Mobile ImageText DelSignore Law at 781-686-5924 with your name and what kind of charge you are texting regarding.

Articles Posted in DUI Laws and Court Cases

Does the Second Amendment permit States to deprive someone of the right to bear arms for a misdemeanor offense?  The right to bear arms is one that a large portion of Americans consider of the utmost importance. In Holloway v. Barr, a case pending before the United States Supreme Court on a petition for certiorari, Holloway argues that losing his Second Amendment rights due to a nonviolent misdemeanor is a constitutional violation. 

A lifetime ban on firearms is a penalty most felons are handed as part of their punishment.  The extent to which people who committed past crimes can be banned is an issue ripe with disagreement.  Some believe the logic is that dangerous people should not be allowed to have firearms, so violent felons should be prohibited from using them.  Another rationale for disarming former felons is that the individual lacks virtue, which is why they should not own a firearm. 

What is the law concerning individuals with criminal records owning a firearm?

You win your OUI case; you have the judge allow a motion to reinstate their license.  The client is relieved; they are back on the road.  But not so fast, the hearing officer says that they will consider the reinstatement and get back to the person in ten days.

Why won’t the RMV reinstate the license?  

The RMV will only honor a motion to reinstate if all of the charges under 90 Section 24 are dismissed, meaning if you had the client accept a plea of a CWOF on the negligent operation, the RMV will deny the request for reinstatement, despite the judge’s order.  You can appeal this decision to the Board of Appeals.  We have an appeal pending on this issue.

Massachusetts Appeals Court address what level of evidence is needed to convict for negligent operation.  In Commonwealth v. Zagwyn, the Appeals Court clarified the law related to evidence of negligent operation of a motor vehicle and OUI in Massachusetts. The central issue addressed by Zagwgnwas whether the Commonwealth meets its burden of proof on the negligent operation charge when the evidence demonstrates solely that the defendant was operating a vehicle with a defective headlight and rear license plate while intoxicated. The court also considered whether the officer’s opinion testimony that defendant was too intoxicated to drive a motor vehicle, the ultimate issue of guilt on the OUI charge, was improper and created a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice.  In considering those arguments related to the OUI charge, the SJC summarily affirmed the defendant’s conviction for those reasons stated by the Appeals Court and offers no further discussion of the charge.

On the negligent operation charge, the SJC ruled that the evidence was inadequate to support the jury’s conviction and reversed the judgment of conviction. The evidence in Zagwynshowed that the arresting officer noticed that defendant’s vehicle had a broken headlight and rear plate light.  He followed defendant’s vehicle for about a mile before pulling him over.  While following defendant’s vehicle, the officer did not observe defendant speeding, swerving, or making any sudden braking movements.  When the officer stopped defendant’s vehicle, he moved the vehicle to a safe location.  Evidence obtained during the stop showed that defendant was operating the vehicle under the influence of alcohol.  The Commonwealth did not present any additional evidence of negligent operation. Defendant was convicted of OUI, negligent operation of a motor vehicle after a jury trial in the Barnstable District Court. The trial court also found defendant was responsible for civil equipment violations for the faulty headlight and rear plate light.

Prior case law dealing with negligent operation and what is enough evidence

The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled today in Commonwealth v. Thomas Gerhardt that field sobriety tests are admissible for an OUI marijuana, but cautioned that jurors cannot rely on these tests in and of themselves to find someone guilty or impaired by marijuana. The model jury instruction drafted in the opinion addresses the concerns that jurors will assume FST are accurate for marijuana as for alcohol.  The SJC expressly tells jurors that there is no correlation between performance on field sobriety tests and impairment by marijuana.

Additionally, the SJC found that officers cannot testify as to their lay opinion regarding impairment by marijuana as the scientific community has not developed any consenusus on the signs showing impairment by marijuana.

In an article from Chris Villani of the Boston Herald, the SJC was described as splitting the difference.  While that is a fair assessment of the decision,  I think the cautionary jury instruction will greatly reduce the value of the field tests to a jury, so while admissible, those assessments, as the Court refers to them, should have diminished weight in the eyes of the jury.  Further, the exclusion of lay opinion as to impairment leaves the jury without any testimony tying the observations to impairment from marijuana directly from the officer.  That is a significant benefit to the defense and based on the lack of scientific agreement on the signs of marijuana impairment, is a step forward in ensuring a defendant gets as fair trial.  The Gerhardt case was one where DelSignore Law submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the National College of DUI Defense on behalf of the defendant.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court will soon decide the case of Commonwealth v. Dayton, which raises the issue of whether an individual charged with an OUI third offense can be held as a danger to the community. The dangerousness statute of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 58a, provides that a defendant can be held for up to 120 days without bail if the Commonwealth can establish that the defendant is a danger to the community. To be held without bail under the dangerousness statute, the defendant has to be charged with an offense which falls under the statute.

OUI third offense may fall under the statute, however, the statute is ambiguous, as to whether an OUI third qualifies for detention under the dangerousness statute. Section 58a., provides that the Commonwealth may order pretrial detention on conditions of release for a felony offense, including when a defendant is arrested and charged with a third or subsequent conviction for a violation of Section 24 of Ch. 90.

