Massachusetts SJC finds no fix statute does not justify dismissal of OUI Serious Bodily Injury

When a driver is arrested for OUI, Massachusetts OUI law requires the officers to deliver a citation to the suspect immediately.  If there is a delay in issuing the citation, dismissal may be the appropriate remedy.  In the case of Commonwealth v. Richard O’Leary, the SJC reversed a lower court’s judge’s decision dismissing an OUI complaint alleging serious bodily injury.  The Court discussed the three circumstances where the Court would excuse a delay in issuing a citation.

  1. When the violator could not have been stopped;
  2. When additional time was reasonably necessary to determine the nature of the violation.
  3. Where the court find’s the circumstances were not inconsistent with the purpose of the statute.

The SJC cited agreement with the Commonwealth, that the case falls under the third exception mentioned above. The SJC concluded that criminal charges should not be dismissed where the violation resulted in serious injuries and the statute requirements were otherwise met.

In choosing to reverse the decision of the court, the SJC argued that there was no manipulation or misuse of the citation, and that the officer notified Mr. O’Leary that a citation would be issued following the interview at the hospital.

The SJC found that the serious nature of the accident and the oral notice that a citation would be given provided the defendant sufficient notice such that dismissal of the complaint was not the appropriate remedy to address the failure to give a citation timely.  The flaw in the SJC reasoning is that without formal notice of criminal charges being taken out; the defendant would not have known to hire a lawyer, an accident reconstruction expert and to under take an investigation of the incident as he had no formal notice of criminal charges.  The defendant was prejudiced by the failure to provide a citation and should not be left guessing whether criminal charges were going to be filed.

Dissenting from the majority opinion, Justice Agnes criticized the majority for rejecting the motion judge’s factual finding that the defendant was not on notice at the time because of his injuries.  Further, he stated that the Court prior decision did not authorize a delay in issuing a citation for the administrative convenience of the police department.

In this case, the defendant and a woman were involved in a motor vehicle accident where the car rolled over multiple times and the two individuals were subsequently taken to the hospital. Upon arrival at the scene, the trooper believed both of the parties suffered serious injuries and needed immediate medical attention. Because the driver, Richard O’Leary, was on probation for an OUI second offense, the officer concluded that his license was in fact suspended and that he was not legally permitted to drive.

While at the hospital, the officer told the defendant to expect a criminal summons to court in the mail; the officer completed his investigation, filed a report with his supervisor, and mailed the citation out 9-days post-accident, only to find the address they had on file for the defendant was invalid. This led to an overall delay of five or six weeks before the defendant got the citation.

Given the severity of the accident, the fact that both parties had to be transported to the hospital following the accident, and the information from the officer to expect a criminal summons in the mail, it should have been obvious to the defendant that he would receive a citation. You can read the full case on the Mass.gov website here.

To learn more about OUI defenses in Massachusetts feel free to contact Attorney DelSignore; you will find a wealth of information about OUI laws on his website.

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