The state’s highest court on Tuesday limited which evidence can be used to prosecute drivers suspected of operating under the influence of marijuana, handing a victory to civil rights advocates in a closely watched case.
Under a unanimous ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court, Massachusetts police officers can no longer cite their subjective on-scene observations or sobriety tests to conclude in court testimony that a driver was under the influence of marijuana.In limiting the use of the familiar roadside tests designed to provide an approximate measure of drunkenness — walking in a straight line, standing on one foot, and so on — the court found there is no scientific consensus those tests definitively prove someone is intoxicated by marijuana.
The judges also noted the effects of marijuana on its users are more complex than of alcohol and less obviously correlated to the amount consumed, making it difficult for untrained observers to know whether someone is high.
“Because the effects of marijuana may vary greatly from one individual to another, and those effects are as yet not commonly known,” the court said, “neither a police officer nor a lay witness who has not been qualified as an expert may offer an opinion as to whether a driver was under the influence of marijuana.”
Police officers can still arrest drivers they suspect are high and describe in court how the drivers behaved during the roadside tests. For example, an officer could tell a jury a driver was unable to walk in a straight line. But under the ruling, the officer could not describe the task as a “test” or say the driver “failed” it.
Similarly, an officer could tell a jury that a driver smelled strongly of marijuana and seemed confused but could not use such observations to conclude the driver was high
The defendant in the case is Thomas Gerhardt, who was stopped in Millbury in February 2013 by a State Police trooper for allegedly driving with his lights off, according to a statement of facts agreed to by both sides in the case.
The trooper testified that he saw smoke inside the vehicle and smelled marijuana and that Gerhardt acknowledged smoking about a gram of marijuana. Gerhardt was unable to properly do the “walk-and-turn” test, the trooper said, and struggled to stand on one foot.
The case has not yet gone to trial, amid legal wrangling over which evidence can be admitted.
Rebecca Jacobstein, Gerhardt’s attorney, called the ruling a victory over “junk science.”
“The big take-away here is that for the government to introduce something as science, it actually has to be science,” Jacobstein said.
The decision, she argued, does not make it harder for law enforcement to deter stoned driving.
“I look at this more as a protection of people’s right to have only meaningful and relevant evidence used against them,” she said.
A spokesman for Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr., whose office is prosecuting Gerhardt, said the decision “provides much-needed clarity regarding police testimony,” and prosecutors will use the court’s guidance in bringing the case to trial.
Walpole police Chief John Carmichael Jr., a spokesman for the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, doesn’t expect the ruling to significantly change how officers conduct traffic stops.
“At the end of the day, officers are still going to rely on all their observations and the total circumstances of the stop, and base their arrests on probable cause,” Carmichael said. “We don’t think about conviction rates all the time; we think about public safety.”
Beyond standard sobriety tests, Carmichael said, officers carefully watch how a driver acts in general. He added he was relieved those observations will be still heard in court.
“We’re assessing demeanor, attitude, attention span, behavior — everything,” he said.
Carmichael called on the state Legislature to follow Colorado and Washington, two other states where recreational marijuana is legal, in establishing a blood concentration limit for THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
“Our law doesn’t have the teeth it needs,” he said.
Both states use a threshold of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood; in Washington any driver at or above that level is automatically considered impaired, while in Colorado those drivers can dispute their condition in court. However, some experts have questioned the validity of any law that specifies a particular blood concentration for impairment.
Jay Winsten, director of Harvard University’s Center for Health Communication and a pioneer of OUI awareness campaigns, praised the court for taking a “middle ground” approach.
“I think it was a wise, smart, and careful decision,” Winsten said. “It keeps field sobriety tests in the picture without allowing police officers to claim they constitute unequivocal evidence of marijuana intoxication, which would be suggesting something that goes beyond what’s currently known.”
“In the end,” he added, “it’s up to the common sense of jurors.”
MADISON, Wis. – A Verona man faces charges after he took out a road sign and went airborne over some railroad tracks while driving down South Park Street, police said.A witness told police it appeared a driver was asleep at the wheel as the car he was driving around 5:30 p.m. in the 1800 block of South Park Street drifted across southbound lanes, over the median and into the northbound lanes.The car then took out a road sign, drove over the sidewalk and down an embankment, according to a release. The car went airborne over some railroad tracks before slamming into a railroad control box, causing thousands of dollars in damage.The witness unbuckled the driver, 24-year-old Travis J. Busse, and paramedics delivered Naloxone, police said. Busse was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.Busse faces tentative charges of third-offense operating while intoxicated, driving the wrong way on a divided highway and operating while revoked.
