Articles Posted in Massachusetts OUI Laws

Published on:

2822389247_4f98fbb27e_mThe next time you go out to dinner, be sure to drive carefully if you’ve eaten any bread products. You wouldn’t want to be stopped by the police with bread on your breath, since studies have shown that breathalyzer tests can’t tell the difference between the amount of alcohol in your blood and the ethyl alcohol that stays on your breath after you eat bread, yeast, or similar foods. Without drinking any alcoholic beverages at all, people who have eaten bread have gotten breathalyzer blood alcohol concentration readings as high as 0.05% — more than halfway to the legal limit at which you’re considered legally intoxicated. As a Massachusetts OUI defense lawyer, I think it’s important for people to know that the tests used to determine whether a driver is intoxicated are not foolproof. You can often — and should — fight OUI charges based on these faulty tests.

Nobody wants to see more drunk drivers on the road. But evidence shows that the breathalyzer test, on which law enforcement relies heavily, is not a good basis for determining who is driving drunk. I’ve written lately about the problems with field sobriety tests — basically, that they rely on faulty science that’s decades old. Blood-alcohol concentration tests also have problems because when they look for ethyl alcohol, which is the kind of alcohol people drink, they also can find similar substances that are not intoxicating, but still cause a false positive.

According to sociology professor David Hanson, the test doesn’t just pick up on food molecules, either — people who have been painting a wall can test as intoxicated without ever drinking any alcohol. Breathalyzer results can also show false readings because of “alcohol, blood or vomit in the subject’s mouth, electrical interference from cell phones and police radios, tobacco smoke, dirt, and moisture.” Tests of the subject’s actual blood, not their breath, produced accurate results in these investigations — but the breathalyzer could be amazingly inaccurate.

Field sobriety tests and breathalyzers make up two out of three of the usual sources of evidence in drunk driving cases — police officers’ personal observations being the third. Scientific evidence and common sense makes it clear that none of these are foolproof or even necessarily accurate — meaning that there’s a real problem with the way police determine which drivers are drunk. This makes it easier for me, as a Massachusetts intoxicated driving defense attorney, to get evidence against my clients thrown out and to achieve dismissals or not-guilty verdicts. But it’s unfair to my clients to be arrested and charged in the first place if it’s done on the basis of faulty evidence and unscientific tests. Some states, like South Dakota, recognize that breathalyzer tests are inaccurate and don’t allow them to be used as evidence; they allow only blood tests because they can rely on them to be accurate. But in Massachusetts and many other states, breath tests are used as evidence at trial, and there are even penalties for drivers who refuse to submit to them. Refusing the breathalyzer, even if you’re not intoxicated, results in suspension of your driver’s license for 180 days if you’re over 21. You can appeal that suspension, but it is an extra burden that may be inappropriate, given that the test is far from reliable.

Continue reading →

Published on:

103769624_0a2f680106_mRecently, I wrote about a case in which parents were being charged under the social host law for their underage child’s party, which involved underage guests drinking alcohol. A new case in Cohasset shows how much of an impact the social host laws can have on a parent’s life. A woman whose underage son allegedly had a drinking party at her house has been subjected to the kinds of restrictions that we normally see for people who have been charged with a second or higher OUI offense. As a Massachusetts OUI criminal defense lawyer, I think it’s important for anyone with teenage children to be aware of how the social host law could affect them.

On a Saturday night during the first weekend in August, an eighteen year old, allegedly had 23 teenage friends over at the Cohasset home of his mother, age 50. A neighbor made a noise complaint to the police. Police officer John St. Ives came out to the home and reportedly heard people loudly chanting, “take off your shirt” and “we got your shirt off.” As St. Ives approached the back yard, he found people aged 17-19 sitting around a table drinking out of plastic cups, and beer cans all over the yard. The mother came out onto the deck while St. Ives questioned the teenagers. She claimed to have been at a friend’s house all night and to have been unaware that the kids were drinking alcohol, but was unable to supply the name of her friend. Two of her son’s friends told St. Ives that she had been home for 45 minutes and did know that they were drinking. Both the mother and son were arrested for disturbing the peace. The mother also faces charges of violating the social host law and keeping a disorderly house. The son and his 23 guests are charged with possessing alcohol as a minor.

