Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog A blog for lawyers looking to improve trial skills and to learn recent case law relating to DUI and Criminal Defense

Articles Posted in Breathalyzer Testing

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments in the case of Neary-French v. Massachusetts last week to decide the question of whether a defendant should be advised of his or her right to counsel prior to making the decision of whether or not to submit to a breathalyzer test. The 2003 amendment to G.L.c. 90, §24 created the “.08 or greater” per se theory by which an OUI offense can be proven. Because a breathalyzer test can result in per se proof, the decision whether or not to submit to the test becomes a critical stage in conviction for an OUI. A critical stage is one in which the defendant’s rights could be sacrificed or lost. Before the 2003 amendment, the right to counsel did not attach because the Court did not consider the test a ‘critical stage’ in the criminal process and the assistance of counsel would create an undue delay in the administration of the test. There were reasonable safeguards in place to protect the defendant’s right. The 2003 amendment removed defendant’s safeguards and caused the breathalyzer to become a critical stage in the criminal process because the outcome of the test could possibly be the sole basis of a conviction.

Counsel for the defense illustrated what the process would look like if the right to counsel were afforded. When a person is pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence, they are immediately taken into physical custody. When they get to the station, they are then booked, a process that can take up to an hour. There is ample time to allow the defendant the right to consult with their attorney before the decision to submit to a breathalyzer test. There is concern about the dissipation of alcohol while the defendant is waiting on their lawyer. However, so long as the defendant is afforded the opportunity to place a call to a lawyer shortly after they arrive at the station, there will be a reasonable window of opportunity for the lawyer to advise their client without interference in the test process.

Courts in other states have held that the right to counsel attaches to the decision to submit to a breathalyzer test, including Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, and New York. All of these states have found that the right to counsel before a breathalyzer test is guaranteed under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. It is not enough that a suspect in custody is given their Miranda rights, as Miranda only applies to testimonial evidence. The decision to submit to a breathalyzer is a critical stage in the process of conviction for an OUI and should be treated as such. The right to counsel should attach to ensure a safeguard for defendants before they make the decision that could produce direct evidence against them.

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice Botsford heard oral argument today relating to the Statewide challenge to the Alcotest breath test machine used to prosecute drunk driving cases in Massachusetts.  She heard appeals in the two challenge to the breath test source code, one arising from the Concord District Court and the other arising out of the Boston Municipal Court.

From the argument it appears as though Justice Botsford will rule in the following way:

Justice Botsford indicated she would try to find a way to consolidate the two cases as it does not make financial or practical sense to have two hearings challenging the breath test machine.  Further, she asked both sides if they could live with the protective order drafted by Judge McManus.  The defense indicated that all clients in the Concord litigation would prefer to have their case consoidlated with the Boston litigation.  Additionally, Justice Botsford asked if the defense expert would sign the protective order drafted by Judge McManus. The defense indicated he would sign it.  In contrast, the defense expert refused to sign the protective order drafted by Judge Brennan who is presiding over the Concord breath test litigation.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will hear argument in two cases relating to the statewide challenge to the reliability of the Alcotest 9510. The first case is an appeal from the Concord District Court, where over 500 OUI cases have been consolidated pending the challenge to the reliability of the Alcotest 9510.

This hearing arose from the decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Commonwealth v. Camblin, holding that defendants in an OUI case are entitled to challenge the scientific reliability of the breath test machine. The Camblin decision applied to the old machine, the Alcotest 7110. In the Camblin decision, the SJC identified issues that could impact the reliability of the machine.

The Kansas Supreme Court held in State v. David Lee Ryceheld that DUI tests are a search, and therefore a police officer is required to have a warrant if the driver does not consent to a test. Kansans can no longer be criminally prosecuted for refusal to take a breathalyzer or blood test without a warrant. The ruling also held that implied consent is not irrevocable and that withdrawal of consent cannot be criminally punished. Under Kansas law, anyone who operates a motor vehicle is considered to have given implied consent to DUI testing. The statute is facially unconstitutional, the court said, because it punishes the defendant for exercising his or her constitutional right to refuse the test.

The 4th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States starts with “the right of the people to be secure in their persons…” and cannot be searched without a warrant. Breathalyzers and blood tests are a search that invades a person’s privacy in the way that they are intrusive to what is actually going on within a person. Drivers who refuse a DUI test may still be required to submit to one of a warrant is obtained, but their Constitutional right to be secure in their persons will now be upheld.

