Allegations of Operating Under the Influence

April 3, 2012
By Parker Scheer LLP on April 3, 2012 12:58 PM |

Patricia Anderson, Norwell Town Clerk, was arrested on March 16, 2012, by Hingham Police, and charged with operating under the influence of alcohol. The Patriot Ledger reported allegations made by police that Anderson was found standing in a pool of gasoline, next to her sport utility vehicle, which was stuck on a traffic island. It appeared that she had been travelling south on Whiting Street (Rt 53) Hingham, when she struck the island at the Gardner Street intersection, knocking over the "keep right" sign and blowing out two tires.

Ms. Anderson, 61, of Norwell, appeared confused, and had trouble answering questions according to the Hingham police officer, who noted that he could detect a strong odor of alcohol on Ms. Anderson.

According to the Ledger, the police allege that Anderson admitted to having consumed three glasses of wine earlier in the evening. She was arrested after a series of sobriety tests, charged with drunken driving and failure to stay within a marked lane. She was to be arraigned in Hingham District Court on Monday, March 19, 2012.

Read the entire Patriot Ledger article here.


Analysis by Parker | Scheer LLP Attorney Francis T. O'Brien, Jr.:

This story, as reported in the Ledger, is an example of how certain allegations by police may be presented in a manner which causes the casual reader and inexperienced trial observer to conclude that the operator was guilty of operating under the influence. However, after more than 25 years of practicing criminal defense law, including handling thousands of OUI/DWI cases, many in the Hingham District Court, I have learned that most often the complete story and true facts do not appear in police reports or newspapers. This is not to insinuate that police officers or journalists are intentionally untruthful, (although some undoubtedly are). It is more a product of the fact that police reports are written after a defendant has already been arrested, so police officers will naturally record those observations which they believe support their decision to arrest. Police reports are not written in a manner reflective of what a judge or jury might write if they were analyzing all of the facts surrounding an arrest and applying a neutral and detached eye to the rendering of a verdict.

The fact of the matter is that police officers are "interested" parties in cases where they have made an arrest. It is a natural human tendency to recollect facts favorable to support one's decision and police officers do just that. They present themselves in the most flattering way possible. This oft times slanted view can be further exacerbated when newspapers report on arrests. Most often, newspaper articles reporting on arrests receive their facts exclusively from the police, either directly or through court prosecutors reciting the words of the police. Therefore a newspaper article on an arrest is often times reporting a totally one sided account of the facts.

This case illustrates the importance of being represented by an experienced and knowledgeable drunk driving/OUI/DWI attorney, whether in Hingham District Court or any other District Court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I see numerous issues which may be effectively developed for the defendant in this case:

Any time there is a motor vehicle accident, dazed, erratic, unsteady or confused behavior might be attributable to injuries suffered in the collision. Symptoms which police attempt to portray as signs of alcohol impairment may be equally consistent with injury. Additionally, a question arises how a police officer encountering a defendant standing in a pool of gasoline, which obviously emits overpowering noxious fumes, might detect the odor of alcohol from the defendant?

The fact that a defendant may have consumed alcohol earlier in the evening is by no means an indication that the defendant was legally impaired. It is not a crime to drink and drive. It is only a crime if the amount of alcohol consumption has diminished the person's ability to operate safely. Three glasses of wine does not necessarily constitute legal impairment and the passage of time only serves to diminish the effect of the alcohol.

Other than alleging that the defendant was arrested after submitting to field sobriety tests, there are no details in this article concerning the tests. Field sobriety tests are entirely subjective. Often times at trial, when all of the relevant facts are brought out by a skilled and knowledgeable drunk driving attorney, juries do not agree with the opinions expressed by police officers concerning the reasonableness of the defendant's field sobriety performance.

With regard to the accident, there are many reasons why people are involved in accidents, other than alcohol impairment. It will be interesting to watch this case proceed in the Hingham District Court.

If you or a family member has been charged with criminal activity, please contact Parker | Scheer LLP for a free consultation with one of our experienced Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Please also see Obama's Uncle Temporarily Loses License After OUI Case, Should I Take a Breathalyzer Test? and Red Sox Reliever Bobby Jenks Arrested for comments related Boston Criminal Defense posts.