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By Darren Griffis 06 Nov, 2017

In a decision that will significantly impact the evidence that can be used against defendants charged with driving under the influence of marijuana (or, as they say in Massachusetts, operating under the influence or “OUI”), The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently restricted the extent to which field sobriety tests (FSTs) can be used as evidence of marijuana intoxication at trial. In Massachusetts, if a defendant is charged with OUI for allegedly being under the influence of alcohol, a police officer can testify about the person’s level of intoxication based on how they perform on the FSTs. However, the Court found that police officers may not use their observations of a defendant’s performance on these tests as a basis for drawing a conclusion about whether the defendant was under the influence of marijuana.

The case, Commonwealth v. Gerhardt , stems from a 2013 traffic stop in which the defendant, Thomas Gerhardt, allegedly “failed” multiple FSTs after being pulled over by a state trooper. Based on the defendant’s inability to adequately perform the tasks involved in these FSTs, the officer testified that he came to the conclusion that the defendant was “high” after smoking marijuana. Mr. Gerhardt’s attorney argued that such tests were designed to test one’s alcohol intoxication level and that they do not directly translate to the context of marijuana use. Fortunately for Mr. Gerhardt, the SJC agreed with that argument.

 While standard FSTs are generally accepted by courts as reliable representations of a person’s intoxication from alcohol consumption, there is no scientific consensus about whether the tests are indicative of marijuana impairment. According to the SJC’s decision in Gerhardt , scientists have found that, unlike alcohol, which has a relatively predictable effect on most people, marijuana can affect different people in vastly different ways. Because of this variation, the court concluded that the FSTs do not necessarily predict whether a defendant is under the influence of marijuana. Thus, the court concluded that an officer may only testify as to his or her observations of a defendant’s performance on the tests and not about whether he or she concluded that a defendant was under the influence of marijuana based on the defendant’s ability to complete the administered tasks. 

Furthermore, after the court’s decision in Gerhardt , an officer may not testify that a defendant “passed” or “failed” any FST, since that language “improperly implies that the FST is a definitive test of marijuana use or impairment.” The court also instructed that officers should avoid calling the FSTs “tests” in these types of cases and should instead refer to the tests as “roadside assessments” to prevent a jury from impropely jumping to a conclusion that the tests are scientific evidence of a defendant’s sobriety or intoxication. Finally, the court included model jury instructions for future trials that will tell juries that evidence of performance on FSTs alone is not sufficient to support a finding that a defendant’s ability to drive safely was impaired due to the consumption of marijuana.

If you are facing criminal charges, including charges that you drove a car while under the influence of marijiuana, please contact James Gribouski or Darren Griffis at Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouski for more information about how they can put their legal knowledge to work for you.

By Darren Griffis 23 Oct, 2017

In a landmark recent decision, Brangan v. Commonwealth , the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that judges must take a defendant’s financial resources into consideration when setting bail in a criminal case. Moreover, the SJC made it clear that, where the amount of bail appears to exceed a defendant’s financial resources, a judge must provide written or oral findings of fact and a statement of reasons for the bail decision.

This ruling is the result of a challenge to a lower court’s refusal to lower a $50,000 cash bail for a defendant who was confined for three-and-a-half years in Hampden County pending armed robbery charges. In reversing the Superior Court’s denials of the defendant’s requests for a lower bail, the SJC ruled that the judges failed to properly account for the defendant’s financial resources when in setting the amount of bail in the case.

According to the court, judges violate defendants’ due process and equal protection rights when they set bail amounts that have the effect of confining indigent defendants while charges are pending without regard for their financial constraints. Defendants who cannot afford to post bail suffer a loss of liberty during a period when they are supposed to enjoy a presumption of innocence and also lose the ability to fully participate in the preparation of their defense. While the court unfortunately stopped short of requiring judges to set a bail in an amount a defendant can afford, the decision in Brangan made it clear that judges must more clearly delineate the reasons for setting a bail that a defendant will not be able to pay.

Although judges were already required to consider a defendant’s financial resources in setting bail, this ruling should require judges to more carefully weigh that particular consideration, as well as requires judges to provide a statement of reasons when the bail amount exceeds the defendant’s resources.