However, even though drivers who refuse to take a DUI test may not be criminally charged, there are still civil punishments in place for refusal. Drivers are still in danger of fines or losing their licenses. While a few extra steps may be involved, following constitutional requirements still leaves the state with significant weapons to deal with those who refuse DUI tests.“While not all drivers without licenses will refrain from driving, the state may theoretically seek a warrant for an alcohol test and enact criminal penalties, including jail time, for refusing to submit to a valid Fourth Amendment search,” the court writes.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will hear the case of Neary-French v. Massachusetts over whether a defendant should be advised of his or her right to counsel prior to making the decision of whether or not to submit to a breathalyzer test. The 2003 amendment to G.L.c. 90, §24 created the “.08 or greater” per se theory by which an OUI offense can be proven. The SJC will have to decide whether or not the decision to take a breath test is a critical stage of the criminal proceeding, as defendants are entitled to be advised of their right to counsel prior to making any decisions in the critical stages of a criminal proceeding.  Recently, Bob McGovern of the Boston Herald wrote an Article about this case and how it has prosecutors concerned.

In Massachusetts, in order to support a prima facie case for an OUI, the prosecution must prove three elements: (1) that the defendant was in physical operation of the vehicle; (2) that the defendant did so on a public way or place to which the public has a right of access; and (3) had a measurable blood alcohol content percentage of .08 or greater, or was impaired by the influence of intoxicating liquor. Before the 2003 amendment, the jury could draw a permissible inference that the defendant was under the influence at the time of the offense if the BAC was .08 or higher. The 2003 amendment adopted the per se theory that a defendant with a BAC level of .08 or higher is now considered to be legally intoxicated under the law, regardless of the level of impairment.

A critical stage is one in which the defendant’s rights could be sacrificed or lost. Before the 2003 amendment, the right to counsel did not attach because the Court did not consider the test a ‘critical stage’ in the criminal process and the assistance of counsel would create an undue delay in the administration of the test. There were reasonable safeguards in place to protect the defendant’s right. The 2003 amendment removed defendant’s safeguards and caused the breathalyzer to become a critical stage in the criminal process because the outcome of the test could possibly be the sole basis of a conviction.

The results of a sobriety test, such as the Breathalyzer or blood test, frequently play a crucial role in the outcome of a drunk driving case. When assessing how reliable the sobriety test results may have been, it is important to consider the medical background of the client and any conditions that may have impacted their results.

Scientific evidence shows that weight loss surgeries, such as the gastric bypass, can cause a a significant increase in blood alcohol content for someone stopped and arrested for DUI – for several reasons. 

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In 2008, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided, New Jersey v. Chun, which was the first case where the Court addressed whether the source code of the Alcotest 7110 was scientifically reliable. This is the leading case on the issue of the source code. Massachusetts OUI Lawyers are currently conducting a similar hearing for the newer Alcotest machine the 9510. In this Blog, we will review the findings of the Chun case as the decision will have an impact on how the judge rules in the Consolidated appeal being heard in the Concord District Court.  Currently, the Source code reliability hearing is scheduled for March 14 and is scheduled to take until March 17th.

One of the major differences between Chun and the current hearing in Massachusetts, is that the hearing in Concord involves a different machine, the Alcotest 9510, which has a much more complex source code than the Alcotest 7110.  There is currently a hearing in the Ayer District Court on the 7110 machine; this hearing will effect fewer cases as many case involving the 7110 have been resolved; however, it could result in new trial motions being filed should the court find the source code unreliable.

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The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will decide whether evidence of an unsuccessful attempt to take a breath test was properly admitted into evidence, given the language barrier between the defendant and arresting officer.

A non-English speaking woman is arrested for DUI and fails to pass the Breathalyzer – but is the language barrier a valid defense? 952313_gavel

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Massachusetts OUI Defense lawyers will have the opportunity to challenge the accuracy and reliability of the breath test used in the State in a State wide hearing that will be heard in the Concord District Court.

The hearing has yet to be scheduled with a status conference coming up on September 17, 2015. The primary issues are anticipated to be the following:

  1. Discovery issues regarding the out of calibration regarding the breath test that prompted numerous counties to stop using breath test evidence for several months throughout the summer.
  2. Whether errors in the computer source code of the breath test 9510 make the machine unreliable scientifically.

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