A Concord District Court jury today found Attorney Chris Spring’s client not guilty of operating under the influence of alcohol, despite her registering a .11 on the Breathalyzer.
The defendant was driving from a party in Concord to a party in Maynard in the middle of a February night when she slid into a snowbank. Her car was stuck and a Maynard police officer showed up. He had a conversation with the defendant and smelled alcohol on her breath. The defendant conceded she had been drinking, and the officer asked her to perform a series of field sobriety tests in a nearby parking lot. The defendant consented to perform the tests and according to the police officer, she was unable to maintain her balance as she attempted to walk in a straight line and hold her foot six inches about the ground. She was arrested and transported back to the police station, where she was booked and offered the Breathalyzer test. She blew a .11, which is considerably higher than the .08 statutory limit.
At trial, Attorney Spring’s strategy was to offer an explanation for his client’s supposedly sub-par performance on the field sobriety tests and suggest the Breathalyzer machine did not produce an accurate reading. Attorney Spring traveled to the scene of the defendant’s arrest within days and took pictures of the surroundings, which was important to establish the road was covered with snow (which could have led to the defendant’s accident) and the parking lot where the field sobriety tests were administered was in lousy condition (the lot was hilly and covered with defects in the pavement). The officer admitted it was extremely cold outside and the defendant was not properly dressed. When cross-examined by Attorney Spring, the officer was unable to remember precisely how the defendant had allegedly failed the field sobriety tests. His trial testimony was also partially inconsistent with his police report, which Attorney Spring brought to the jury’s attention.
Even if the jury was not convinced the defendant failed the field sobriety tests, she still blew a .11 on the Breathalyzer. The prosecutor called the Breathalyzer operator to testify about his administration of the test. During his cross-examination, the Breathalyzer operator admitted to Attorney Spring that he could not remember if he observed the defendant for 15 minutes prior to the test (which is a requirement under Massachusetts law). The Breathalyzer operator also conceded he has no idea how the machine works and was unable to explain the science behind the machine to the jury. He admitted the Breathalyzer machine has a built-in margin of error and he didn’t know whether the introduction of a foreign substance, such as medication from an asthma inhaler, could taint the test result. The defendant testified that immediately before driving, she had taken two puffs of her inhaler. While she had been drinking before getting behind the wheel, she did not feel drunk or buzzed.
The jury deliberated for about two hours before finding the defendant not guilty of operating under the influence of alcohol. Many OUI cases, even those involving Breathalyzer failures, are winnable at trial. If you have been charged with OUI, you should immediately call an experienced criminal defense attorney.