Attorney Chris Spring’s client was found not guilty today in Lowell District Court of operating under the influence of alcohol.
A police officer was on routine patrol in February of 2019 when he began watching a parked car in a Circle K parking lot. The defendant was sitting in the driver’s seat of the car, which was running, and his passenger exited and dropped what appeared to be a bottle of brandy on the ground. The officer approached the driver’s side of the car and engaged the defendant in conversation. According to the officer, the defendant smelled strongly of an alcoholic beverage, had glassy and bloodshot eyes, and spoke with slurred speech. The officer asked the defendant to get out of the car to perform field sobriety tests. During the nine-step walk and turn test, the defendant walked too many steps, did not walk heel to toe, and used his arms for balance. During the one-legged stand test, the defendant had to hop on one foot to maintain his balance. The cop concluded the defendant failed the field sobriety tests and placed him under arrest. The defendant was transported to the police station, where the booking process was video recorded. A complaint thereafter issued charging the defendant with operating under the influence of alcohol.
Attorney Spring requested he be provided with a copy of the booking video. The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office twice provided video footage of someone other than the defendant being booked before finally admitting the video of the defendant’s booking process had been destroyed. Attorney Spring filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing his client was deprived of potentially exculpatory evidence that would have been on the booking video. A judge denied the motion to dismiss. Attorney Spring also filed a motion to suppress the field sobriety tests and the defendant’s arrest, arguing that the arresting officer had no constitutional authority to request the defendant exit the car. A different judge denied the motion to suppress.
At trial, the Commonwealth called several police officers to testify. The arresting officer and his backup officer testified the defendant was clearly drunk when he attempted the field sobriety tests in the convenience store parking lot. However, the arresting officer acknowledged the defendant was able to produce his license and registration, did not stumble or fall when he got out of the car, and was able to carry on a conversation. The booking officer also testified the defendant was clearly drunk. However, the booking officer said the defendant did not fall down or appear unsteady on his feet during booking and was able to provide his social security number, date of birth, and other biographical information with no problem. The defendant did not testify or present any evidence. Attorney Spring argued the Commonwealth had not proven the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt where there was no evidence of erratic operation and the defendant’s performance on the field sobriety tests did not clearly establish impairment. Attorney Spring also argued an adverse inference should be drawn against the Commonwealth for its destruction of the booking video. The defendant was found not guilty.