Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Changes for Marijuana Impairment Cases

The highest court in Massachusetts ruled that field sobriety tests are not a reliable measure for indicating marijuana-induced impairment of Commonwealth citizens. In the past, there has been an ongoing debate among concerned citizens and scientific professionals whether field sobriety tests can prove marijuana impairment. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) has settled the debate in the Commonwealth.

Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are generally administered by law enforcement when they suspect a driver has been operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. FSTs typically include:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test: The driver is asked to step outside of the vehicle. The police officer takes a penlight and shines the light in front of the driver's eyes. The driver is asked to look at the light as it moves. An involuntary twitch, called a nystagmus, occurs when the person looks sideways at an angle more than 45 degrees that triggers peripheral vision. Persons with a high alcohol content will twitch when the light is held at less than 45 degrees.

  • Walk and Turn Test: In a walk-and-turn test, an officer will instruct a person to take nine steps in a straight line while making the nine steps in a heel-to-toe fashion. After the ninth step, the individual is asked to turn on one foot and walk in the opposite direction in a heel-to-toe fashion. During this exercise, the officer is determining if the individual exemplifies the characteristics of driving under the influence of alcohol.

  • One Leg Stand Test: The officer will make a driver stand on one foot about six inches off the ground with one's toes pointed. With a perfect balance, a person must count for 30 seconds with arms by his or her side. Later, the driver will be asked to look down at his or her feet. During this test, the officer is looking for signs of drugs or alcohol impairment. A failure of this test may result in an arrest for OUI/DUI. If the driver is arrested, he or she should contact a criminal defense attorney for legal advice.

While these tests may work in determining the alcohol content of an impaired person, there is no concrete scientific agreement on whether these types of measures can accurately determine marijuana intoxication.

The research on the efficacy of FSTs to measure marijuana impairment has mixed reviews and outcomes. Some tests reveal FSTs can accurately measure marijuana consumption and impairment, while others are inconclusive. In the end, it is determined in Massachusetts by the SJC that FSTs are better suited for judging alcohol impairment and not marijuana intoxication.

Get Legal Help Today

If you have been charged with an OUI/DUI or drug offense, speak with a criminal defense attorney who can explain how these changes in determining drug impairment will impact your case. Contact a criminal defense attorney, who understands all aspects of the new ruling and can develop a strong defense strategy that will help your case. Boston Criminal Defense Attorney, Edward Molari can provide you with legal advice that may help reduce the punishment or lessen the charge. He cares about your situation and provides personalized legal services in every case.  Contact Attorney, Edward Molari at 617-942-1532 for a free consultation.