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Appeals Court Reverses Defendant’s OUI Conviction Due to Improper Admission of Breath Test Refusal and OAS Conviction Due to Insufficient Evidence

1174747_by_a_beerIn Commonwealth v. Cueva, the Appeals Court (1) reversed the defendant’s conviction of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, third offense, because the judge erroneously admitted unredacted Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) records “contain[ing] multiple references to [the defendant’s] refusal to submit to a chemical test,” and (2) reversed the defendant’s conviction of operating a motor vehicle after license suspension as a result of a prior OUI conviction, because the evidence was insufficient to prove that he had notice that his license had been suspended.

The background was as follows. On August 28, 2015, Officer Launie was stopped in traffic behind the defendant’s vehicle in Revere. “After a few minutes, the defendant pulled out of the lane of traffic onto the sidewalk and drove” 200 feet. “Launie activated his emergency lights and followed the defendant,” who then pulled over in a parking lot. Launie approached the defendant’s vehicle and requested his license and registration. The officer “smelled the odor of alcohol and noticed that the defendant’s movements were slow” and “that his eyes appeared glassy and bloodshot. Suspecting that the defendant had been driving while under the influence of alcohol,” Launie “asked him to step out of the vehicle and perform certain tasks.” As a result of the defendant’s inability to perform the tasks, “Launie formed the opinion that [he] was under the influence of alcohol and placed him under arrest” for operating under the influence. At trial, the prosecutor introduced a certified copy of a District Court criminal docket sheet showing that in January, 2015, seven months before the incident in this case, the defendant had pleaded guilty to OUI, as a result of which his license was suspended for two years. The prosecutor also introduced a copy of the defendant’s RMV records, which included copies of six letters to the defendant…. One of the letters, dated August 31, 2015 — three days after the defendant’s arrest in this case — stated, ‘You are hereby notified that effective 08/28/15, your license/right to operate a motor vehicle is suspended for [three] years for CHEM TEST REFUSAL, pursuant to [G.L. c.90, §24(l)(f)(l)].’ The letter specified that the ‘CHEM TEST REFUSAL,’ described as an ‘offense,’ occurred on August 28, 2015, in Revere (the date and location of the OUI offense at issue here)…. Of the remaining five letters, three concerned the revocation or suspension of the defendant’s license on prior occasions for a ‘CHEM TEST REFUSAL.’” On appeal from his convictions, “[t]he defendant argue[d] that evidence of his refusal to submit to a ‘CHEM TEST’ violated his right against self-incrimination.” In addition, he contended that the Commonwealth failed to prove that on August 28, 2015, he was aware that his license had been suspended.

In its decision, the Appeals Court agreed with both of the defendant’s arguments. Regarding the references to “CHEM TEST REFUSAL” in the RMV records, the Court cited the line of cases establishing “‘the proposition that refusal evidence is testimonial in nature and that its admission violates the privilege against self-incrimination under [art. 12 of the Massachusetts] Declaration of Rights….’ [Commonwealth v.] Ranieri, [65 Mass. App. Ct. 366,] 371 [2006].” “The admission of the RMV records without redaction of … all references to the defendant’s refusals to submit to a chemical test was, therefore, error.”

Regarding the notice issue, the Appeals Court stated, “[W]e cannot conclude that the docket sheet from the defendant’s guilty plea to OUI in January of 2015 is sufficient to establish that the defendant knew his license was suspended when he was stopped seven months later in August.” Moreover, “there was no evidence to prove the RMV’s proper mailing” of a notice of suspension to the defendant.

OUI charges, and related offenses, are serious and have many severe consequences – including mandatory minimum time in certain cases, and license suspension.  If you or a loved on is charged with OUI or a related offense it is of critical importance that you have an attorney who is extremely experienced with this type of criminal charge and who will provide you with the best defense possible.  Attorney Daniel Cappetta has successfully represented many clients charged with OUI and related offenses.  Call him today for a free consultation.

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