Crimes involving operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, together referred to as OUI offenses, are some of the most commonly charged offenses in the state of Massachusetts. OUI crimes are unique, as the evidence required to convict a defendant (blood alcohol or drug concentration) is often in the defendant’s body, and it may diminish over time. Because of this, law enforcement officers usually want to obtain a blood or breath sample from a suspected OUI offender as soon as possible after making a stop. Without a warrant, police are not permitted to force a defendant to give a blood or breath sample. Successful OUI prosecutions often rely on blood or breath samples that are consensually given to the police by a suspect.
Refusal to submit to a breath or blood test during a suspected OUI detention does not necessarily mean that a defendant will be let off the hook for a charge without consequences, although thousands of defendants in the state have had charges reduced or dismissed as a result of their refusal to submit to a test. The Massachusetts Court of Appeals recently heard an appeal that was brought by a defendant who failed to submit to a breath test but was convicted nonetheless.
The defendant in the recently decided appeal was suspected of OUI after officers stopped to investigate an accident that he was involved in. The responding officers testified that the defendant appeared intoxicated and smelled like alcohol while he was being questioned. The defendant consented to perform field sobriety tests, which he failed, and he was arrested and charged with OUI. A breathalyzer test was never given to the defendant, and the prosecutors used other evidence of his intoxication to make their case at trial. During deliberations, the jury asked the court why there was no breathalyzer test performed, and the court instructed them that the lack of such a test should not sway their decision either way. The jury ultimately convicted the defendant of OUI, leading to the appeal.