OXFORD, M.S. (localmemphis.com) – A Confederate soldier statue in Mississippi was damaged Saturday night after investigators said driver slammed a pick up truck into the base of a monument on the campus of Ole Miss.In a tweet, the Ole Miss Police Department said the driver was driving under the influence. Local 24 is waiting on details surrounding the crash that left two people. The plaque on the base of the statue had to be removed due to damage. The plaque was added in 2016 to provide historical context to the monument, which honors local soldiers who fought in the Confederate army. The destruction on Rebel Drive attracted many onlookers, including James Thomas.”My immediate thought was, ‘I’ve got to go see it,” said Thomas.Thomas inspected the statue Sunday.”To be honest with you,” he said, “I was hoping that they had knocked it over but that didn’t happen.”Instead, Thomas found a barrier around the statute. It shifted on impact.Photos given to Local 24 by a viewer show the aftermath of Saturday night’s crash. The driver’s side of the truck was badly damaged.Campus police tweeted out information on the crash once word of the crash spread. It happened around 8:11 p.m.”Driver investigated for driving while intoxicated,” the department tweeted. “Driver & passenger got medical attention. No indication it was a deliberate act. Being investigated as a crash. Will consult with prosecutor/DA/FBI to determine if additional charges are to be filed.””I don’t know if the intent was to hit into the statue,” said Thomas. “I don’t know if there was intent behind it, if there was the intent to aim at the plaque, I don’t know. I’m going to consider all options.”Thomas is an assistant professor of sociology at Ole Miss and a faculty advisor for the university’s NAACP chapter. He told Local 24 he see’s the statue one way.”I see it as a testament to white supremacy,” he said.Thomas has pushed for the statues removal. Given the damage to the statue by Saturday’s crash he’s hoping the university will see this as a way to move forward.”Do they want to invest in money into repairing this monument or do they want to use that money to move it where, I think it should belong, which is off-campus?” he asked. Local 24 reached out to the university’s communication’s team for comment. We did not hear back from Ole Miss by deadline.Local 24 also has a call out to the district attorney’s office inquiring about charges. We will keep you updated as new information becomes available.
A motorcyclist suffered serious injuries in a collision with a dump truck full of manure just before 5 p.m. Tuesday in the 2000 block of South County Road 7 south of Loveland.
The dump truck was a farm vehicle hauling manure for a Rocky Mountain Dairy operation. Only the man driving the motorcycle was hurt after being thrown from his vehicle in the collision, said Trooper Dave McKee with Colorado State Patrol.
The man suffered a severely broken leg, but was alert and able to speak with emergency medical personnel dispatched to transport him, McKee said. Due to the severity of the injury, a full trauma team was activated by Medical Center of the Rockies, according to McKee.
The motorcyclist was not wearing a helmet, McKee said.
He was trailing the dump truck hauling manure, with both vehicles heading northbound on County Road 7. When the truck slowed to make a left turn into a driveway of the dairy farm, the motorcyclist tried to pass the truck on the two-lane road and clipped its left front corner before he was thrown west of the southbound lane into a muddy driveway, McKee said.
The driver of the dump truck was unhurt, and pulled over to the side of the road following the crash. There were multiple witnesses to the crash, McKee said.
Another trooper with Colorado State Patrol was at the hospital trying to ascertain from the motorcyclist whether drugs or alcohol contributed to the crash, McKee said. No official determinations had been made on whether the motorcyclist was impaired or whether speed was a factor at press time.
A press release from the Colorado Department of Transportation announced Tuesday the agency is launching a campaign to promote motorcycle safety in light of a sharp rise in the number of motorcycle crashes on the state’s roads recently.
This year alone, 72 motorcyclists have been killed on Colorado roads, the press release said. Motorcyclist fatalities hit an all-time high of 125 in 2016. While motorcycles account for just 3 percent of registered vehicles on the road, motorcyclists represent over 20 percent of fatalities.
Self-driving cars are going to transform city streets, making our roads safer and our lives more efficient.
But they will have other, less predictable consequences too — like helping people get way more drunk.
Analysts at Morgan Stanley recently assessed the potential impact of autonomous vehicles on the alcohol industry, and their conclusions are good news for anyone who likes a drink.
Alcohol consumption is likely to increase, they predicted, with significant accompanying benefits for drinks businesses.
Right now alcohol and driving do not go together. People drink less (or not at all) if they have to drive, and time spent driving is — obviously — time that can’t exactly be spent drinking.