Read article: Mother and son arrested because of underage drinking party

At their arraignment in Quincy District Court, both defendants pleaded not guilty and were released on personal recognizance. The judge scolded the mother for failing to supervise her son. They were ordered not to use alcohol or other drugs and to submit to random testing. Test results showing alcohol or drug use would be grounds to put them in jail for up to 60 days. The Probation Department will install a sobriety-testing device at the woman’s house as well. A probation surrender hearing will be held August 30 to determine whether this incident violates the terms of the woman’s probation from a May domestic violence case. In that incident, she was charged with two counts of assault and battery after going to her ex-husband’s home when she was intoxicated and attacking him with her shoe and punching him. If she is determined to have violated probation, she could go to jail.

In my view as a Massachusetts drunk driving defense attorney, it’s vitally important to recognize that Massachusetts’ social host law forbids adults to knowingly or intentionally provide alcohol to minors or to allow them to drink in their homes. The woman told police she didn’t know that the kids at her house were drinking. As a parent of an 18-year-old, it’s understandable that she may have thought she didn’t have to supervise her son and his friends, since her son is a legal adult in all respects except for drinking alcohol. Even if she heard them chanting “we got your shirt off” in the back yard, she may have just assumed they were being obnoxious, rather than that they were playing a drinking game like the police said.

Not paying attention to what teenagers are doing at your house, while perhaps inadvisable, is a far cry from knowingly and intentionally providing them with alcohol. The social host law may make sense for parents of kids under 18, over whom parents legally do have authority, but most parents of 18-21 year olds are trying to give their children the space to become adults and to live their own lives. Watching over them while they spend time with their friends is no way to do that. Anyone convicted of violating this law can be punished by a $2,000 fine or up to a year in prison, though, so the law forces parents to walk a difficult line between protecting themselves legally and encouraging their kids to become responsible adults.

Continue reading →

Published on:

3513787950_24567e9450_mAs a Massachusetts OUI defense attorney, I was interested in a recent article in the New York Times about the challenges of convicting persons charged with driving under the influence of prescription drugs. The article describes accidents that occurred in New York, Maine and Wisconsin, in which people under the influence of prescription drugs including opiate painkillers, Ambien and Xanax allegedly caused serious, fatal accidents. Under Massachusetts law, charges of driving under the influence of prescription drugs can complex to defend against, because while it is illegal to drive after taking some prescription drugs — “narcotic drugs, depressants or stimulant substances” — other commonly prescribed drugs are not in these categories. But the complexity of the law also offers great opportunities for a Massachusetts intoxicated driving defense lawyer to mount a strong defense against these charges.

Read article: Drivers on prescription drugs are hard to convict

When someone is charged with operating under the influence of alcohol, police often use their own observations and field sobriety tests, in addition to a blood-alcohol concentration obtained by a breathalyzer or blood test. When someone is charged with OUI drugs, however, these sources of evidence are not reliable in the same ways. Proving that someone driving under the influence of prescription drugs is impaired is different from showing that they were driving under the influence of alcohol. Field sobriety tests — which are unreliable anyway, as I’ve discussed recently — don’t necessarily work for prescription drugs the way they do for alcohol. Police are looking for the same kinds of impairment in all drivers they suspect of being drunk, but different prescription medications can affect different drivers in different ways. Where anti-anxiety drugs can slow someone’s reaction time, stimulants can encourage risk-taking and impair someone’s ability to judge distances.

Of course, a breath test is unable to detect intoxication by prescription drugs. A blood test can show the presence of prescription drugs in someone’s body, and if the drug is included on the state’s list of drugs that it’s illegal to take before driving, then any amount of it in your blood is enough for an OUI drugs charge, even if it was legally prescribed. However, if the prosecution cannot establish that it’s illegal in our state to take the drug at issue and then drive, it has no case. Many prescription drugs fall outside the categories listed in Massachusetts law — for example, sedatives and sleep aids such as Ambien, or other unclassified prescription drugs like the anti-anxiety medication Xanax, and the anti-seizure medications Neurontin, Lamictal and Topamax (which is also used to prevent migraines).

