The Massachusetts Appeals Court yesterday affirmed the conviction of a man who was charged with operating under the influence of drugs following a car accident in Lawrence. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Bouley.
At around 9:00 in the evening on May 24, 2015, the defendant crashed his car into a fire call box on the side of the road. A Lawrence police officer and an EMT responded to the accident scene and saw the defendant hanging partially out of the car. The defendant was unconscious, was barely breathing, and had pinpoint pupils. The EMT, who had responded to hundreds of drug overdoses during his 18-year career, believed the defendant had overdosed and accordingly administered Narcan. The only medical use for Narcan is to allow someone who is in the midst of a drug overdose to begin breathing again on his own. In this case, as soon as the defendant received Narcan, he began to breathe normally and his pupils dilated. Once he regained consciousness, the defendant told the police officer and the EMT that he had taken fentanyl (which is a powerful synthetic opioid pain medication) and he had been driving at the time of the accident. The defendant shared his belief that the accident was caused by a mechanical malfunction. After the defendant was transported to the hospital, the police conducted an inventory search of his vehicle and found a hypodermic needle near the driver’s seat. The defendant was charged with operating under the influence of drugs. After a Lawrence District Court jury found him guilty, he appealed.
The defendant’s two primary appellate arguments involved the propriety of allowing the EMT to testify that he believed the defendant was under the influence of drugs, and whether the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s guilty verdict. On the first question, the Appeals Court concluded it was proper for the EMT to testify in an expert capacity. The EMT who responded to the defendant’s accident had many years of experience and was particularly familiar with the treatment of people suffering from drug overdoses (for which he had received training). Given that the EMT’s testimony had been properly admitted, the Court then determined the evidence against the defendant was sufficient to support the conviction. The defendant admitted he had ingested fentanyl prior to the accident, and a needle was found in the passenger compartment. He responded immediately to Narcan, which is a medication designed to resuscitate people who have overdosed on drugs. If the drugs rendered him unconscious, they certainly impaired his ability to drive safely, which was proven by his collision with the fire call box. It was not necessary in this type of case for the Commonwealth to call any other medical expert to establish the defendant’s reaction to the fentanyl when the EMT was able to share his first-hand observations coupled with his knowledge of what a drug overdose looks like. Therefore, it was appropriate for the trial judge to allow the EMT to offer expert testimony and the evidence establishing the defendant’s guilt was sufficient.