A woman was arrested in Harvard Square for operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs, the Cambridge Chronicle reported Oct. 29. Judith Zackman, 54, of Waltham, was involved in at least one minor accident around 8 p.m. on Oct. 22. According to the article, police responding to an accident on Mount Auburn Street stopped Zackman on Massachusetts Avenue near Harvard Square after witnesses said her car was being driven erratically and had hit parked vehicles on Mount Auburn Street and Memorial Drive. An officer reported that Zackman had trouble parking her car and seemed confused. After a search, officers found no alcohol in the car, but several half-full water bottles full of pink liquid as well as several prescription and unmarked pills. They also observed that she had trouble walking straight and seemed confused. After she failed field sobriety tests, they arrested her on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs, on the basis of observations and the test results.
As a Massachusetts OUI defense attorney, I wonder whether the police backed up their observations at the scene with a blood test. If not, the charges against Zackman could be very easy to challenge. As I note on my Web site, field sobriety tests are notoriously unreliable as an indicator of drunkenness. Some tests are so difficult for the average person that they can generate false positives in people who are completely sober. Furthermore, certain standard tests have been invalidated by court rulings or regulatory decisions, and those that remain must be administered properly in order to be valid.
A police officer's observations are also subject to challenge in court, because of course they are subjective and do not amount to proof. And in cases like this, which involve prescription drugs, there may be mitigating circumstances related to the driver's health or the unexpected effects of mixing prescription drugs. A good Massachusetts drunk driving defense lawyer should be able to raise all of these defenses at trial, or, if appropriate, use them as leverage to get clients a favorable and fair plea agreement.