An experienced Massachusetts intoxicated driving defense attorney can find several ways to defend charges of driving under the influence of prescription drugs. First, if the client is accused of driving under the influence of a drug that’s not on the list of illegal substances in Massachusetts state law, there is no illegal conduct. An experienced attorney will argue that the charges must be dropped in this situation. Second, an attorney can challenge any physical evidence that the police collected. Did a blood test show that the client actually had any drugs in his or her body? If there are results showing the presence of prohibited drugs, did they show enough of the substance to impair the person’s driving? Could the person’s body have metabolized the drugs more slowly than the medication’s label indicated, so that the drugs remained in their system longer than expected? Also, the prosecutor in such a case must obtain expert testimony from a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) to establish that the drug involved violated the law.

Continue reading →

Published on:

3834505031_fc87e26232_mPolice officers rely heavily on field sobriety tests when they suspect a driver of being intoxicated. Unfortunately, as a Massachusetts drunk driving defense attorney, I know that there are serious problems with these tests, and I use those problems as an element of my clients’ defense whenever appropriate. The appeal of field sobriety tests is clear: Drunk driving is dangerous and law enforcement agencies need easy-to-use, scientifically and legally valid ways of identifying drunkenness. Unfortunately, the field sobriety tests that are most commonly used in Massachusetts aren’t as reliable as they should be, and may not be administered properly. This means that completely innocent drivers who haven’t even had one drink can sometimes be arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends three specific field sobriety tests — the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-leg-stand — as the most reliable ones for police officers to use. The NHTSA says that police officers who use all three tests on a suspected drunk driver have a 91% chance of making the right call as to whether or not the driver is actually drunk. In what the NHTSA views as the most accurate one, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (or “jerking eyeball test”), a police officer asks a driver to follow a small flashlight side to side with his or her eyes. If the driver is drunk, his or her eyeballs shake as they look to the side. The walk-and-turn test is similar to walking a balance beam back and forth on a straight line. And the one-leg stand involves perhaps the greatest physical challenge of the three: drivers are asked to stand still with their arms at their sides, raise one leg six inches off the ground while keeping it straight and pointing at their toes, looking at their raised toes, and count forward from 1,001. Swaying, raising arms for balance, hopping, putting the foot down, or starting to count before the police officer tells them to can all be viewed as signs of drunkenness.

Several years ago, the Washington Post ran an article about the faulty science behind these tests that I found fascinating, as a Massachusetts OUI defense lawyer. The scientific basis of field sobriety tests lies in a 33-year-old study of how well field sobriety tests could identify blood alcohol content. That study was conducted with 238 subjects, mostly men 22-29 years old, and no control group. As the article sums up, “So hundreds of thousands of drivers have been arrested — no doubt many deservedly so — on the basis of a 30-year-old study that, critics argue, has never been published in a peer-reviewed, scientific journal, never tested on a large scale with a control group and, perhaps more astonishing, has nothing to do with actual impairment from alcohol.”

Besides the tests’ scientific faultiness, they can also falsely identify as drunk people who just have medical issues. Balance disorders affect 40% of Americans at some point in their lives, and dizziness and vertigo are the third leading cause for visits to doctors. The older you get, and the heavier you get, the worse your balance. For an aging population with a growing number of overweight and obese people, the one-leg stand test sounds like a pretty ineffective gauge of whether someone is drunk.

This is why it’s important for anyone facing OUI charges to contact a Massachusetts intoxicated driving criminal defense lawyer immediately. Experienced OUI defense attorneys know how to legally challenge unreliable field sobriety tests and get that evidence thrown out, which can get the charges dismissed or help win a not-guilty verdict. Anyone accused of a crime with serious penalties like OUI should avail themselves of the expertise of a criminal defense lawyer like Stephen Neyman.

