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S.J.C. Clarifies Use of Field Sobriety Tests in OUI Drugs Cases

Dudley Goar, Attorney at Law

In Commonwealth v. Gerhardt, 477 Mass. 775 (2017), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court was asked to decide whether the Commonwealth may introduce evidence of a defendant’s performance on standardized field sobriety tests (FSTs) in a case in which the defendant is charged with driving under the influence of marijuana. The Court held that to the extent that FST’s are relevant to establish a driver’s balance, coordination, mental acuity, and other skills required to operate a motor vehicle safely, they are admissible at trial as observations of the police officer conducting the assessment. However, 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. The Court reasoned that, unlike the case with alcohol, there was no reliable scientific relationship between a subject’s performance on FST’s and marijuana consumption. Therefore, an officer could not draw any reliable conclusions about a driver’s marijuana consumption based on his or her FST performance. However, the Court held, information FST are still relevant, and therefore admissible, because they are a reliable indicator of someone’s balance, coordination, and mental acuity, all things needed to drive safely. An officer is simply not permitted to state that the defendant’s poor performance on FST’s is the result of marijuana consumption.

If you have been charged with OUI/DWI drugs or drunk driving, please call me to discuss your case. I have been representing clients charged with these offenses since 2003 and can help you obtain the best results for your case. Please call (978) 369-1505.

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