Drunk driving, also known as DUI or as OUI, is one of the most common criminal charges in Massachusetts. There has certainly been a reduction in these charges since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March due to social distancing and the closing of bars and restaurants. However, it remains one of the more frequent charges in the courthouses throughout Massachusetts, albeit with some unexpected changes due to the pandemic.
OUI Now vs. OUI Before the Pandemic
One of the most common differences in OUI cases that occurred during the pandemic and those that occurred before is that many people aren’t being arrested. For many years, it was very uncommon to not be arrested upon the suspicion that you were operating while under the influence. In fact, to avoid arrest, you would typically have to have been hospitalized. Unlike how it’s been, most people pulled over for OUI are instead being told to expect a summons in the mail as opposed to being arrested if they can secure a ride home. The change is a result of the police departments doing all they can to limit the number of people brought into the station as the close quarters of the station are a perfect breeding ground for COVID-19.
As a result of people not being arrested, we are seeing another major difference in OUI cases – there are no breathalyzer results. High breathalyzer test results can be damning to the defense of an OUI, so when the test isn’t given, the prosecutor’s case can become severely weakened. The reason why we are seeing so few cases with breathalyzers during the pandemic is because the official breathalyzer test occurs only after the arrest during the booking procedure at the station. Simply put, if a person isn’t arrested, they can’t be given the breathalyzer.
The breathalyzer isn’t the only test that seems to be missing from a number of OUI arrests during the pandemic. We are also seeing many cases where field sobriety tests weren’t offered. This too is a result of the fact that officers are doing all they can to keep their distance from the public. Because the officer must be able to closely observe the field sobriety tests, many are choosing not to even offer them. Similarly to the lack of a breathalyzer result, the lack of field sobriety tests severely weakens the prosecutor’s case.
As a result of this lack of testing, many OUIs that occurred during the pandemic can be easily defendant by an experienced Massachusetts OUI attorney.