Articles Posted in OUI / DUI Appeals / Constitutional Challenges

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The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of an OUI/DUI indictment because of the Commonwealth’s violation of the “No-Fix Law”. In the case of Commonwealth v. Burnham, the appeals court upheld the trial court’s dismissal where the defendant did not receive prompt and definite notice of the OUI/DUI charge for which he was subsequently charged; and the delay in issuing the citation to him for the charge of Operating Under the Influence of Alcohol was not justified under any exception. Continue reading →

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In the recent decision of Commonwealth v. Joseph J. Canty, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that in cases where a defendant is charged with Operating Under the Influence of Alcohol, a police officer may not offer an opinion at trial as to whether the driver’s ability was diminished by the consumption of alcohol or that he was probably impaired by the consumption of alcohol.

In this case, the defendant was pulled over for erratic driving. The police officer testified at trial that the defendant breath smelled of alcohol and that he noticed his eyes were bloodshot. The officer also testified that the defendant admitted to having consumed four beer a few hours earlier. After failing several field sobriety tests, the defendant was arrested.

With this background, the police officer offered the opinion at trial that the defendant’s ability to safely operate the vehicle was diminished and that he was probably impaired.

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As far as Massachusetts Drunk Driving trials go, prosecutors are not able to introduce to a jury evidence that the driver refused to perform any field sobriety tests. But what about the scenario where the driver initially agreed to perform field sobriety tests and then decided to stop?

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently addressed these circumstances in the case of Commonwealth v. Brown.

In that case, the defendant went to trial on the charges of driving under the influence of alcohol, second offense. At trial, the prosecutor was permitted to introduce evidence that, although the driver initially agreed to perform field sobriety tests, during one of the tests he stated “I can’t do this” and refused to perform any additional tests.

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The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently decided a legal issue in Massachusetts Drunk Driving Cases involving the proposed admission of a defendant’s refusal to submit to a Breathalyzer Test.

In the case of Commonwealth v. William H. Jones, Jr., the defendant was charged and proceeded to jury trial on the charge of Operating Under the Influence of Alcohol. Following his conviction, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court considered whether evidence of a defendant’s initial refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test, and then his subsequent request to take one, should have been introduced to the jury at his trial.

In Massachusetts, evidence of a defendant’s refusal to take a breathalyzer test is not admissible to the jury. Prior to trial in this case, however, the defendant requested the trial judge to allow him to introduce evidence that, although he initially refused the breathalyzer test, that he then subsequently requested he be given one but was denied by the police.

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In the recent case of Paul J. Souza v. Registrar of Motor Vehicles, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rejected the Registrar of Motor Vehicle’s definition of “conviction” and ruled that a conviction means only dispositions of criminal charges where a determination of guilt was made.

The plaintiff in this case was previously arrested in 1997 for Operating Under the Influence of Alcohol and eventually ‘admitted to sufficient facts’ for a finding of guilty. His case was “Continued Without a Finding” and later dismissed after a period of probation.

Then, in 2010, the plaintiff was again arrested for OUI / DUI. At the time of his arrest, the plaintiff refused to submit to a Breathalyzer Test. Upon his refusal, the Registrar of Motor Vehicles suspended his driver’s license for a period of 3 years by statute. The statute as currently enacted mandates that the arrestee’s license is to be suspended for 3 years for refusing to submit to a breathalyzer if he has previously been “convicted” of an OUI / DUI offense (if the person has not been previously convicted, the driver’s license suspension of refusal is 180 days).

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The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently decided the case of Commonwealth v. McGrail, where that defendant was tried and convicted of OUI / DUI, and Leaving the Scene of an Accident.

In that case, it was alleged that the defendant was involved in an accident, but was located by police about 1/2 mile away from the scene. The officers alleged that, due to his smelling of alcohol, his staggering and apparent injuries, that he had been the operator responsible for the crash.

After a jury trial that resulted in a conviction of both Operating Under the Influence of Alcohol and Leaving the Scene of an Accident, he appealed his conviction claiming that the admission of expert testimony concerning DNA testing violated his Right of Confrontation pursuant to the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Specifically, the defendant took exception to the Commonwealth calling a DNA expert to explain how he used the results of another analyst to conduct his own statistical analysis.

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The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently ruled that police cannot justify the stop of a vehicle on the basis of an obscured license plate slogan, and in the process, threw out the DUI / OUI charges the driver was arrested for.

In the case of Commonwealth v. Miller, a Massachusetts State Trooper pulled over a car because the slogan of the persons Massachusetts license plate, “The Spirit of America”, was partially covered. After pulling the car over, the trooper then arrested the operator for Operating Under the Influence of Alcohol, Third Subsequent Offense.

The Defendant in then challenged the constitutionality and justification of the state trooper pulling the car over, and ultimately succeeded in getting the charges thrown out. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed that, where there were no motor vehicle violations committed by the operator, there was no justification for the stop simply because the slogan of the license plate was covered.