A Spring & Spring client who was arrested and charged with operating under the influence of alcohol and leaving the scene of property damage was found not guilty following a trial in Lowell District Court today. Attorney Chris Spring tried the case.
Our client lived in Tewksbury and was the manager at a local restaurant. After his shift ended at 8:00 p.m. on an April evening, he left his job and got into his car. As he was exiting the parking lot, our client collided with a parked car causing significant damage to his car and the car that he struck. Instead of stopping immediately, our client exited the parking lot, drove down the street, and pulled over in the parking lot of another business. He never attempted to locate the owner of the car he hit and he did not leave a note with his identifying information.
A short time later, a Tewksbury police officer located our client sitting in his car. The officer asked him for his driver’s license and our client was not able to find his wallet. In speaking with our client, the officer noted that his eyes were bloodshot and glassy and that his speech was slurred. At trial, the officer testified that there was a strong odor of alcohol on the defendant’s breath. The officer asked our client to step out of his car, and in doing so, our client appeared to be unbalanced. The officer asked our client to perform two field sobriety tests – the nine-step walk and turn test and the one-legged stand test. The officer concluded that our client failed both tests and he arrested our client for operating under the influence of alcohol and leaving the scene of property damage.
The Commonwealth’s evidence for leaving the scene was weak. This was not a case where a driver was fleeing the scene to avoid detection, as he was easily found nearby by a police officer and he was sitting in his parked vehicle. The prosecutor decided to dismiss the leaving the scene charge prior to trial. Our client went to trial on the OUI charge.
In cross-examining the arresting officer, we got him to admit that he had not seen our client driving his car erratically. Our client pulled into the parking space appropriately and was able to put his car into park. He was able to roll down the window and have a conversation with the officer, and the officer understood what he was saying. The officer admitted that he could not tell how much our client had to drink based on the strong odor. The officer also conceded that our client was able to get out of his car on his own power and that he never fell down or stumbled. The officer admitted that there are field sobriety tests that do not involve balancing, and he decided not to administer those tests to our client.
Our client testified that he had consumed two beers before going to work, which accounted for the smell of alcohol. He also testified that he was tired (accounting for the bloodshot glassy eyes) and that he did not learn English until his mid-20s (he grew up in Brazil). We argued that the officer mistook our client’s thick accent for slurred speech. Our client further testified that he was shaken up by the car accident and he couldn’t understand the police officer’s instructions regarding the field sobriety tests, which were administered in a dark parking lot next to a busy road.
We argued that our client was not under the influence of alcohol. He was overcome by the stress of being involved in a car accident and then having to perform bizarre balancing tests in a dark parking lot surrounded by distractions including traffic speeding by on a busy road. Our client was found not guilty of operating under the influence of alcohol.