The Potential Benefits and Consequences of Refusing a Breathalyzer Test in Massachusetts

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.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the testimony of the officer should not have been admitted as it was wrongfully implied to be that of a scientific expert. Furthermore, the defendant argued that the instruction to the jury concerning the lack of a breathalyzer test should never have been given. The appellate court found that there was no error in admitting the officer’s testimony and that there was substantial evidence (even without a breathalyzer test) to support the conviction. As a result of the appellate ruling, the defendant’s conviction will stand.

Have You Been Charged With OUI in Massachusetts?

If you have been accused of OUI or any other alcohol/drug-related charges in Massachusetts, you have options to fight the allegations against you. Whether you submitted to a breath test or refused one, a skilled defense attorney can often discredit the charges against you and secure a dismissal, acquittal, or reduced sentence. The Massachusetts criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy are experienced in representing clients charged with OUI, and our firm offers several options to face the charges against you. Our firm represents clients facing all Massachusetts misdemeanors and felonies, including drug and alcohol offenses. Contact our office at 617-367-0450 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our lawyers.


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