On July 29, 2019, Judge Robert A. Brennan lifted the “presumption of unreliability” which had kept breathalyzer tests in drunk driving cases out of evidence since August 2017. This decision is the latest in a series of decisions Judge Brennan has made in Commonwealth v. Ananias, a case that raised the question of whether breathalyzer tests are reliable enough to serve as evidence in OUI prosecutions. In February 2017, Judge Brennan recognized the “presumptive unreliability” of thousands of breath tests administered by police officers using the Alcotest 9510 device. Specifically, Brennan found that the methodology the Massachusetts State Police Office of Alcohol Testing (OAT) used for annually certifying the devices from June 2011 to Sept. 14, 2014, did not produce “scientifically reliable” blood alcohol-content results. In 2018, prosecutors agreed not to introduce the results of breathalyzer tests administered as far back as September 2011. On January 9, 2019, Judge Brennan issued a sanctions order that established seven requirements for the state to meet before the Draeger Alcotest 9510 could be considered reliably calibrated.
Attorney Melissa Ramos recently won an appeal at the Division of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) representing a client who had been terminated from her job due to the client’s alleged possession of a bottle of hemp-based CBD (cannabidiol) oil at work, which the employer claimed violated their drug-free workplace policy. At the DUA hearing, Attorney Ramos presented evidence that the substance in the client’s possession was not illegal because it was hemp-based. Under the most recent iteration of the Farm Bill, enacted in December 2018, hemp is no longer considered a controlled substance. A lab report provided by the company who manufactured the CBD oil showed that it was derived from hemp and contained no detectable amount of THC (the psychoactive component of cannabis, possession of which remains illegal under federal law notwithstanding its decriminalization under Massachusetts law). Attorney Ramos also presented evidence that the CBD oil could not have been covered by the employer’s drug policy because it was not a prohibited, illegal substance. The appeal hearing officer overturned the initial DUA denial and granted the client unemployment benefits dating back to the date of termination. This case demonstrates how the evolving law around CBD, and marijuana generally, continues to present novel situations for clients and that even when unemployment benefits are initially denied, appeals can be very successful with the right evidence.
Massachusetts has a unique system for certain criminal complaints, where both a police officer or private individual can apply for a criminal complaint and a clerk magistrate will decide whether there is probable cause for a criminal complaint to be issued. This process is available for most misdemeanor crimes and some felony crimes where an individual has not been arrested. A hearing before a clerk magistrate—also known as a “show cause” hearing—serves an important function in the Massachusetts criminal justice system because it screens out certain potential complaints at an early stage without creating a criminal record for the accused. If the clerk magistrate does not find probable cause, the clerk magistrate will not issue a criminal complaint. If the clerk magistrate finds probable cause, he or she can either issue a criminal complaint or exercise discretion and decide not to issue a complaint.
In a case where the defendant was charged with operating under the influence and negligent operation of a motor vehicle, Rachel Stroup and Melissa Ramos secured an acquittal on both charges after the jury returned verdicts of not guilty in Natick District Court.
Melissa Ramos, an associate at Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein LLP, speaks tonight on a panel hosted by Suffolk Law School’s Women of Color Law Students Association. The panel, titled “Shaping Your Personal Brand,” offers advice to law students on how to develop and promote their professional identities and their work.
Before April 2018, Massachusetts was only one of five states without a “compassionate release” program. However, thanks to the new criminal justice reform bill signed by Governor Baker, inmates may now apply to be considered for this new opportunity. The program officially began taking applications from inmates in August 2018 and the first inmate was released in November 2018 due to his terminal cancer. The program is available to all inmates other than those serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for first degree murder convictions.
Zalkind Law wants to congratulate attorney Melissa Ramos, who was sworn in to the Massachusetts Bar today. Melissa joined the firm in fall 2018 and works on our criminal defense, employment law, and students’ rights cases.
In an October 2017 opinion, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided that a judge could no longer instruct a jury about a defendant’s refusal to take a breathalyzer test unless the defendant requested the instruction. An individual stopped on suspicion of operating a vehicle under the influence, more commonly known as OUI, already had a legal right to take or refuse a breathalyzer, and the refusal could not be entered into evidence at trial. However, until recently, the prosecutor could request that the judge instruct the jury that they could not consider the absence of breathalyzer evidence at trial when determining guilt or innocence—an instruction that could focus the jury on the absence of that evidence and cause them to speculate that the defendant had refused the breathalyzer. Now, during a trial for OUI, the absence of breathalyzer evidence should not be mentioned in jury instructions unless at the request of the defendant.
In Commonwealth v. Wolfe, the defendant was charged with OUI in 2015. He had two trials; the first ended in a mistrial. During both trials, there was no evidence presented of the defendant’s blood alcohol level. During the second trial, the judge instructed the jury, over the defendant’s objection, not to consider the absence of breathalyzer tests in their deliberations. The judge decided to give the instruction because the jury in the first trial had asked about the lack of breathalyzer test. The second jury ultimately convicted the defendant. Continue reading