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Challenging a Massachusetts OUI drug charge in Court and attacking the drug recognition officer

Charge of driving under the influence of drugs, DUI or OUI drugs are on the rise in Massachusetts and throughout the country. Police departments have undertaken increased training of officers in order to detect motorists under the influence of drugs. A charge of OUI drugs in Massachusetts can be difficult to prove as the signs of a motorist being under the influence of drugs are less obvious than the signs of someone under the influence of alcohol. Further, many officers are not trained in how to investigate whether someone is under the influence of drugs.

Officers will generally undertake what is known as a 12 step Drug Recognition Exam to determine whether a motorist is under the influence of drug.

The 12 steps are as follows:
1. Breath alcohol test to rule out alcohol as a cause of the impairment.
2. interview with the motorist where the officer attempts to gain admissions regarding consumption of drugs.
3. The officer inquiries about the suspects medical condition, looks for signs of illness or injury, suggesting drug use, checks the pulse and looks at the eyes to see how they react, whether they are bloodshot and for signs of trauma.
4. An eye examination is performed where the officer will administer a horizontal gaze and nystagmus test, which is also used for investigating charges of operating under the influence of alcohol. The officer will also perform a Vertical Gaze and Nystagmus test, which is typically not used in OUI alcohol cases, but tests the ability of the suspect to tract an object up and down. Under Commonwealth v. Sands, in many Massachusetts OUI arrests the Commonwealth is unable to get HGN evidence admitted at trial.
5. Field sobriety tests, such as the Romberg Balance, walk and turn and finger to nose, all commonly given in OUI alcohol cases, though the Romberg balance test is used less frequently in Massachusetts OUI cases.
6. Vital Signs are checked, pulse, temperature and blood pressure.
7. a darkroom examination is performed where the defendant’s pupils are measured in four different lighting conditions and the oral and nasal cavities are also examined for signs of ingestion.
8. a physical examination is performed for muscle rigidity.
9. search for needle marks 10. further questioning of the defendant
11. opinion is given by the officer 12. toxicology exam to determine the presence of drugs.

Courts in other jurisdictions have allowed an officer to testify as to the DRE process but have held that the process is not scientific and that officer should not be referred to as experts, but that the process simply aids the officer in making observations. The case of State v. Klawitter, 518 N.W. 2d 577 (Minn. 1994), from the Minnesota Supreme Court provides an excellent discussion of the issues facing courts when confronting DRE testimony. A recent case from Wisconsin, City of Mequon v. Haynor, from the Wisconsin Court of Appeals followed Klawitter but also expressed some reservations about the Drug recognition protocol. Both courts allowed testimony about the 12 steps process subject to a proper foundation being laid and allowed the jury to assign any appropriate weight to the process.

Massachusetts criminal defense lawyers faced with a DUI drugs case should continue to attack the drug recognition protocol as unscientific, immaterial and irrelevant and as lacking a proper foundation based on the training and experience of the arresting officer. Additionally, once an officer suspects a motorist is under the influence of drugs, the entire evaluation suffers from a confirmation bias in that the officer is conducting the evaluation to confirm an opinion that the motorist is under the influence of drugs. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals discussed this issue in Haynor and it should be used by defense counsel to undermine the reliability of the opinion of the arresting officer.

Michael A. DelSignore is a Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer, defending clients charged with OUI cases involving alleged drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs. If you were arrested for DUI, whether drugs or alcohol, call Attorney DelSignore for a free consultation at 508-455-4755 or at 781-686-5924. You can also reach attorney DelSignore by email.

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