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Worcester Criminal Defense Law Blog

Governor pressing for more traffic safety measures

Governor Baker began his second term with a wide-ranging traffic safety proposal. According to the news media, the governor cited such facts as 1,820 people died and 15,662 seriously injured on the Commonwealth’s roads between 2012 and 2016. He also stated that traffic safety here in Massachusetts would be top priority. This is good news for all drivers, but those who have inconsistent driving habits will likely find the governor’s solutions for the issue a difficult pill to swallow.

Big issues include:

How can you know if your DUI traffic stop was valid?

If you are facing drunk driving charges in Massachusetts, you may think it is best to simply plead guilty and move on. In many cases, however, this is not the optimal course of action, and a strong defense strategy is an important step in a fight against any type of OUI charge. 

Law enforcement must have a valid reason to pull a driver over for suspected drunk driving. This means that it is not permissible to simply pull drivers over and have them submit to a field sobriety test or chemical test at whim. There must be a specific reason to do so. This is called reasonable suspicion. Without it, an OUI traffic stop may be invalid.

Department of justice changes law on domestic violence

The Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women has made major changes to how it defines domestic violence. These changes roll back Obama-era definitions that were expansive and decidedly favored the prosecution. The most notable change was to categorize domestic violence as a felony or misdemeanor criminal act that involves physical assault or sexual violence by an intimate partner or spouse. It may also involve a person living under the same roof or individuals who share children. It can apply to either an adult or a minor.

This eliminates such previous qualifying behaviors as:

Why you should avoid participating in field sobriety tests

After stopping off at the local hangout with your friends or co-workers, you head home. Perhaps you take a moment to consider whether you drank too much to safely drive home but determine after a self-assessment that you could.

On your way home, lights and sirens appear behind you, seemingly out of nowhere. You now wonder whether you were mistaken, but remain confident. As if on cue, the officer asks you to step out of the vehicle and participate in field sobriety tests. You've probably heard that you don't legally have to participate in these tests, but you may not be aware that there are other, more practical reasons for refusing to participate.

Driving hung-over can lead to OUI

The American Automobile Association (AAA) recently issued a timely reminder to drivers who drink. Most understand the dangers of getting behind the wheel after a night of drinking, but many will be surprised to note that alcohol may still be in their bloodstream the next day. This means that Massachusetts drivers can be at a higher risk for an accident or even get an OUI after they have supposedly slept it off.

"Driving hung-over can be just as dangerous as driving after having a few drinks," said Theresa Podguski, director of legislative affairs for AAA East Central.  "After a night of drinking, many people will wake up with alcohol still in their blood, or they will wake up tired and disoriented."

Vermont's Supreme Court takes stand against biased stops

The Vermont Supreme Court recently ruled against police overreach. The case of Zullo v. Vermont revolved around a 2014 traffic stop where a state trooper pulled over a young black man driving to visit a friend after work. According to news reports, the officer claimed that he pulled the man over for an obstructed license tab. He then noticed a faint scent of marijuana (which was decriminalized in Vermont) and the presence of a Visine bottle.

The man admitted that he had smoked marijuana three days earlier, but did not appear intoxicated. The officer did not conduct a sobriety test, but deployed his drug detecting dog. The officer then requested access to the vehicle, which the driver denied. The car was subsequently impounded (at the cost of a $150 towing fee) and the man was left to hitchhike home. A later search of the car revealed a pipe and metal grinder with marijuana residue, neither of which were a criminal offense.

Trauma can lead to cases of mistaken identity

The recent shooting death of 7-year-old Texas girl Jazmine Barnes is a stark reminder of how trauma can affect memory. In this case, the innocent girl happened to be riding in a car that was fired upon when a gunman pulled up next to it in a parking lot.

The composite sketch gathered from Barnes’s three sisters and their mother (who was shot and injured) described the shooter as a white man in his 30s or 40s who drove a red pickup truck. Yet authorities soon arrested and charged a 20-year-old black man with capitol murder.

How reliable are BAC results?

Whatever the circumstances surrounding your arrest for operating under the influence of alcohol, from the moment police pulled you over, your rights were at risk. Even if you have no prior experience with OUI charges, you likely understood immediately the long-reaching consequences you would face if convicted. Once at the police station, Massachusetts police asked you to submit to a breath test, and it registered your blood alcohol content at .08.

Since .08 is the threshold for OUI, you may think you have no chance of challenging the evidence against you. However, there is every reason to seek a professional opinion about your options. In fact, in light of recent investigations into Massachusetts criminal justice practices, you may be surprised at your chances of a more favorable outcome.

Reformers changing sentencing guidelines

The bipartisan First Step bill seeks to change the federal sentencing laws, but there are reports that District Attorneys are already on board at the state and local levels. According to a recent story in the New York Times, there is a wave DAs across the country from both Republican and Democratic backgrounds that are taking a restorative approach to prosecuting and sentencing. Examples of this new approach include:

Reducing the level of punishment

Police train to better recognize drivers intoxicated on marijuana

The legalization of marijuana use Massachusetts has prompted law enforcement to train to better recognize drivers under the influence. The two-day training is called Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) and is the first step towards certification in drug recognition. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with additional input from the Association of Chiefs of Police and others in law enforcement developed it.

It is intended to bridge the gap between Standardized Field Sobriety Testing and Drug Evaluation and Classification program. With marijuana staying in the body and detectable from testing long after the intoxicating effects wear off, these roadside tests will likely be an important part of any case against a driver.

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