The 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.