SJC Upholds OUI Conviction and Affirms Police Authority Outside Jurisdiction
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld a 2011 conviction of a New Hampshire man for operating under the influence, fifth offense, and affirmed the authority of an officer acting outside his jurisdiction in a neighboring community to conduct a motor vehicle stop, in a decision issued on Monday, May 13, 2013.
Gregory Bartlett, 52, of Plaistow, New Hampshire was found guilty of operating under the influence, fifth offense, and possession of more than an ounce of marijuana in Salem Superior Court on February 9, 2011. He was sentenced to two and a half to three and a half years in state prison, followed by three years of probation.
”This common sense ruling is significant in that it recognizes the authority of police officers to act to protect the public from immediate danger when outside of their jurisdiction,” District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said. “A drunk driver poses a grave threat to the community. In making the stop, this officer acted appropriately to ensure the safety of the public.”
On August 26, 2009, while driving on Route 110 in Amesbury, a Merrimac police officer saw Bartlett’s car cross both the double yellow line and the “fog line” on the right side of the road 7 times. When Bartlett abruptly stopped and pulled into a parking lot, the police officer blocked him in and then notified Amesbury Police that he had initiated a traffic stop. The Merrimac officer approached Bartlett and noted that he appeared intoxicated and smelled of alcohol. When asked for his license, Bartlett struggled to remove it from his wallet. At this time, Amesbury police officers arrived and administered field sobriety tests, concluded he was intoxicated and arrested him.
Bartlett appealed, claiming that the evidence obtained by the Merrimac police officer could not be used against him since the officer was outside of his jurisdiction. The SJC ruled that the Merrimac officer acted appropriately, and therefore evidence gathered by him was admissible, based on a “mutual aid” agreement among Amesbury, Merrimac, Newburyport and Salisbury that was in place since 2006. Under this agreement, an officer has “full police powers” in the participating jurisdictions when “circumstances [arose] dictating an immediate response or action for the good of public safety.”
The SJC ruled that the officer “properly effectuated a stop in order to ensure that the defendant's erratic operation did not endanger other drivers, and in order to determine whether the defendant was operating while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These actions were within the authority that the mutual aid agreement granted him. In addition, [the officer]'s radio call to Amesbury shortly after effectuating the stop fulfilled the requirement in the agreement that he ‘notify the host community as soon as practically possible.’”
The SJC also ruled that extraterritorial police action may be justified when an officer is acting to preserve the peace, even if no mutual aid agreement was in evidence.
The Commonwealth was represented by Essex Assistant District Attorney Paul C. Wagoner and Bartlett was represented by Attorney Geoffrey DuBosque. In addition, the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association filed an amicus brief in support of the Commonwealth's position.