Fitchburg District Court
Client a 38 year old male from Templeton, MA was charged with one count of Operating Under the Influence of Drugs also known as OUI, DUI,DWI, or Drugged Driving and one count of Negligent Operation of a Motor Vehicle. A BOLO or (Be on the Look Out) for the client issued after a concerned citizen called police when she observed the client operating erratically on the highway including weaving in and out of lanes, crossing the marked lines and running people off the road. An officer from Westminster, MA stopped the client and was soon joined by a sergeant from Westminster as well as two Massachusetts state police troopers. Officers and Troopers involved immediately detected a strong odor of paint thinner coming from within the vehicle and observed a container of paint thinner as well as a respirator mask. Further observations were made that the client had red, blood shot eyes, slurred speech and paint residue around his nostrils and lips and hands. The lead trooper quickly formed an opinion that the client had been abusing inhalants.
The client had just come from work in Worcester where he was employed at a marina as a painter, spraying boat parts. The client informed officers of this fact at the scene. The client had only worked at the marina for a short time. Leading up to the trial Attorney Damian Riddle obtained information that the spray booth in which the client was painting boat engine parts had inadequate ventilation, which was not up to OSHA standards. As a result of the inadequate ventilation the client became exposed to harmful chemicals which he should not have and which he did not realize.
The client performed reasonably well on field sobriety tests administered at the scene, but nevertheless was arrested by the state police. Once the client arrived at the barracks he was introduced to a fifth police officer who identified himself as a D.R.E. or drug recognition expert. The DRE ran the client through a full battery of tests, which were designed to determine if the client was under the influence of a controlled substance and what the particular substance or substances were. At the conclusion of the examination the DRE determined that the client was under the influence of narcotics, inhalants and marijuana.
At the jury waived trial the Commonwealth presented 4 witnesses. One of the witnesses was the civilian witness who observed the alleged erratic operation and the other three were police officers who were involved in the arrest. Attorney Damian Riddle cross examined each of the witnesses as they were called, casting doubt on the assertions they were making.
At the close of the Commonwealth’s case Attorney Riddle moved for a required finding of not guilty on both counts. Regarding the OUI drugs count Attorney Riddle argued that the Commonwealth had not presented sufficient evidence that the client had voluntarily and intentionally ingested a substance, which was one of the enumerated prohibited substances under the statute. The statute in other words did not proscribe paint thinner or paint fumes. Moreover, the client did not voluntarily and intentionally ingest those substances. The case involved the relatively novel issue of involuntary intoxication. Attorney Riddle further argued that there was simply no evidence to support the Troopers opinion that the client was under the influence of narcotics or marijuana. There were limited clinical indicators to support this theory which were equally explained by other factors not related to the ingestion of illicit drugs.
Result: Attorney Damian Riddle’s motion for a required finding of not guilty was allowed as to the count of Operating Under the Influence of Drugs or OUI drugs, DUI drugs, DWI drugs and Drugged Driving. Thus the client was found Not Guilty on that count. On the count of Negligent Operation the client ended up tendering a plea after the close of the Commonwealth’s case and prior to the Defendant resting on his case in chief, due to the strength of the evidence on that count. On that charge the client received a continuance without a finding or a CWOF for six months of unsupervised probation and was able to keep his driver’s license.