The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will review a decision from Judge DeAngelo out of the Worcester District Court holding that field sobriety tests are unreliable when attempting to determine if a driver is under the influence of marijuana. The case was argued once before at the SJC as Judge DeAngelo initially reported the question to the court without making a decision. The SJC remanded it to him for an evidentiary hearing. After that hearing he made the following finding in an extremely well reasoned opinion. As a Massachusetts OUI Lawyer, I expect the SJC will affirm Judge DeAngelo’s decision and hope that this case will be followed nationally by other courts addressing this issue.
Judge DeAngelo questions that the SJC requested that he answered; here is a summary of his findings.
First, he found that there is a correlation between marijuana use and impaired driving. Despite this correlation, he found that there was no credible evidence as to what physical characteristics permit an inference that an individual is impaired while driving. He found 4 physical characteristics common to positive marijuana use.
- red and or bloodshot eyes
- lack of convergence
However, he found no evidence that these characteristics equated with impaired driving. Additionally, he found no correlation between performance on field sobriety tests and impaired driving.
He also addressed the issue the issue of whether a lay person can testify that someone is under the influence of marijuana. Judge Deangelo found that physical characteristics and performance on field sobriety test standard field tests do not permit a lay opinion that someone is impaired by marijuana. The judge found that since not everyone has smoked marijuana and the signs are difference for different people, there is no way that a lay opinion can determine if someone is impaired by marijuana.
Further, the judge found that an officer may not offer an opinion that someone is under the influence of alcohol. Judge DeAngelo found there was not sufficient evidence to determine if a training would allow an officer to render an opinion as to impairment.
The SJC will hear arguments on this case in January. I would expect the Court to affirm his decision as it was very well reasoned and this decision could become a model for other court nationally to follow when addressing this issue.
For further reading on the lack of correlation between field sobriety tests and marijuana use, there was an excellent discussion of this issue by Maggie Koerth-Baker of the New York Times in a 2014 article.
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