Continue reading →

Published on:

In Marshfield, a couple with a 19-year-old son are defending themselves against charges that they allowed underage kids to consume alcoholic beverages at their home. Jeffrey and Janet Bessemer have been ordered to appear in court on misdemeanor charges of furnishing alcohol to minors and keeping a disorderly home, and violating the Massachusetts social host law. Fortunately, the case does not spring from a death or injury; police called on a noise complaint found a party at the Bessemers’ home. The Bessemers told the Quincy Patriot-Ledger that they had had their own party earlier that day, and they had neglected to put away all the leftover alcoholic beverages and shot glasses after it was over because they were tired.

Later that night, their 19-year-old son planned to have a few friends come over to meet his girlfriend, and the Bessemers said that a larger group of young adults showed up after 10 p.m. without their knowledge. Jeffrey Bessemer said that second group must have supplied the alcohol and that he wouldn’t have provided it. A neighbor called police complaining about loud music at 11:45 p.m., and when police arrived, they found both garage doors open with about 20 people hanging around there, and another 10 people inside the house. Only three of them were of legal age to drink alcohol, but police said most or all of them were holding beer containers or red plastic cups containing alcoholic beverages. There was a table in the garage holding plastic cups and a large amount of alcohol in open and closed containers, and in the kitchen police found liquor bottles and shot glasses. The Bessemers came downstairs shortly after the police arrived and told them they had been unaware that anyone was drinking. A Marshfield police officer expressed doubt about this.

Read article: Marshfield couple faces social host charges.

A few months ago, I discussed my concern that the social host law could be overzealously interpreted, and it appears that the Bessemers’ case may be an example of just that. As a Massachusetts OUI defense attorney, I would look at the situation with a more critical eye than the police officer may have used. There are a number of possible reasons why the Bessemers could have been unaware of their son’s party, even if it did generate a noise complaint. Noise complaints aren’t always reasonable, and noise can be blocked by well-insulated or large homes. The Bessemers may have trusted their son and didn’t realize that his judgment wasn’t as good as they thought.

The social host law specifies that “furnishing” alcohol means to provide it or allow its consumption on your property “knowingly and intentionally.” Proving this could be an uphill battle in this case. The Bessemers claim they didn’t do it knowingly or intentionally, if they did it at all, and there are alternative interpretations of the situation. The law absolutely should hold people responsible for their actions, but in a case like this, prosecutors and officers should investigate carefully before holding parents responsible for the actions of their adult children and those children’s friends. As a Massachusetts intoxicated driving defense attorney, I’m glad that the drinking at the Bessemers’ son’s party appears to have been harmless, and that no related drunk driving accidents were reported.

Continue reading →

Published on:

Recent articles from across the nation show a disturbing trend of allowing police to forcefully draw blood from drivers suspected of being drunk. In April, the Missouri House passed a bill allowing police in that state to draw blood without a warrant, and the Illinois legislature was considering a bill to streamline the process for obtaining warrants for forced blood draws. As a Massachusetts drunk driving defense lawyer, I think it’s important to fully think through the consequences of laws like this before enacting them.

Legislators and law enforcement personnel feel that the prospect of a forced blood draw will deter drunk drivers. “People will not drink and drive if they think they’ll have a needle stuck in their arm,” said Kane County (Ill.) State’s Attorney John Barsanti. The Illinois Secretary of State’s Office reports that about 40% of the 50,000 people charged with drunk driving in that state each year won’t submit to a Breathalyzer test, and many drivers also refuse officers’ requests for blood and urine samples. State laws often repay drivers who refuse to take a breathalyzer test by suspending their driver’s licenses, as Massachusetts does. But the lack of evidence in cases where drivers refuse to provide chemical samples makes it harder for the state to convict drivers of drunk driving. So it’s understandable that the state would see forcibly taking such evidence as a good solution to increasing their drunk driving conviction rate.

