Massachusetts’ highest court the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) issued a major new decision on Wednesday that will impact 27,000 people who either entered a plea for or were convicted of operating under the influence (OUI). This ruling makes it significantly easier for people who plead out or were convicted on the basis of a breath test conducted between June 1, 2011 and April 18, 2019 to be successful on a motion for a new trial or a motion to withdraw their guilty plea.
What is the SJC’s ruling?
The SJC held that because of misconduct by the Office of Alcohol Testing (a division of the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory), the constitutional rights of about 27,000 people who plead guilty to an OUI offense or were convicted after trial have been violated. Because of this, anyone who was convicted due to breath test results from a breath test machine called Alcotest 9510 between June 1, 2011 and April 18, 2019 is entitled to “a conclusive presumption of egregious government misconduct.”
What does a conclusive presumption of egregious government misconduct mean? It has to do with the standard used to decide whether or not a motion for a new trial or to withdraw a guilty plea should be allowed. A person isn’t allowed to challenge their conviction on this basis unless the government misconduct is so egregious that it makes a guilty plea involuntary. This is proven when these two facts are true:
- First, egregious government conduct happened before the defendant plead guilty
- Second, the misconduct influenced the defendant to plead guilty
So, because defendants are entitled to “a conclusive presumption of egregious government misconduct” if they were convicted at any point between the above dates due to breath test results from the Alcotest 9510, they do not have to prove the first fact. They will only need to establish that the misconduct influenced their decision to plead guilty.
What does it mean to be “influenced” to plead guilty?
The best way to explain what the Court means by “influenced their decision to plead guilty” is to explain the case that was up for review before the SJC. In this case, a woman named Lindsay admitted to “sufficient facts” that she was guilty of a second offense operating OUI-liquor occurring in November 2013.
Lindsay decided to plea out because there was evidence that she took a breath test and blew 0.23%. This is well above the legal limit of .08%. Her attorney advised her that she would not be able to win her case and that a plea was the wisest option. She followed his advice and was convicted. The SJC found that this was enough to establish the second fact that she was influenced and that she should be allowed to withdraw her guilty plea.
What was the misconduct?
The misconduct that led to this decision came from an investigation in 2019 discovering that the breathalyzer machines used in Massachusetts were not being calibrated properly. The Office of Alcohol Testing tried to cover this fact up and was not truthful about the rate at which these machines fail. Because of this, the test results were flawed. There was much litigation surrounding this scandal. For a while, it led to most district attorneys in Massachusetts to stop using breathalyzer test results all together in criminal cases.
What should I do if the ruling applies to me?
If you were convicted or admitted to sufficient facts for a conviction of OUI between June 1, 2011 and April 18, 2019based on breath test results, you may consider if retrying the case is in your best interest.
IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE ARE CHARGED WITH AN OUI OR HAVE BEEN CONVICTED OF ONE WRONGFULLY, AND YOU NEED AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER WORKING ON YOUR SIDE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WILLIAM J. BARABINO.
CALL 781-393-5900 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR AVAILABLE DEFENSES.