Whether and what kind of sobriety tests would be allowed in court to prosecute drivers suspected of operating while under the influence of marijuana, was a question just waiting to be answered from the moment pot was legalized in Massachusetts – whether for medical or recreational use. Well, the legal community now has the first such indication of those legal boundaries.
In a decision released just two days ago, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) unanimously restricted the ability of police officers to testify as to their own, subjective opinions of whether or not a given suspect was driving under the influence of pot. Before going further, some quick contrast is needed here to explain what evidence is allowed in Massachusetts OUI/DUI alcohol cases: In traditional DUI arrests, officers typically require the driver to perform what are called Field Sobriety Tests (“FST’s”), which consist of various tests such as walking heel-to-toe, reciting the alphabet, standing on one leg, and an additional test known as a Horizontal gaze nystagmus test, which measures the responsiveness of the eyes to a moving object such as a pen. All of these are scientifically accepted indicators of alcohol intoxication. If a suspect fails those tests, an officer may testify in court that the defendant failed the tests. However, in this important decision, the court ruled that, due to the fact that there is as of present date no scientific consensus that these Roadside Sobriety Tests can definitively prove that a person is intoxicated by marijuana, the court limited what an officer can testify to on the stand. Continue reading