Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Limits Cops' Guess-Timony on Driver's Ability to Operate in OUI Cases

In a decision important to OUI trials in Massachusetts state courts, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion on Thursday that prohibits cops from testifying that a defendant's "ability to safely operate a motor vehicle was diminished by his or her consumption of alcohol".   This had been, until Thursday's ruling, a common end to the arresting cop's direct testimony.  This police officer opinion has routinely been parroted at the end of the officer's testimony in response to a leading question by the prosecutor, usually it went something like this:

PROSECUTOR:  "Based on all your observations with the driver, including (the prosecutor then drones about everything the cop has testified about already), were you able to form an opinion that the driver's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle had been diminished by alcohol?"

COP: "Yes."

PROSECUTOR:  "And what was that opinion?"

COP: "Based on (cop then regurgitates all the observations the prosecutor just named) I formed the opinion that the driver's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle had been diminished by alcohol consumption".
This rote question and answer series was prohibited Thursday by the Supreme Judicial Court in the case of Commonwealth v.  Canty, SJC Case No. 11315 (November 6, 2013).  While a cop, or any other witness, can give an opinion that a driver, or any other person, was drunk or intoxicated, a witness cannot express an opinion as to whether a defendant is guilty or innocent.  Where the ultimate issue in an OUI trial is for the trier of fact to determine whether a driver's ability to operate a motor vehicle has been diminished by alcohol, this opinion by the cop was inappropriate.  

If you have been charged with driving while intoxicated or operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs or both, call Attorney Mark Stevens at 1-603-893-0074 today for a free initial consultation or visit my website at http://www.byebyedwi.com.  

The Law Offices of Mark Stevens
5 Manor Parkway
Salem, NH 03079

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