Third offense is a felony offense, however the issue is whether it counts as a third or subsequent conviction. The defendant’s in the Dayton case argued that a person must would have to be charged with a fourth offense in order to meet the requirements of being held as a danger to the community. A person charged with a third offense only has two prior convictions, as a person charged with a fourth offense has a third more subsequent conviction.

The Massachusetts SJC decided an important case for Massachusetts OUI Lawyers today.  The SJC held in Commonwealth v. Morgan that the Valor Act permits a judge to dismiss a first or second offense OUI over the Commonwealth’s objection.  The SJC held that the wording of the statute did not exclude dismissal as a remedy and that the legislature is presumed to know how a statute will impact existing laws.

The Valor Act was passed in 2012 in recognition of the service of military personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Act permits someone who has been honorable discharged and has been in active duty to have a criminal charge of a misdemeanor, if the individual has no other record, dismissed under a diversionary program.

Once probation determines that an individual qualifies, the Court continues the arraignment for 14 days to allow the individual to receive a recommendation from the Veteran’s Administration that they meet the eligibility requirements for the pretrial diversion program.  The case is then stayed for 90 days until the program is completed; after the completion of the program, the judge is authorized to dismiss the charge under the recent decision of the SJC today in Commonwealth v. Morgan.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will hear oral argument tomorrow on the issue of whether the Valor Act permits a dismissal of an OUI charge over the prosecutor’s objection.  The case that raised this issue is Commonwealth v. Joel Morgan, which was originally  charged out of the Lowell District Court.

The Valor Act allows for pretrial diversion of any individual who has served in the military and has been in at least one day of actual combat. To qualify for a diversion under the Valor Act, the individual most not have any prior record and must get a recommendation from a treatment provider that they would benefit from the treatment.  The diversion is available for any type of criminal charge but has come up must recently regarding OUI offenses.  The Morgan raises two questions both in the context of a second offense; however, the Court’s reasoning is likely to apply to a first offense.

  • Can a Judge enter a CWOF on a second offense OUI?

  Expert testimony is critical in a Massachusetts Motor Vehicle Homicide prosecution.  The issue of whether this testimony is admissible came up in the trial of Commonwealth v. Guinean, which was recently decided by the Massachusetts Court of Appeals.

Back in 2010, the defendant was found guilty of both OUI and motor vehicle homicide.  On appeal, the defense lawyer claimed that a Superior Court judge abused his discretion in admitting expert testimony introduced by the Commonwealth. The expert testimony was in relation to the computer-assisted power steering mechanism within the defendant’s motor vehicle.

Conviction Overturned because Expert Testimony was Improperly Admitted

In the recently decided case of Commonwealth v. Beltrandi, the Massachusetts Appellate Court has held that when there are two people in a car, the jury may infer whom the driver of the vehicle is when presented with circumstantial evidence. In the case of Beltrandi, the defendant was sitting in the driver seat of a vehicle stopped on Route 9, with another person in the passenger seat. The defendant admitted that she and the man in the passenger seat had been engaged in “sexual activity” in the vehicle. After exiting the vehicle and performing several field tests, the officer formed the opinion that defendant was intoxicated and placed her under arrest. The defendant did not dispute that the vehicle had been operated on a public way, or that she was intoxicated at the time of arrest, but instead challenged whether the Commonwealth proved that she had operated the vehicle.

The Court held that direct evidence that the defendant operated the vehicle was not required. However, an inference of circumstantial evidence that the defendant was the operator is not reasonable if the fact finder must resort to speculation, conjecture or surmise. Defendant argued that the presence of a second person in the vehicle renders the inference that the defendant was the operator unreasonable. However, because the defendant was in the driver’s seat when the officer approached the car, the Court held that it was reasonable that the jury could infer that the defendant had been the driver of the vehicle.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals reversed the lower courts decision in Beltrandi, due to an improper closing argument by the prosecutor. The passenger in the defendant’s vehicle was unavailable for trial because he had moved to California. In his closing argument, the prosecutor asked rhetorically, “[I]sn’t it convenient” that the witness was not present, and “[w]hat else would he know that we may reasonably infer from the evidence that came in?”  At the close of this argument, defense counsel objected, pointing out that the prosecutor was aware that the witness in question was in California and was not available.  The prosecutor informed the judge that he was not asking for a missing witness instruction, but contended that he was still entitled to argue that the jury should draw an adverse inference against the defendant due to the absence of the witness. The judge overruled the defendant’s objection by indicating that he would not give a missing witness instruction. The Court of Appeals applied the prejudicial error standard: “An error is not prejudicial if it did not influence the jury, or had but slight effect; however, if we cannot find with fair assurance, after pondering all that happened without stripping the erroneous action from the whole, that the judgment was not substantially swayed by the error, then it is prejudicial.” The Court held that it could not say that the prosecutor’s improper argument did not have a substantial effect on the outcome. The judgment was reversed and the verdict set aside.

Many OUI stops originate from a report of someone on the road claiming that another driver is driving erratically. In many cases, the officer will follow the motorist and make independent observations justifying the stop. In some cases the stop may be solely the result of the 911 caller. The SJC addressed this issue on October 26th of 2015 in Commonwealth v. John Depiero.  The Court heard oral arguments in this case with a decision expected within three or four months.

Continue Reading ›

Contact Information