However, in my view as a Massachusetts OUI defense attorney, forcibly taking blood from drivers by the side of the road presents several legal and medical problems. The Supreme Court ruled in Schmerber v. California in 1966 that forcibly taking blood does not violate someone’s right against unreasonable searches and seizures or forced self-incrimination, even without a warrant. Even though the Schmerber court never truly addressed the case’s Fourth Amendment issues, this ruling remains the law of the land. But importantly, a physician was the one drawing the suspected drunk driver’s blood in that situation. Medical professionals spend many hours learning how to draw blood correctly. Police officers do not get that training, because it’s not part of their job — and occasionally, that lack of training causes medical problems. There has already been at least one claim that a suspect suffered persistent infection at the site of a blood draw performed by a police officer. There could also be harm to suspects who, for example, have severe hemophilia and cannot stop bleeding once their vein is punctured. A medical professional would know how to handle a situation involving this kind of special medical need, but a police officer with minimal training might not. So the practice of forcible blood draws could put suspects at unreasonable risk of harm.

Forcible blood draws also don’t even necessarily solve the state’s evidence problems. The blood test may be a more reliable indicator of blood-alcohol content than breathalyzer test results, but that’s only if the blood test procedure is followed exactly. Blood testing kits may not work correctly if they aren’t stored at the right temperature, so they can yield inaccurate results. Plus, the skin needs to be cleaned before a needle can be used to draw blood, but both alcohol and iodine, which are commonly used for this purpose, can interfere with the BAC results. And the more people who handle the blood sample, the more opportunities there are for the chain of custody to be disrupted, and the more opportunities there are for someone to do something that interferes with the accuracy of the results. These are more reasons why it seems better to leave blood draws to trained professionals, rather than requiring police to take on a job they haven’t trained for and may not want.

Continue reading →

Published on:

As a Boston drunk driving defense lawyer, I took note of a recent article in the MetroWest Daily News about an arrest warrant issued for a Framingham man charged with OUI. Elias Furtunato Dasilva, 29, did not show up for his arraignment on Tuesday, April 20, in connection with a hit-and-run car wreck that he allegedly caused the previous weekend.

2816552570_c25300d775

Dasilva was arrested on the night of Sunday, April 18, after police found him down the street from a three-car crash near Wildwood Steakhouse. According to a police report, Dasilva said that he had had three beers before getting behind the wheel of his car. He then allegedly crossed the double yellow line and hit an oncoming car. A third car was also involved in the crash. Dasilva said he ran away because he was scared, but when police found him he admitted to driving the errant car. He failed three sobriety tests, according to the police. A passenger in one of the cars was treated at Marlborough Hospital for serious injuries and released the next day. After posting $1,000 bail on Sunday night, Dasilva had been expected in Marlborough District Court on Tuesday to answer charges of driving without a license, leaving the scene of personal injury, operating under the influence and a marked lanes violation. Since he did not show up, the court issued an arrest warrant. A bail status hearing is scheduled for May 24.

Read article: Arrest warrant issued for Framingham man allegedly involved in hit-and-run.

As a Massachusetts OUI defense lawyer, I know that being involved in a car wreck and being charged with intoxicated driving is often frightening. But anyone charged with OUI is much better off engaging a Boston DUI defense attorney than leaving the scene of an accident and jumping bail. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can challenge the faulty field sobriety tests that police use as the basis for an OUI charge, for example, or challenge the validity of the original traffic stop and search. These and other defenses can lead to getting the case dismissed or winning a not-guilty verdict. The news report does not say whether the police used a breathalyzer as well as field sobriety tests, so it may be possible to call into question whether Dasilva was truly impaired. Three beers may or may not have rendered him legally impaired, with a 0.08% or higher blood-alcohol concentration.

By contrast, leaving the scene and skipping his bail puts Dasilva in a substantially worse position than he would otherwise have been in. If this was a first OUI, he could have been eligible for the 24D/alternative disposition program, which reduces the time when defendants lose a driver’s license and carries no possibility of jail. Leaving the scene and then failing to show up to court tells the court you are not responsible or remorseful, which substantially reduces your chances of getting alternative disposition or any other kind of lenient sentence. Of course, it also means more criminal charges. With jail time and hundreds of dollars in fees and fines on the line, it’s important to fight drunk driving charges the right way and with confidence, rather than compounding them with bad decisions made out of fear.