If you are facing criminal charges, please contact James Gribouski and Darren Griffis at Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouski for more information about how they can put their legal expertise to work for you.


By Darren Griffis 23 Oct, 2017

In August, Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (the “EOPSS”) launched an investigation into the Office of Alcohol Testing (the “OAT”), the agency responsible for ensuring the reliability of breath test machines used by police officers in drunk driving investigations. The EOPSS recently released its summary of that investigation, which concluded that the OAT systematically withheld documents from defense attorneys during the pendency of a lawsuit challenging the reliability of breathalyzer test results because of an “unwritten policy not to turn these documents over to any requester.”  The documents that were withheld contained evidence that some of the breathalyzer machines were not properly calibrated during the process used to certify the devices.  

As a result of the investigation, the head of the OAT was fired. The EOPSS report laid the blame for the failure to provide the potentially exculpatory evidence squarely on the leadership of OAT, concluding that the agency committed “serious errors of judgment in its responses to court-ordered discovery, errors which were enabled by a longstanding and insular institutional culture that was reflexively guarded . . . and which was inattentive to the legal obligations borne by those whose work facilitates criminal prosecutions.” OAT’s failure to turn over documents allowed prosecutors handling the cases in which defense attorneys were challenging the breath test machines’ reliability to incorrectly represent that the state had complied with its discovery obligations.

Questions about the reliability of the particular breathalyzer (the Draeger 9510) were initially raised in 2015, but were ultimately dismissed by prosecutors, who maintained that any flaws in test results were because of mistakes made by officers in calibrating the machines and not because the machines themselves were malfunctioning. Defense attorneys again raised suspicions about the tests in July after a judge ordered the State to hand over roughly 400 worksheets that accompany breathalyzer calibration checks performed by state chemists, which had strangely not been disclosed by the State. When the missing worksheets were finally turned over, defense attorneys discovered that they documented serious flaws with the results that OAT obtained during the certification process.

The investigation raises series questions about over 58,000 drunk-driving prosecutions in which the Draeger 9510 machines were used. These cases date back to 2011 that and could impact more than 750 defendants over that time period.  A further hearing on the problems with the breath test machines is scheduled for mid-November.

Massachusetts has been involved in a series of scandals involving state laboratories’ failure to properly maintain and analyze evidence. The convictions of two state chemists, Annie Dookhan and Sonia Farak, resulted in the dismissal of more than 21,000 charges against defendants who had drug cases. This investigation by EOPSS and the ongoing litigation regarding the state’s use of the breathalyzer machines is especially critical given that the OAT is the only agency in the state that performs scientific testing that is not audited by an independent accrediting organization.

If you pleaded guilty to, or were convicted of, driving under the influence of alcohol or OUI as the result of breath test results, you may have grounds to challenge your conviction. Although this post does not constitute legal advice, you should contact Attorneys James Gribouski and Darren Griffis at Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouski to find out whether your case may be impacted by the pending investigation.

