Does Massachusetts OUI law provide a defendant the right to take a breath test after refusing one?

As a OUI Lawyer , a case will often involve somebody who nhas refused to take a breathalyzer test after being pulled over. In some cases, a motorist may change their mind and request a breath test after refusing to submit to one. In a recent case, the issue was raised is whether a defendant can offer into evidence there request to take a breath test after an initial refusal.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial court recently answered this question in Commonwealth v. Jones. In Commonwealth v. Jones, the defendant was pulled over by two police officers after a truck was witnessed driving erratically. The defendant had blood shot eyes, had an open container of alcohol and was stumbling getting out of the car. After performing poorly on the field sobriety test, the defendant was arrested and brought to the police station.

At trial, the defendant made a motion to permit evidence that while at the police station, he originally refused a breathalyzer test but then “shortly afterwards” changed his mind and asked for the breathalyzer. The prosecution argued this had the potential of opening “a can of worms” of evidence that would be allowed and the judge rejected the motion and did not allow the evidence. The defendant was convicted of an OUI after trial.

On appeal, the SJC ruled that the judge at trial acted within the scope of his discretion in not allowing the testimony. The court explained that this evidence could only excuse the defendant to the extent it suggested a conscious innocence at the time of the request. In other words, the defendant had to be requesting the breathalyzer because he felt he was not drunk and it could prove his innocence. The SJC held that there are too many other reasons for the breathalyzer request and was most likely trying to avoid the automatic license suspension. The court felt allowing this evidence may mislead or confuse a jury, complicate the case or prolong the case. The evidence here was not allowed.

In Massachusetts if you are pulled over for an OUI and refuse a breathalyzer test, evidence that you later requested a breathalyzer and were denied is probably not admissible. However the SJC does seem to leave the door open to cases where defendants are requesting the breathalyzer because they consciously believe they are not drunk. The SJC in Commonwealth v. Jones felt he had other motives in requesting the breathalyzer. It may be hard to prove to a court, but if a defendant can in fact prove they were requesting the breathalyzer because they believed they were not above the legal limit of alcohol, that evidence may be admissible. A top OUI lawyer will argue that all potentially exculpatory evidence shall be admitted and that this falls within that category.

Though the Court held that there is no right to a breath test, a motorist is always free to seek an independent medical exam and obtain a blood test at a hospital after an arrest. Most arrested are unaware of this right and do not exercise it. The decision of the Appeals Court in Jones, was incorrect as a defendant should always be allowed to present potentially exculpatory evidence with the jury left to evaluate the credibility of the evidence. The trial judge’s fear the jury would be confused is not a reason to exclude evidence. Further, it would be highly unlike that a jury would be confused by hearing that the defendant initially said he would not take a breath test and then agreed to take the test. While typically the refusal to take a breath test is not admissible, a defendant should be allowed to offer and open the door to this evidence. Accordingly, a defense attorney may be able to distinguish this case if the issue were raised in another case.

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