The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided the case of Commonwealth v. Lindsay Hallinan which allows someone seeking a new trial based on an OUI plea or conviction involving breath test results between 2012 and 2019 to receive a new trial without fear of harsher penalties from the Court or Registry of Motor Vehicles. The major detriment to these motions prior to the Hallinan decision was that the RMV was saying that if someone lost after a retrial, the license suspension starts over as if the case just happened, not giving any credit for the license suspension that was already served.
- This could have a major impact as prior to this decision the number of individuals seeking new trials was relatively low which may have resulted out of fear of further license suspensions. This decision removes this obstacle to seeking a new trial.
The SJC decision in Hallinan has three major impacts:
To vacate a plea a defendant normally has to show egregious misconduct on the part of the Government and a Reasonable probability that the defendant would not have accepted a plea in the case.
The SJC decision holds that it is finding as a matter of law that there was egregious misconduct so the only issue for the trial Court is whether there is a reasonable probability that the defendant would not have entered into the plea.
The Court analyzed the factors under the reasonable probability standard.
“(1) whether evidence of the government misconduct could have detracted from the factual basis used to support the guilty plea, (2) whether the evidence could have been used to impeach a witness whose credibility may have been outcome-determinative, (3) whether the evidence is cumulative of other evidence already in the defendant’s possession, (4) whether the evidence would have influenced counsel’s recommendation as to whether to accept a particular plea offer, and (5) whether the value of the evidence was outweighed by the benefits of entering into the plea agreement.
In most OUI pleas, the breath test evidence will have a major impact on the decision to admit to the charge. The SJC found that the defendant met this burden, relying on the defendant’s affidavit and the affidavit of counsel in support of the motion. To succeed on a motion for new trial, an affidavit from counsel and the defendant showing how the breath test impacted the decision to admit to the charges.
The SJC decision makes it easier to have a motion for new trial allowed; the SJC did not go so far as was suggested during oral argument that all cases should be dismissed with prejudice. The prosecutor can still try to go forward on the case without the breath test evidence if a motion for new trial is allowed.
The final part of the Hallinan decision is really the most crucial; that the double jeopardy clause prohibits a duplicative license suspension or a harsher criminal sentence on appeal. Without this component, the potential of another license loss would have been major detriment to individuals seeking a new trial. Now individuals can seek a new trial without fearing additional punishment.
The SJC decision was a fair decision to deal with the egregious misconduct of the Office of Alcohol Testing. Hopefully this decision will also remind the public that breath test evidence is not infallible evidence and can be subject to errors and should eb challenged and questioned in Court.