By gskandg 27 Sep, 2017
Operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OUI) is a serious offense no matter where you live. But in Massachusetts, the repercussions you may face if you are convicted of this offense can be particularly harsh. A first conviction can get you up to two-and-a-half years in jail, a year-long driver’s license suspension, and […]
By gskandg 28 Aug, 2017
If you have had any contact with the criminal justice system in Massachusetts, you know that it can seem like criminal charges cast a persistent shadow over many areas of your life, affecting your employment prospects, your ability to secure housing, and many other aspects of life.  This is likely true if you were convicted […]
By gskandg 09 Aug, 2017
On Tuesday, August 8, 2017, GSK&G attorneys Alex Mooradian and Darren Griffis spoke at an event hosted by the Latino Education Institute at Worcester State University.  Mooradian and Griffis, along with Elizabeth Ahmadi of Ascentria Care Alliance, gave a presentation that touched on a number of immigration and criminal law issues that are of growing […]
By Terrence Rubino 07 Oct, 2015
James J. Gribouski has become a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, one of the premier legal associations in North America. The induction ceremony at which Attorney Gribouski became a Fellow took place recently before an audience of approximately 900 persons during the recent 2015 Annual Meeting of the College in Chicago, Illinois. […]
By Terrence Rubino 30 Sep, 2015
 Below are multiple resources that are available either online or here in Worcester that will provide practical assistance in reaching your goal of becoming a U.S. Citizen.  Of course, while you acquire this knowledge for the part of the process you can control, it is always best to contact an attorney regarding your eligibility for naturalization and regarding the application itself.
By Terrence Rubino 23 Sep, 2015
Zoning may serve as an intermediary between eager horticulture enthusiasts and skeptical property owners and residents in urban areas.  Because of some of the risks, or perceived nuisances, created by urban agriculture, the vast majority of American cities and towns set limits on urban agriculture through their respective zoning codes.  Zoning dates back to the early 1900s, as local governments tried to ensure that humans and industry could comfortably coexist in rapidly urbanizing areas.[32]  Many cities created restrictions by “use,” which prevented the mixing of different land uses, such as residential, commercial, and industrial.[33]  When property owners challenged such restrictions on their property in the case of Village of Euclid v. Amber Realty Co., the Supreme Court held that municipal planning is a constitutional use of state police powers.[34] 
By Terrence Rubino 22 Sep, 2015
The judiciary has developed precedent that deals with the harmful outcomes of security programs disproportionately affecting immigrants in our society.  In particular, the common law has dealt with deprivations imposed by the government.
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GSK&G Legal News

By Darren Griffis 06 Nov, 2017

In a decision that will significantly impact the evidence that can be used against defendants charged with driving under the influence of marijuana (or, as they say in Massachusetts, operating under the influence or “OUI”), The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently restricted the extent to which field sobriety tests (FSTs) can be used as evidence of marijuana intoxication at trial. In Massachusetts, if a defendant is charged with OUI for allegedly being under the influence of alcohol, a police officer can testify about the person’s level of intoxication based on how they perform on the FSTs. However, the Court found that police officers may not use their observations of a defendant’s performance on these tests as a basis for drawing a conclusion about whether the defendant was under the influence of marijuana.

The case, Commonwealth v. Gerhardt , stems from a 2013 traffic stop in which the defendant, Thomas Gerhardt, allegedly “failed” multiple FSTs after being pulled over by a state trooper. Based on the defendant’s inability to adequately perform the tasks involved in these FSTs, the officer testified that he came to the conclusion that the defendant was “high” after smoking marijuana. Mr. Gerhardt’s attorney argued that such tests were designed to test one’s alcohol intoxication level and that they do not directly translate to the context of marijuana use. Fortunately for Mr. Gerhardt, the SJC agreed with that argument.

 While standard FSTs are generally accepted by courts as reliable representations of a person’s intoxication from alcohol consumption, there is no scientific consensus about whether the tests are indicative of marijuana impairment. According to the SJC’s decision in Gerhardt , scientists have found that, unlike alcohol, which has a relatively predictable effect on most people, marijuana can affect different people in vastly different ways. Because of this variation, the court concluded that the FSTs do not necessarily predict whether a defendant is under the influence of marijuana. Thus, the court concluded that an officer may only testify as to his or her observations of a defendant’s performance on the tests and not about whether he or she concluded that a defendant was under the influence of marijuana based on the defendant’s ability to complete the administered tasks. 

Furthermore, after the court’s decision in Gerhardt , an officer may not testify that a defendant “passed” or “failed” any FST, since that language “improperly implies that the FST is a definitive test of marijuana use or impairment.” The court also instructed that officers should avoid calling the FSTs “tests” in these types of cases and should instead refer to the tests as “roadside assessments” to prevent a jury from impropely jumping to a conclusion that the tests are scientific evidence of a defendant’s sobriety or intoxication. Finally, the court included model jury instructions for future trials that will tell juries that evidence of performance on FSTs alone is not sufficient to support a finding that a defendant’s ability to drive safely was impaired due to the consumption of marijuana.

If you are facing criminal charges, including charges that you drove a car while under the influence of marijiuana, please contact James Gribouski or Darren Griffis at Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouski for more information about how they can put their legal knowledge to work for you.

By Darren Griffis 23 Oct, 2017

In a landmark recent decision, Brangan v. Commonwealth , the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that judges must take a defendant’s financial resources into consideration when setting bail in a criminal case. Moreover, the SJC made it clear that, where the amount of bail appears to exceed a defendant’s financial resources, a judge must provide written or oral findings of fact and a statement of reasons for the bail decision.

