The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court announced today that it will initiate an investigation into the reported acquittal rate of Massachusetts Drunk Driving Cases by judges in the district courts.
The states highest court has tapped Jack Cinquigrana, a former prosecutor with the United States Attorney's Office and the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office, to look into and examine why the acquittal rate of OUI / DUI cases in Massachusetts, reportedly 80%, differs from the national average.
The investigation was prompted by a Boston Globe investigation that reported certain judges in Suffolk County are acquitting drunk driving defendants as much as 88% of the time; while other Plymouth County judges are acquitting up to 86% of the time.
In a statement issued today by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the justices expressed that the Massachusetts judicial system "depends on judges being able to decide a case fairly but independently, without fear or favor." The justices further conveyed that the reason for the inquiry in OUI acquittals is to ensure that all judges abide by the principal that a case be determined fairly and to preserve the public's trust and confidence by being fair and impartial in all cases.
What is particularly disturbing about this investigation into district court judges is that is clearly presupposes that certain judges are not acting in a fair and impartial manner. Conversely though, I guarantee if it was the conviction rate that was above the national average, there were certainly be no inquiry whatsoever, nor would there be any concern of the public's confidence in the judicial system.
Additionally, I wouldn't be surprised if the Massachusetts District Attorney's Association has specifically made a push for the initial review by the Boston Globe, in order to draw media attention to the issue and force, by creating a public controversy, the Court to call the matter into review.
Notably, however, is that the overwhelming majority of state judges are former prosecutors.
Unfortunately, I am convinced that this is yet another media blitz by the District Attorney's Offices state-wide to give themselves an upper hand against the defense bar.
The real injustice that will now occur in our judicial system, is that judges will be afraid to rule on OUI / DUI cases fairly and impartially if that means ruling in favor of acquittal for fear of being targeted as anti-prosecution. Inevitably, cases will be decided, not on the facts, but upon statistics.
The true injustice then, will be to all citizens' Constitutional rights, which will then be infringed by the inevitable damage to the integrity of our 'independent' judiciary.