Articles Posted in OUI/DUI/DWI

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects criminal defendants from being compelled to testify against themselves when being investigated or prosecuted for a crime. The Massachusetts state constitution and code contain similar provisions that are designed to protect residents who are suspected of crimes from being coerced into making incriminating statements. To ensure the federal constitutional right is functionally protected, courts have ruled that a criminal suspect, as part of a “Miranda warning,” must be notified of their right against self-incrimination before being arrested for a crime.

Failure by law enforcement to properly give and comply with the Miranda rights of a suspect may result in the exclusion of any evidence gained from the improper questioning. A Massachusetts man convicted of an OUI offense recently challenged the court’s admission of evidence that was obtained before he was given a proper Miranda warning, which was then used to obtain a conviction against him.

According to the facts discussed in the recently published appellate opinion, the defendant was pulled over while driving because his registration tags were expired. After the stop, the responding officer suspected that the defendant was intoxicated and spoke with the man, observing the defendant’s speech was slurred. This observation was made before the man was arrested or given his Miranda rights. The evidence of the defendant’s slurred speech was admitted at trial, and the defendant was convicted of OUI by the finder of fact.

Facing criminal charges in Massachusetts can be a daunting experience, especially when errors occur during the legal process. In a recent Massachusetts case, a defendant charged with OUI fifth offense and other offenses raised concerns about the denial of attorney-led voir dire. The Recent appellate ruling demonstrates that judges can make mistakes during a trial, but the result may stand if the error is deemed harmless.

According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the case involved the defendant being witnessed driving erratically near the Sagamore Bridge. After he was stopped, the defendant faced multiple charges, including OUI fifth offense, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, leaving the scene of an accident, and more. As part of their case in chief, the prosecution presented evidence of the defendant’s erratic behavior, including tailgating, throwing objects from the vehicle, and ultimately crashing into a tree.

The defendant’s defense team sought attorney-led voir dire under Massachusetts District Court Standing Order 1-18(2018). The motion was denied without explanation, leading to a contention that the denial violated the standing order. On appeal, the higher court agreed with the defendant that he should have been permitted to perform the voir dire. While the judge’s error is acknowledged, the critical question arises: does this error warrant relief?

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.

Continue reading

In the past decade, the criminal justice system in the state of Massachusetts has become infamous for egregiously dishonest conduct by state crime labs and prosecutors, resulting in thousands of criminal convictions being overturned. While the most well-known cases of this conduct relate to drug testing procedures by the state crime lab and two technicians who falsified testing results, there are other cases in which the law enforcement apparatus has been condemned by the courts for illegal conduct. One such case involves the state Office of Alcohol Testing (OAT), and their failure to honestly and faithfully supply both prosecutors and defense attorneys with exculpatory evidence to which they were entitled. A woman who was convicted of an OUI (operating under the influence) offense in 2013 recently challenged her conviction based on information that has come to light regarding the conduct of the OAT.

The defendant from the recently-decided appeal is a woman who was convicted of an OUI offense after being stopped at a DUI checkpoint in 2013. After being questioned, the woman submitted to a breathalyzer test which showed that she had a blood alcohol level in excess of the legal limit. As a result of the breathalyzer results, the defendant was arrested and charged with OUI. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the woman was advised by her attorney at the time that the case against her was strong, and she took the attorney’s advice and entered a guilty plea to the crime as charged.

After she was convicted of the OUI offense,. It came to light that the OAT had been purposefully withholding test records for the particular breathalyzer machine (Alcotest 9510) used by the police in order to prevent defense attorneys from challenging the admission of the breath test evidence at trial. In a series of cases decided since 2015, Massachusetts courts have reversed thousands of convictions based on breathalyzer evidence supplied by the OAT during that time frame. The defendant was not permitted to withdraw her plea because she pleaded guilty before trial occurred. She then appealed her claim to the highest court in the state, arguing that she would never have pleaded guilty in the first place had she known that the OAT was violating disclosure rules and the test results may not have been admissible at her trial.

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.

In a recent Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts written opinion regarding a Massachusetts drunk driving case, the court reversed the decision of the trial court convicting the defendant of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol (OUI) and negligent operation of a motor vehicle, holding that the trial court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. The Supreme Judicial Court concluded that blood drawn from the defendant at the hospital after a crash that was then obtained by law enforcement by warrant and tested was inadmissible as the defendant did not provide his consent to have his blood tested.

Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the driver of a pickup truck lost control and collided with a tree off the side of the road, suffering extensive front-end damage. No other cars were involved in the collision. When the police arrived, the defendant was seated in the driver’s seat and admitted to being the operator of the vehicle. The officer noticed that the defendant was unsteady on his feet and showed other signs of intoxication, including slurring his speech, glassy eyes, and the strong odor of alcohol emanating from the defendant’s person.

The defendant was transported to a nearby hospital, where the officer gave hospital personnel a “preservation of evidence letter” seeking to preserve any blood drawn during medical treatment. Police then obtained a search warrant for the defendant’s blood. The blood was seized, transported, and tested at a crime lab for blood alcohol content. The defendant was charged with an OUI in violation of §24(1)(a)(1) and negligent operation of a motor vehicle in violation of § 24 (2) (a). The police never attempted or obtained the defendant’s consent to test his blood.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Contact Information