Continue reading →

Published on:

4446135487_4da59f6f2c_mBecause I’m a Massachusetts drunk driving defense attorney, I regularly follow the news about drunk driving cases, and a recent article about an alleged drunk driving case in Fall River caught my interest. Robert Rebello, 40, of Fall River, is being held in Bristol County jail because the prosecutor argued that he is too dangerous to society to be released on bail. Because Rebello had three OUI convictions from 1988, 1990, and 1996, Bristol County Judge Brian Gilligan agreed to keep him in jail pending a dangerousness hearing. At that hearing, the judge will decide whether to keep Rebello in jail until he can be tried.

Rebello was arrested at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 3, and charged with operating under the influence of alcohol. Fall River firefighters had alerted police that their fire truck was almost hit by a Toyota pickup truck, so police were looking for an erratic driver. A Massachusetts state trooper saw Rebello’s truck swerve across the road several times and pulled him over. The state trooper reported that Rebello smelled of alcohol, had glassy eyes, and slurred his speech. During a field sobriety test, he was unable to recite the alphabet. Police found several empty beer cans in the truck. He was charged with a fourth OUI, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 2.5 years and a maximum of five years.

Read article: Fall River driver held pending dangerousness hearing.

As a Massachusetts OUI defense lawyer, I think it’s important for drivers to be aware that they can be kept in jail without bail for drunk driving before they’re even convicted. Usually, judges set bail to ensure that accused drivers will appear at their next court hearings. But Massachusetts law allows judges to deny bail and keep drivers in jail until trial if they are charged with an OUI after three previous drunk driving convictions. Dangerousness hearings can be used in non-OUI cases as well, such as a recent Bridgewater case in which a man was held without bail after allegedly attacking his estranged wife with a hammer and attempting to strangle her and her father in front of her toddler. Such suspects may be kept in jail for up to 90 days before a trial must be held.

Keeping someone in jail without bail requires a dangerousness hearing, at which the judge weighs whether the person is too much of a danger to others to be allowed to go free. Defendants can be represented by an attorney at this hearing, and as a Massachusetts intoxicated driving criminal defense lawyer, I recommend it very strongly. People face serious hardships and disruptions to their lives when they are jailed for three months. Even if they wind up not being convicted of the crime, or having the charges dismissed, being kept in jail for 90 days could cause them to lose a job. If people in this position have children or pets, who would take care of them during this period? Keeping up with financial obligations like rent or mortgage payments while in jail and unable to work could be pretty difficult as well. That’s why it’s essential to mount the best defense you can at any dangerousness hearing.

Continue reading →

Published on:

539wAs a Massachusetts intoxicated driving criminal defense attorney, I was saddened to read about an accident in Lynn that took a young woman’s life. Julie Gauthier, 19 and of Salem, died March 21 while her allegedly drunk boyfriend was driving her home from a party. Christopher Maxson of Marblehead, also 19, is accused of drinking before he ran two stop signs, hit another vehicle and collided with three parked cars before overturning and hitting a fourth. Gauthier was ejected from the vehicle’s sunroof and died at the scene, while Maxson and two other passengers sustained only minor injuries. The Boston Globe reported March 23 that Maxson has pleaded not guilty to motor vehicle homicide while operating under the influence.

Lynn police and school authorities highlighted the fatal accident when they began speaking to parents about the importance of safety during the school district’s upcoming proms. The Daily Item of Lynn reported March 31 that authorities held the first of three Parent Prom Safety Information Nights at Lynn Classical on March 25. Just four days after the crash, police officers emphasized that it could have happened to anyone — even kids who weren’t drinking or doing drugs. Police officers who spoke said prom is a time for students to make wise decisions, and emphasized the dangers of drinking and driving.

But a local prosecutor also emphasized the Commonwealth’s “social host” laws. Enacted in 1998 after a fatal OUI accident, social host laws penalize people who provide alcohol to minors. In fact, the prosecutor said, parents don’t need to have bought the alcohol themselves, or even be home, to be criminally prosecuted for knowingly allowing kids to drink alcohol under their roofs. If convicted of furnishing alcohol to a minor, parents and others face up to a year in jail, a fine of up to $2,000 or both. And regardless of whether they are convicted, the presentation said, they can also be sued in civil court, an expensive and emotionally difficult prospect even if they win the case.

