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Massachusetts OUI arrested after a 911 call claiming you were driving erratically

Often an OUI charge in Massachusetts will begin with a civilian calling 911 to claim you were driving erratically.  What can be done to challenge the basis of the stop and your arrest for OUI?

It is well-settled that under Massachusetts law, a 911 call can be used as the basis for a stop on suspicion of drunk driving. However, you understand that the Commonwealth must pass both the basis of knowledge test and the veracity test of Aguilar-Spinelli to show both that there was a sufficient basis for reliability in the 911 call. Additionally, the Commonwealth must show that the stop was not pretextual on the basis of race. Simply demonstrating that there was reasonable suspicion for the stop does not satisfy the Commonwealth’s burden to show it did not violate the defendant’s equal protection rights.


Regarding the sufficiency of particularity given in a 911 call to be the basis for a car stop, the recent case Commonwealth v. Westgate, 101 Mass. App. Ct. 548 (2022) affirmed a 2009 decision where that court stated “Where a police radio broadcast directs an officer to make an investigatory stop of a vehicle, the stop is lawful only if the Commonwealth establishes both the particularity of the vehicle’s description and indicia of the reliability of the transmitted information.”  In Westgate, the trial court initially granted the defendant’s motion to suppress based on the fact that there was insufficient information to show reliability of the stop of the defendant’s Mercedes. However, the Commonwealth appealed, and the Appeals Court reversed, indicating that a 911 call of an apparent “drunk driver” who “almost hit a telephone pole” provided sufficiently reliable information to justify a traffic stop under the reasonable suspicion standard, where the caller also was able to give the description of the vehicle, a white Mercedes, the direction of travel of the vehicle, and was able to read the license plate number to the car, despite the fact that the second occupant of the vehicle did not give her name.


In Westgate, the Appeals Court also did not find persuasive the defendant’s argument that the police simply should have followed the car for a longer period of time to see if, in fact, the erratic driving could be observed. The Court disagreed saying that the police would have been remiss had they not acted to pull the vehicle over, citing Commonwealth v. Depiero, 473 Mass. 450 (2016).

Key Defense Arguments to Challenge a stop based on a 911 call of unsafe driving

While this case at first seems to be an important case for the Commonwealth, there are several points defendants can make to distinguish this case from others where a motion to suppress would still be warranted. For example, in this case, the silver Honda Civic, from where the 911 call was placed, was actively observing the vehicle as it drove. In most OUI cases, a 911 call may come from a driver who has passed an erratically operated vehicle, and would not be able to provide a license plate number, or direction in which the vehicle was traveling. Absent these facts, a defendant would still have a strong argument that the case would still fail one or both prongs of the Aguilar-Spinelli test.

If you are charged with OUI based on a call from a civilian, a motion to suppress is a possible defense to the case.  Attorney DelSignore has won many cases even when civilian witnesses appear and testify.  Sometimes the accuracy of their memory can be challenged on cross examination.  The Commonwealth must prove an OUI charge beyond a reasonable doubt so it is not enough for the Commonwealth to establish you might have been impaired; the Commonwealth must meet the highest burden of proof and often the best decision is to fight the case at every step of the way starting with the basis of the stop.  You can follow Attorney DelSignore on Facebook to learn more about OUI laws and defenses to drunk driving cases.








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