A Massachusetts Fourth Offense OUI conviction was upheld by the Appeals Court in the case of Commonwealth v. Russell Beaulieu, decided on March 18, 2011. The Beaulieu decision also involved the issue of refusing field sobriety tests which was the subject of an earlier blog.
In the Beaulieu case, the Massachusetts DUI lawyer argued that because the defendant was charged with a Fourth Offense drunk driving charge and the charge of operating with a suspended license because of an OUI conviction that the court should bifurcate the counts of the criminal complaint in order to ensure the defendant a right to a fair trial.
Ordinarily, in a charge of a Second or Third DUI, the jury does not learn of the prior convictions. The jury decides whether the driver operated under the influence of alcohol and in a separate proceeding either a judge or the same jury decides the number of prior offenses. Because of the charge of operating on a suspended license for OUI, the jury learned of the prior conviction.
The Massachusetts Appeals Court did not address the obvious prejudice to the defendant in refusing to severe the counts for trial, but held that the evidence of the prior conviction was necessary to prove the Count of operating on a suspended license for OUI. Additionally, the Court noted that the jury was properly instructed on the purpose for which that evidence was offered.
The Appeals Court distinguished the reason for the separate trial on the number of prior DUI offenses because it held that in those situations the court was dealing with a sentence enhancement and not an element of the offense.
As a Massachusetts DUI attorney, I would expect the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to grant further appellate review. While courts do not like to severe counts of a criminal complaint because it is more time consuming for the court, here, that was required to preserve the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. Having heard that the defendant had a prior OUI offense and continued to drive, the defendant was clearly prejudiced in front of the jury regarding this count.
While the defendant may not have been willing to accept a plea on the Operating on a suspended license charge, as it would have involved jail time, it would have been a way to avoid the prejudice of this evidence coming in at the time of trial. However, it is unfair to require a defendant to surrender his right to a jury trial in order to obtain a fair trial. In this case, the only avenue will be an appeal to the SJC in the hopes that the highest court in Massachusetts, reverses the conviction and orders a new trial.
As a Massachusetts drunk driving lawyer, Attorney DelSignore has represent clients in all types of difficult situations, including charge of multiple offense DUI charges, claims that the breathalyzer test results were above the legal limit of .08 and cases involving motor vehicle accidents. To speak to an experienced DUI lawyer call Attorney DelSignore at 508-455-4755 or 781-686-5924. I generally answer most calls personally and typically respond to emails almost immediately. You can also send an email through this website.