As a Massachusetts OUI criminal defense lawyer, I’d like to discuss this law further, because it allows criminal prosecution in several situations that most people would not consider criminal. Parents are allowed to serve their own minor children alcohol in Massachusetts, but under the social host law, they may not furnish alcohol to other minors. Nor may they knowingly allow their minor children to furnish alcohol to other minors. The definition of “furnish” includes intentionally allowing someone under 21 to have alcohol on property under your control. An overzealous prosecutor could interpret this as allowing criminal charges for parents whose teenagers get into alcohol left in plain view, even when they didn’t expect or give permission for their kids to drink it. In cases where the parent can prove they didn’t provide the alcohol themselves, teenagers can still be criminally charged for giving alcohol to their friends.

The social host law can be used even when there was no car crash or other harm from the drinking. That means parents can be criminally penalized for doing something that’s no big deal in most other Western nations — allowing a young adult to have a drink with dinner. As a Massachusetts drunk driving criminal defense attorney, I know very well that drinking and driving can have life-altering or even fatal consequences. As prom season approaches, teenagers and parents should remember that. But the social host law applies to any situation in which a minor under 21 is given alcohol — not just dangerous drunk-driving situations. Safe, responsible drinking by someone who just happens to be under 21 shouldn’t expose a teenager — or a parent — to a criminal record.

Continue reading →

Published on:

One young man from Norwell is dead and another faces prison after a bad drunk driving accident, the Quincy Patriot Ledger reported March 9. Ryan O’Donnell, 18, was killed in a rollover crash in Norwell March 7. He was a passenger in a vehicle driven by a friend and former classmate, William Ecclestone, also 18 and from Norwell. Ecclestone is accused of being intoxicated when he drove his car into a tree, causing it to roll over. Ecclestone suffered minor injuries and was able to leave the vehicle on his own, but O’Donnell died at the hospital of his injuries. Police say Ecclestone showed signs of intoxication and failed a sobriety test. He is charged with motor vehicle manslaughter, vehicular homicide by negligent driving, OUI, reckless driving, speeding and leaving a marked lane.

This terrible accident caught my attention, as a Massachusetts intoxicated driving defense attorney, because the crash was very serious, but also because the young men were friends who had graduated from the same small, close-knit high school. I was interested to see a related opinion piece written by another 2009 graduate of Norwell High School, Nicholas Russo, who is now at Lyndon State College in Vermont. Russo said the high school had staged a mock crash when they were seniors, which was “a carbon copy” of the one that took O’Donnell’s life. The students watched as firefighters worked to free students from the mock crash and took one away in a body bag, while the student’s father watched. Afterward, he said, students swore to an adviser that they couldn’t imagine driving drunk after seeing that.

Russo suspected at the time that this was not true — and less than a year later, he has some evidence that he was right. Too many people think it can’t happen to them, he wrote. He ended the article by asking readers to remember that there are permanent consequences to driving drunk.

As a Massachusetts OUI criminal defense lawyer, I’m afraid Russo is probably right. It doesn’t take a scientist to realize that people won’t stop doing something just because they know it’s not safe — for example, smoking. But there’s a second side to these mock crashes that students don’t see much of, and that’s the fact that drunk driving is a crime. Police officers may “arrest” the driver in the mock crash at the scene, but it’s difficult to drive home the seriousness of the consequences that driver would face. To do that, you have to think about the driver’s experience as he or she moves through the criminal justice system.

In the crash that killed O’Donnell, Ecclestone is facing multiple charges. A charge of felony motor vehicle homicide carries up to 15 years in prison, with a mandatory minimum of 1 year. A charge of vehicular manslaughter with OUI, which is less common, carries a mandatory minimum of five years and up to 20. A conviction may also mean driver’s license revocation for life. His future plans may grind to a halt at the age of 18. All of this is on top of living with the knowledge that his actions are responsible for his friend’s death. If you’re facing charges this serious, you need to speak to an experienced Massachusetts drunk driving defense lawyer right away.

Continue reading →