Massachusetts Drivers Still Not Entitled to Attorney Before Breathalyzer Test

Experienced Lawyer Defending Driver’s in Massachusetts and Rhode Island

On August 15, 2016, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts reaffirmed its holding that a vehicle driver does not have the right to counsel under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution or Article 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights before deciding to take a Breathalyzer test. The decision makes it clear that 2003 amendments to the Breathalyzer law did not expand the rights of those accused of driving after drinking. Speaking for the Court, Justice Francis Spina wrote, in Commonwealth v. Neary-French, 475 Mass. 167 (Aug. 15, 2016), that Massachusetts has an “implied consent” law, meaning when residents get a driver’s license, they consent to take a Breathalyzer test. Those who refuse will have their licenses suspended – although such a refusal cannot be used as evidence at a subsequent criminal trial.

Consistent With Earlier Decision

The Court issued a similar prior ruling in Commonwealth v. Brazelton, 404 Mass. 783 (1989) but was asked to revisit the issue following a 2003 statutory amendment that made driving while under the influence of .08 blood alcohol level or more, a “per se” criminal offense. Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 9, Sec. 24. With the newest decision, the Court makes it clear that a person’s decision whether to submit to a Breathalyzer test takes place before the initiation of formal judicial proceedings, and therefore there is no right to counsel at the Breathalyzer stage. The Sixth Amendment right to counsel does not attach until critical stages at or after the initiation of adversarial judicial proceedings, such as a formal charge, preliminary hearing, or indictment. The Court’s decision is in line with the majority of states.  Other states finding differently have relied on their own state statutory rights.

Drunk Driving is Still a Serious Problem in the United States

While fatalities associated with drunk driving have been reduced in recent years – due mostly to stronger enforcement of drunk driving laws – some 27 persons die each day as a result of drunk driving crashes, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Someone is injured every two minutes in a drunk driving crash. Here are some other startling statistics:

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9,967 persons died in drunk driving crashes during 2014.
  • In the period beginning in 2003 and ending in 2012, 1,370 persons were killed in crashes involving a drunk driver in Massachusetts.
  • In 2013, a total of 1,149 children, aged 14 and younger, were killed in drunk driving crashes.
  • Each day, people drive drunk more than 300,000 times, but only about 3,200 are arrested.
  • Approximately one-third of those arrested for drunk driving are repeat offenders.
  • More than 50 percent of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive on a suspended driver’s license.
  • In 2013, some 28.7 million people admitted to driving while under the influence of alcohol.
  • The rate of drunk driving is highest among those aged 26 years to 29 years (20.7 percent).
  • An average drunk driver has driven drunk more than 80 times before his or her first arrest.
  • Drunk driving costs the United States $132 billion per year.
  • Drugs other than alcohol are involved in about 16 percent of motor vehicle crashes.
  • Sobriety checkpoints have been shown to reduce alcohol-related crashes, typically by nine percent.

Drunk Driving Has Huge Implications

The decision to drink and then get behind the wheel takes but a second. It’s a decision that can affect a host of innocent people forever. Occupants in other vehicles can be killed or injured. Pedestrians are at risk. The costs can be staggering. In many cases, however, the crash victim can recover damages from the person at fault.

Skilled legal counsel can build a case against the drunk driver. If you or a member of your family has suffered injury due to a drunk driver, you deserve skillful, energetic, and experienced attorneys to help you prepare your case. The injury lawyers at the Bottaro Law Firm, LLC have the resources to investigate the accident and fight to protect your legal rights. We will pursue your case at no cost until we win. Remember that delay can harm your case. Our experienced legal team is available 24/7 for a free consultation. Contact us by calling 866-529-9700, or complete our convenient online contact form.