In a recent press conference, Massachusetts State Police stated their drunk driving arrests increased over 30% from 2011 to 2012 – 3,728 to 4,866 respectively. Overall conviction rates, however, are 42% with jury trials and 14% with bench trials according to a recent 148-page report by Jack Cinquegrana, special counsel commissioned by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to investigate operating under the influence (OUI) acquittal rates.
As opposed to assuming that those charged, but not convicted of OUI were in fact not guilty, that the judicial system was working and the constitution was being upheld, the report made suggestions on how to get the guilty verdict and/or punish those who refuse the breath test even if they are acquitted including tougher laws and changes in courtroom policy. One recommendation was to prevent a person from getting their license back if they refused the breath test but are acquitted – currently, a person who refuses is allowed to get their license back if they are acquitted. Another recommended change was to force the defendant to choose a jury or a bench trial earlier in the process as opposed to the day of trial to prevent what they referred to as ”judge shopping.”
As one of the attorneys interviewed by Cinquegrana, Stephen L. Jones opposed some of the recommendations. The refusal related license losses are so long, it is virtually forcing people to take the test. If someone is ultimately acquitted of OUI, do the penalties fit the crime? The current penalty for refusing to take the breath test under Melanie’s Law is six months for a first offender, three years for a second offender and life for a fourth time offender.
Also, requiring a defendant to decide whether to waive his right to a jury early in the process without knowing which judge would hear the case would make it almost impossible to recommend that a client choose a bench trial.
Have a DUI/DWI/OUI related question? Stephen L. Jones is available 24-hours a day. Please call: (617) 851-7153