SJC: OUI Suspects Can Hide Breathalyzer Refusal From Juries

Defendants Have Say If Jury Can Hear About Test Refusals

The Massachusetts State Supreme Court has removed a 15-year-old rule about whether or not judges can tell juries in drunk driving cases about the suspects' refusal to take a breathalyzer test.

In a 4-3 ruling, the state's highest court said that defendants should be able to make the decision if their refusal to take the test should be introduced by the judge. The court wrote that such an instruction “introduces the idea of missing breathalyzer evidence into the jury room, and, as a result, prompts the jury to wonder about the missing breathalyzer evidence and do the opposite of what they have been instructed to do.’’

The ruling went on to say “We conclude that typically a defendant should be able to elect whether the jury are instructed about the absence of alcohol-test evidence.”

This case was based on a 2015 OUI conviction in Marlborough, where the defendant refused a breathalyzer test during a sobriety check after he was pulled over by police.

The judge in that case instructed the jury that there was no evidence of the suspects blood-alcohol level because he refused the test. That suspect was convicted. The SJC ruling will vacate that conviction. However, the court also said that this ruling will not be applied retroactively to other cases.

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