This ruling is the result of a challenge to a lower court’s refusal to lower a $50,000 cash bail for a defendant who was confined for three-and-a-half years in Hampden County pending armed robbery charges. In reversing the Superior Court’s denials of the defendant’s requests for a lower bail, the SJC ruled that the judges failed to properly account for the defendant’s financial resources when in setting the amount of bail in the case.

According to the court, judges violate defendants’ due process and equal protection rights when they set bail amounts that have the effect of confining indigent defendants while charges are pending without regard for their financial constraints. Defendants who cannot afford to post bail suffer a loss of liberty during a period when they are supposed to enjoy a presumption of innocence and also lose the ability to fully participate in the preparation of their defense. While the court unfortunately stopped short of requiring judges to set a bail in an amount a defendant can afford, the decision in Brangan made it clear that judges must more clearly delineate the reasons for setting a bail that a defendant will not be able to pay.

Although judges were already required to consider a defendant’s financial resources in setting bail, this ruling should require judges to more carefully weigh that particular consideration, as well as requires judges to provide a statement of reasons when the bail amount exceeds the defendant’s resources.

If you are facing criminal charges, please contact James Gribouski and Darren Griffis at Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouski for more information about how they can put their legal expertise to work for you.


By Darren Griffis 23 Oct, 2017

In August, Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (the “EOPSS”) launched an investigation into the Office of Alcohol Testing (the “OAT”), the agency responsible for ensuring the reliability of breath test machines used by police officers in drunk driving investigations. The EOPSS recently released its summary of that investigation, which concluded that the OAT systematically withheld documents from defense attorneys during the pendency of a lawsuit challenging the reliability of breathalyzer test results because of an “unwritten policy not to turn these documents over to any requester.”  The documents that were withheld contained evidence that some of the breathalyzer machines were not properly calibrated during the process used to certify the devices.  

As a result of the investigation, the head of the OAT was fired. The EOPSS report laid the blame for the failure to provide the potentially exculpatory evidence squarely on the leadership of OAT, concluding that the agency committed “serious errors of judgment in its responses to court-ordered discovery, errors which were enabled by a longstanding and insular institutional culture that was reflexively guarded . . . and which was inattentive to the legal obligations borne by those whose work facilitates criminal prosecutions.” OAT’s failure to turn over documents allowed prosecutors handling the cases in which defense attorneys were challenging the breath test machines’ reliability to incorrectly represent that the state had complied with its discovery obligations.

Questions about the reliability of the particular breathalyzer (the Draeger 9510) were initially raised in 2015, but were ultimately dismissed by prosecutors, who maintained that any flaws in test results were because of mistakes made by officers in calibrating the machines and not because the machines themselves were malfunctioning. Defense attorneys again raised suspicions about the tests in July after a judge ordered the State to hand over roughly 400 worksheets that accompany breathalyzer calibration checks performed by state chemists, which had strangely not been disclosed by the State. When the missing worksheets were finally turned over, defense attorneys discovered that they documented serious flaws with the results that OAT obtained during the certification process.

The investigation raises series questions about over 58,000 drunk-driving prosecutions in which the Draeger 9510 machines were used. These cases date back to 2011 that and could impact more than 750 defendants over that time period.  A further hearing on the problems with the breath test machines is scheduled for mid-November.

Massachusetts has been involved in a series of scandals involving state laboratories’ failure to properly maintain and analyze evidence. The convictions of two state chemists, Annie Dookhan and Sonia Farak, resulted in the dismissal of more than 21,000 charges against defendants who had drug cases. This investigation by EOPSS and the ongoing litigation regarding the state’s use of the breathalyzer machines is especially critical given that the OAT is the only agency in the state that performs scientific testing that is not audited by an independent accrediting organization.

If you pleaded guilty to, or were convicted of, driving under the influence of alcohol or OUI as the result of breath test results, you may have grounds to challenge your conviction. Although this post does not constitute legal advice, you should contact Attorneys James Gribouski and Darren Griffis at Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouski to find out whether your case may be impacted by the pending investigation.

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