of his constitutional rights because he never explicitly consented to a blood draw. Consent is an exception to the warrant requirement, so when a defendant consents to a blood draw, there is no need for a warrant. However, the question as to whether a defendant’s consent is valid is complex.

For years, law enforcement officers in Massachusetts and across the country have relied on breath tests to determine an approximation of a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC). These devices typically consist of a tube that is connected to a small machine. When an officer believes that a driver is under the influence of alcohol, the officer can ask the driver to take a breath test. If the test result indicates that the driver’s BAC is greater than .08, they can be arrested and charged with driving under the influence.

The use of breath alcohol tests is extremely prevalent. However, the use of breath alcohol testing devices can raise several legal issues in Boston DUI cases. One of the major limitations of breath testing machines, from a law enforcement perspective, is that they currently only test for alcohol. However, some jurisdictions have begun working on breath testing machines that could also be used to test for narcotics, such as marijuana, cocaine, or heroin.

Massachusetts law provides that all drivers must take a breath alcohol test when a police officer makes such a request. However, being required to take a breath test along the side of the road is an intrusion into drivers’ privacy interests. Thus, officers must base their request for a driver to take a test on articulable facts supporting a belief that the driver is intoxicated. If an officer is unable to point to any evidence suggesting that the motorist was drunk, the test results may need to be excluded. Of course, this introduces an element of subjectivity into the mix because an officer’s observations that a driver was “acting drunk” are rarely captured on video. This raises the issue of police officer credibility, especially when a motorist recalls a vastly different series of events leading up to their arrest.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts DUI case upholding the defendant’s conviction after affirming the denial of his motion to suppress. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officer’s stop of the defendant was justified based on the officer’s observations that the defendant’s vehicle drifted across the right fog line for two or three seconds.

According to the court’s opinion, an officer stopped the defendant in the early morning hours on Route 202 after he noticed the defendant’s vehicle drift over the right fog line for a few seconds. Upon the officer’s approach and subsequent discussion with the defendant, the officer concluded that the defendant was likely under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Thus, the officer arrested the defendant for DUI.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of the stop, arguing that the officer did not have a basis to conduct the traffic stop. A video of the incident confirms that the defendant briefly drifted out of his lane for a few seconds before returning to his lane. Other than that brief departure, the defendant’s driving was not called into question. The lower court granted the defendant’s motion, holding that “crossing a fog line one time for a few seconds does not constitute a marked lane violation.” The prosecution appealed.

Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts OUI case requiring the court to determine if the lower court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the statements he made to the state trooper that had arrested him. Ultimately, the court concluded that the trooper’s testimony was conflicting regarding whether the defendant was given his Miranda warnings and whether the defendant indicated that he understood the warnings. Thus, the court reversed the defendant’s conviction.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was pulled over by a state trooper for suspicion of operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol (OUI). After the defendant was arrested, he told the trooper that he had consumed “two small bottles of red wine” and that he rated his intoxication as a “two” on a scale of one to ten. The defendant filed a motion to suppress his statements, arguing that his statements were taken without having been provided Miranda warnings.

Evidently, on direct examination at the motion hearing, the trooper testified that he provided the defendant with Miranda warnings and that the defendant indicated that he had understood those warnings. However, on cross-examination, the trooper contradicted himself, explaining that the defendant never told him he understood the Miranda rights, that he never waived those rights, and that he never agreed to talk to the trooper about the alleged offense.

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Many Massachusetts DUI cases are based on breathalyzer test results. These tests, often given on the side of the road by police officers, have come under intense scrutiny across the country for being less than accurate.

Over the past several years, Massachusetts criminal defense attorneys have been litigating the admissibility of breathalyzer test results. While the arguments to exclude the test results are quite technical and complex, the results were attacked both in how they were obtained as well as how they were stored. Recently, a Massachusetts District Judge issued a landmark opinion excluding breathalyzer results in thousands of Massachusetts DUI cases.

According to a recent news report covering the judge’s decision, the issue began back in 2017 when he ruled that the testing results were reliable, but that the manner in which they were maintained was not reliable. In his 2017 ruling, the judge determined that the results could not be presumed to be reliable, requiring the prosecution present additional evidence to establish test results were reliable. The judge also ordered the Office of Alcohol Testing (OAT) to provide thousands of pages of data to defense attorneys.

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In a 2017 Massachusetts appellate case, the defendant appealed from convictions for operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs (M.G. L. c. 90, § 24(1)(a)(1)) and negligent operation of a motor vehicle (M.G. L. c. 90, § 24(2)(a)). The case arose when a cop in an unmarked car saw the defendant drift over the centerline and travel toward him head-on. The cop swerved to avoid crashing into the defendant, and then he pulled her over.

The cop, who’d known her for a minimum of 23 years, observed she “wasn’t right” but was sleepy, lethargic, and disheveled with a low attention span and a physical unsteadiness. A different cop grabbed her hand to stop her from falling while she was performing the nine-step walk and turn test and the one-leg stand.

The defendant said she’d taken Sertraline, Symbicort, Albuterol, Spiriva, Singulair, Prozac, Dextral, and Paxil on that day. The officer asked to see her prescriptions, and she only produced Lorazepam and Oxycodone prescription bottles. The Oxycodone bottle included only a single pill, even though the prescription was for 75 pills and had been refilled three days before. The defendant had a redness around her nose, and it was visible in her booking photograph.

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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.

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In the recent case of Commonwealth v. Ross, the defendant appealed from an OUI conviction, her fifth offense, and operating a motor vehicle under the influence with a suspended or revoked license under
Massachusetts G. L. c. 90, § 23.

The case arose when the defendant was driving on a part of the road that was under construction. Later, someone working at the construction site would testify he saw the defendant crash into a construction vehicle parked there. The police came to the scene shortly thereafter. A policeman asked to see the defendant’s license, and she told him she didn’t have one that was good. He continued to interview her and then arrested her for an OUI. Her vehicle was searched, and wine bottles were found.

At trial, the defendant claimed her appearance and actions during the interview and arrest were due to the fact she suffered from seizures. The judge bifurcated the trial. In the first part of the trial, the judge heard testimony about what happened leading to the arrest. He ultimately found her guilty of operating a car with a suspended or revoked license and of an OUI. In the second half, the defendant stipulated to the evidence, and the judge determined the defendant was guilty of OUI, fifth offense, and that her license had been revoked for a previous OUI conviction.
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