“These markets should, for obvious safety reasons, be entirely mutually exclusive,” Morgan Stanley said.
But if your car can drive itself, this may soon change. People won’t have to worry about the “designated driver,” and can even drink while in the vehicle itself.
Police say a woman is in critical condition after a drunken driver plowed into a group of cyclists participating in a biking event in New York City.Three bicyclists were injured during the Sunday morning NYC Century Bike Tour in Brooklyn. Police say the 39-year-old driver of the van has been arrested and charged with vehicular assault, driving without a license and driving while impaired. Police say the man was intoxicated when he drove into the crowd of bicyclists who were stopped at a red light.Authorities say a 55-year-old woman from Queens is in critical condition.Police say a 31-year-old man is in stable condition, and a third suffered minor injuries.
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Retired World Cup soccer champion Abby Wambach was arrested for investigation of driving under the influence.
Portland police Sgt. Peter Simpson said in a statement Sunday that a sergeant stopped the 35-year-old Saturday night after she reportedly ran a red light in her Range Rover near downtown.
Simpson says Wambach failed field sobriety tests and was arrested. He says she also failed a breath test at the police precinct.
Wambach, who lives in Portland, was booked into Multnomah County Jail early Sunday on a charge of Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUII) — Alcohol. Jail booking records show she was released Sunday on her own recognizance.
Wambach is the leading career scorer — male or female — in international soccer with 184 goals. She retired in December after 15-years with the U.S. women’s national team.
She issued a statement on her Facebook page on Sunday morning, writing she was arrested as she was returning home from dinner at a friend’s house.
“Those that know me, know that I have always demanded excellence from myself. I have let myself and others down. I take full responsibility for my actions,” she wrote. “This is all on me. I promise that I will do whatever it takes to ensure that my horrible mistake is never repeated.
“I am so sorry to my family, friends, fans and those that look to follow a better example.”
The Portland Police Bureau said Wambach was “polite and cooperative throughout the investigation.”
One of Wambach’s sponsors, MINI USA, said Sunday night it was withdrawing ads for the automobile that feature Wambach.
“This behavior is against the values we promote as an organization and the safety of everyone on the road is a priority here at MINI. Because of this, we are re-evaluating her association with the brand and are pulling content that individually features Abby from our marketing,” the company said in a statement. “We will continue to assess the situation and weigh our options.”
Wambach capped her career last summer with the sport’s most prestigious championship when the United States defeated Japan 5-2 in Canada at the World Cup. It was the third World Cup title for the U.S. women, and first since 1999.
Wambach announced her retirement in October. Since she stepped away from the team, she has made several appearances in charity events and also campaigned for former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
She played her last match with the team in December, a 1-0 loss to China in New Orleans.
Wambach appeared in four World Cups with the national team. She also has a pair of Olympic gold medals from the 2004 Games in Athens and the 2012 Games in London. She did not compete in the Beijing Games because of a broken leg.
Wambach has also been active in fighting for equal rights for female athletes. She led a group of players in protesting FIFA’s decision to play the 2015 World Cup on artificial turf, which is considered by many players to be inferior to grass.
A Red Deer school bus driver who pleaded guilty on Wednesday to driving drunk was more than double over the legal alcohol limit when she drove 18 students home in June.Shelly Joy Kolodychuk, 42, pleaded guilty to driving with a blood alcohol level over .08 in Red Deer provincial court. She is due to be sentenced on Nov. 6.Eighteen students from École Barrie Wilson School were on Kolodychuk’s bus when she collided with a stop sign and a tree on Valley Green about 4 p.m. on June 5. No one was injured.Crown prosecutor Ed Ring said the bus also drove up on to the sidewalk for a “few metres” and was seen swerving on the street by witness Kurt Stenberg.The Red Deer fire-medic jumped in his truck and found the school bus nearby. He got out and confronted the driver and then parked his vehicle so the bus could not pull away.Stenberg, who was not sure if a medical condition was involved, phoned 911.Ring said a police officer who arrived on the scene said Kolodychuk was crying, her speech was slurred and he detected a “slight smell of liquor” on her breath. A drink cup smelling of alcohol and some sort of fruity drink was found next to her in the bus.Kolodychuk was arrested and taken to the Red Deer RCMP detachment. Her speech, motor skills and movement were slow police noticed.Two breathalyzer readings were taken, both .200 — 2 1/2 times the legal limit of .08.Charges of impaired operation of a motor vehicle, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and failing to remain at the scene of a collision are expected to be withdrawn by the Crown prosecutor.A pre-sentence report is to be prepared to help the judge in sentencing. Kolodychuk had no prior criminal record.Kolodychuk, who was joined by more than half a dozen supporters in court, did not speak.Asked by Judge Bert Skinner if Kolodychuk agreed with the Crown prosecutor’s statement of facts, defence lawyer Will Willms replied, “Your honour, she accepts these circumstances.”Supporters later formed a protective circle around Kolodychuk as she left the courthouse. Several of them hugged her before she left.
