August 2011 Archives

Dedham Police Make OUI Arrest after Following Anti-Freeze from Accident Scene

Antifreeze leak-resized-600.jpg.pngThe Dedham Police were alerted by witnesses to a hit and run accident last Wednesday, and later arrested Ms. Kaitlyn Crowley for operating under the influence of alcohol. According to the Patch article, the witnesses told the police that Ms. Crowley's car hit a fence on Central Avenue and left the scene. Apparently the vehicle left a one and a half mile trail of anti-freeze right to Ms. Crowley's driveway off Smith Circle in Dedham, where the police found the car with front end damage.

The article says that the police "administered a field sobriety test, which she allegedly failed." It also says that the police did not provide information "on what spurred police to give the sobriety test." (I'm sure this was the result of an alleged "odor of alcohol.") As a result of their investigation, the Dedham Police charged Ms. Crowley with leaving the scene of an accident after causing property damage and operating under the influence of alcohol. By now she has been arraigned in the Dedham District Court.

In addition to the unusual circumstance of police following a trail of engine coolant, this short story is interesting because it illustrates some potential legal issues which, no doubt, will be hashed out in the Dedham District Court.

1. What did the witnesses see?
Although the article says that the witnesses told police that Ms. Crowley drove into the fence, further investigation may reveal that they saw a car hit the fence, and gave the Dedham Police the license plate number. This is important because in order to be convicted of either charge, the prosecution must prove "operation" beyond a reasonable doubt. Just because she owned the car, does not necessarily prove that Ms. Crowley was driving it when it hit the fence. Whether the witnesses are able to identify Ms. Crowley as the driver, therefore, may be a contested issue. (Incidentally, if the police had the plate number, they would not have needed the coolant trail; they could have found Ms. Crowley's residence with their Mobile Data Terminal.)

2. What did Ms. Crowley say?
If Ms. Crowley made admissible statements to the police that she had been driving, there will be no real contest on the issue of operation. The fact that she agreed to perform a field sobriety test implies that this may be the case. However, when a defendant's incriminating statements are part of the prosecution's case, an expert defense attorney will evaluate the possibility of a Motion to Suppress those statements. For example, if Ms. Crowley had been in custody while answering questions, the absence of Miranda warnings ("You have the right to remain silent . . .") should result in an order deeming the statements inadmissible at trial.

3. Is there sufficient evidence of impaired driving?
Even if the prosecution has evidence that Ms. Crowley was behind the wheel, knowingly hit the fence, and went home without reporting it, there may be insufficient proof of alcohol impairment to sustain the charge of operating under the influence. Hitting the fence is surely a significant obstacle to be overcome in this regard, but the article hints that there may not be a lot more. First, it says she took "a" field sobriety test. The police usually ask for at least three. Moreover, it would be helpful to know which one she took, and how badly she allegedly failed it. Second, these articles usually make it a point to describe the results of breathalyzer tests. The absence of this information may mean that Ms. Crowley did not take the test at all. While there are negative consequences involved with refusing the breath test, the lack of a reading is a net positive when it comes to defending this charge.

4. How long had Ms. Crowley been home?
The longer she had been home before the police arrived, the more difficult it will be for the prosecution to prove that she was intoxicated at the time she was driving. For a conviction, the evidence of impairment and driving must be connected in time. If for example, she were impaired at the time of the sobriety test because she had a drink after arriving at home, the connection is in doubt.

All in all, there seems to be some significant issues to work with in Ms. Crowley's defense.

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Wrentham District Court Arraigns Foxboro Man Involved in Alleged OUI Crash Causing Serious Injuries

cuffs.jpgFoxboro Police responded to a single car crash on Elm Street early Sunday morning to find that Shane McCarthy had been thrown from the wreck and seriously injured. He was taken to Providence Hospital and induced into a coma. The driver, 20 year-old Edward Ryan, suffered only minor injuries, but was taken to Norwood Hospital in the custody of the Foxboro Police.

According to an article in the Sun Chronicle, Ryan took and failed a portable breath test and the Foxboro Police arrested him on the scene. The breath test reading was 0.192. (For drivers under the age of 21 a reading of .02 or above is considered a failure). The following day, Ryan was arraigned in the Wrentham District Court on charges of Operating Under the Influence of Alcohol, Operating Under the Influence and Causing Serious Bodily Injury, and Negligent Operation.

Mr. Ryan is in particular need of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Besides having a car accident that seriously injured a friend, he must now combat some weighty criminal charges. The fact that he had a car accident at 4:00 a.m., and had consumed alcohol even though he was under the legal drinking age are serious obstacles to overcome.

An accident has varied implications in drunk driving cases. One may tend to believe that it is indicative of alcohol impairment. On the other hand, one's performance on field sobriety tests after such a trauma will be significantly skewed. The article does not mention any such tests. As for the portable breath test, the results may provide probable cause to arrest, but they are not admissible in court at trial. Since the article does not refer to an admissible breath test, it does not appear that the prosecution will have admissible evidence of blood alcohol levels unless blood was drawn at the hospital. It is likely that other facts exist that may be utilized in favor of the defense.

The most formidable charge Ryan faces is "Serious Bodily Injury by Motor Vehicle While Under the Influence of Intoxicating Substances." This crime is set forth in Chapter 90 section 24L of the Massachusetts General Laws. This section makes a distinction between OUI/Serious Injury and OUI/Serious while operating recklessly. It appears that the Foxboro Police charged Mr. Ryan with the latter more serious charge. This charge is a felony and carries a potential state prison sentence of not less than 2 1/2 years and not more than 10 years. There is a county jail alternative of not less than 6 months and not more than 2 1/2 years. This is a mandatory minimum 6 months of incarceration. In such circumstances it is possible to negotiate an amendment to the lesser charge which does not carry a mandatory sentence. After all, an accident in and of itself is not proof of recklessness and there does not appear to be any independent evidence of such driving.

Although it is not likely to be foremost on Mr. Ryan's mind at this stage, the potential loss of license is substantial. This is due to the charges and his age. Underage drivers are subject to enhanced penalties in OUI cases. If the lack of a breath test result is because he refused it, the loss of license is 3 years. A conviction on the OUI/Serious Injury charge will result in an additional 2 years loss of license.

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