When you are charged with a Second Offense DUI in Massachusetts, how does the Commonwealth prove that you had a prior conviction. The Appeals Court addressed this issue in the case of Commonwealth v. Ellis which was decided on April 25, 2011.
The Ellis case involved an appeal of a Fourth Offense OUI conviction from the Chelsea District Court. However, regardless of whether you have a second, third or fourth offense, drunk driving charge, the method of proof is the same. With a third or fourth offense, the Commonwealth needs to prove either two or three prior convictions rather than just one prior conviction as for a second offense Massachusetts DUI charge.
In a second offense, the Commonwealth can prove the existence of the prior conviction in a number of different ways. First, the Commonwealth can offer into evidence a certified copy of the conviction from the court in which the prior offense occurred. This is the most common method used by prosecutors. Second, the Commonwealth can offer into evidence a certified copy of your Registry of Motor Vehicle driving record showing the prior conviction. Lastly, the Commonwealth can offer into evidence a copy of your probation record.
The Massachusetts OUI lawyer representing Ellis challenged the method of proving the prior convictions of the defendant. The Commonwealth attempted to offer the defendant’s probation record into evidence as a business record. If a record is a business record, then it can come into evidence at a criminal trial without requiring the maker of the record to testify. To qualify as a business record a record must be kept in the ordinary course of business and not prepared in anticipation of litigation. If a record is a business record, it is considered nontestimonial and the Commonwealth does not have to present live testimony of the author of the record in court.
The court rejected the classification of probation records as business records and held that these records are prepared in anticipation of litigation and according fall outside of the hearsay exception for business records. The Appeals Court adopted the argument of the lawyer in this case that under Melendez-Diaz the probation records were testimonial and required the Government to present a witness to admit the records into evidence. To read more about Melendez-Diaz and the right of confrontation, you can click on my prior blogs on this issue and refer to a Law Review Article from Creighton University, attached here.
Despite upholding the Massachusetts DUI lawyers objection to the probation records coming into evidence, the Court ultimately found that the error was harmless as the Government also admitted the defendant’s driving records from the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The court held that RMV documents are nontestimonial and can come into evidence without the presentation of a live witness.