For the Record-Times
WYOMING — The Wyoming Highway Patrol stayed busy during the recent solar eclipse while observing a surge in traffic during the event. WHP Troopers around the state worked extended shifts to make sure all Wyoming residents and guests stayed safe while keeping traffic moving.
From Friday, August 18th to Monday, August 21st WHP Troopers responded to 7,505 calls for service throughout Wyoming. In comparison to 2016, there were 2,598 calls for service in that same time period. Crashes on Wyoming’s highways also increased with the WHP investigating 198 crashes in comparison to 98 crashes the previous year during the same time frame. Out of the 198 crashes, 31 of those crashes were with injury and one crash resulted in a fatality.
Troopers stopped over 5,000 vehicles while issuing 3,312 citations and 2,029 warnings for various violations. 157 of the citations were for seatbelt or child restraint violations. Troopers also arrested 25 individuals for driving under the influence and issued 62 citations for possession of illegal narcotics with 59 of those 62 being for possession of marijuana.
A lawsuit against the city of Medford filed by a retired city attorney claiming unlawful arrest during a traffic stop has been dismissed after a federal judge ruled that the two police officers involved had reason to continue their impaired driving investigation even after observing a blood-alcohol reading far below the legal limit.
A federal judge ruled in favor of the city and dismissed Ronald Lee Doyle’s case late last month in U.S. District Court in Medford, which argued that Medford police continued to hold Doyle handcuffed at a detox facility after Doyle’s breathalyzer reading showed a reading of .017 — well below the legal limit of .08 — and sought a warrant for a urine sample under false pretenses during a 2014 traffic stop, according to documents filed in the case Aug. 31.
Doyle worked for the city of Medford for more than two decades before retiring as city attorney in 2005.
U.S. District Judge Michael McShane ruled that Medford officer Paul Mellgren, who pulled Doyle over the night of Dec. 4, 2014, and officer Patrick Dennis, a trained drug recognition evaluator, had enough probable cause to arrest Doyle and transport him to detox.
“Even if Mellgren’s belief that probable cause existed was in error, that belief was reasonable under the circumstances,” McShane said in his ruling.
The Jackson County District Attorney’s Office never prosecuted Doyle on a Medford police arrest charging him with driving under the influence of intoxicants. In 2014, an administrative law judge reversed Doyle’s license suspension at a DMV hearing on grounds that Mellgren “lacked probable cause to arrest Doyle,” according to the ruling. McShane said that the federal court “carefully studied” the DMV proceeding but reached “its own conclusions.”
McShane’s ruling determined that “a strong odor of alcohol coming from Doyle, as well as Doyle’s bloodshot and watery eyes, slow movements and what Mellgren believed at the time to be slurred speech” met the “relatively low” threshold for probable cause in Oregon cases of driving under the influence of intoxicants.
The ruling also determined that Mellgren and Dennis were within their rights to keep Doyle detained for a drug evaluation after Doyle’s low breathalyzer reading.
“Contrary to Doyle’s assertion, dissipation of symptoms is not the same as dissipation of probable cause, nor does a low BAC end a DUII investigation,” McShane’s ruling states, noting that an individual could be “impaired by something other than alcohol.”
Doyle had also claimed the officers made a false statement to a judicial officer in getting a search warrant for his urine sample. Mellgren told a judge he believed Doyle to be under the influence of fast-acting drugs or inhalants, but only marijuana metabolites were found in Doyle’s system.
McShane ruled that “the fact that no such evidence was ultimately found cannot sustain a claim for judicial deception.”
“At most, it could be said that Mellgren omitted the fact that Dennis was the source of his information about fast-dissipating substances, but the court cannot conclude that such an omission was material,” the ruling says.
McShane drew from dashcam video in the ruling, which notes that Mellgren “articulates some of his observations supporting probable cause to Doyle,” and also showed Doyle’s refusal to comply with Mellgren’s directions to step out of the vehicle and Doyle’s “odd speech patterns,” what Mellgren believed to be slurred speech, and a repeated statement that he is the former Medford city attorney and recording Doyle making an “improper request.”
Doyle was recorded saying to Mellgren, “Tell me what I can do to make this right with you.’