The Office of Alcohol Testing (OAT) has now been involved in a scandal for several years for its inadequate testing and withholding of breathalyzer certifications relating to the Alcotest 9510 device. The Alcotest 9510 has been under scrutiny since 2017 when Draeger Safety Diagnostics, the manufacturer of the breathalyzers, called several thousand devices into question. The company admitted in court testimony that the device was improperly programmed, leading to incorrect values and affecting the accuracy of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for OUI-related breath testing.

In Massachusetts, the maximum BAC if 0.08% for drivers over the age of 21 and 0.02% for drivers under the age of 21. In many cases, the driver’s punishment of a fine or even jail time is dependent on the number that appears on this little black box. As more than 1 million Americans are arrested for OUI each year, faulty breath testing is a huge issue in the state of Massachusetts, and everyone has an interest in guaranteeing that these tests are as accurate as possible.

The Alcotest 9510 uses two sensors to measure alcohol content in a driver’s breath: an infrared beam and an electrochemical fuel cell. The results of the two measurements should be almost identical, but if the results differ too much, the test should be rejected due to the potential for inaccurate readings. The issue with this device is that is does not shut down when values are too far apart, and inaccurate readings are instead treated as an indication of drugs or alcohol in the driver’s system. After an inspection of 400 machines in 2017, not a single machine was programmed correctly. Up to 20% were likely to produce false positive values for BAC, information which OAT was intentionally withholding. This means that the machine may display an illegal BAC reading when the driver is not actually over the legal limit.

In February 2017, the court ordered tests dating back to June 2011 be assumed inaccurate and excluded from evidence pending a demonstration on a case-by-case basis that the device was reliable. In January 2019, the court ordered that OAT comply with new standards and be on track for accreditation before this ban would be lifted. This presumptive exclusion was lifted on April 18, 2019, despite the fact that Draeger had not updated 90% of its machines. Breath tests can now be used as evidence for OUI charges in the Commonwealth, but the prosecution will have to demonstrate that the device used complied with OAT’s new standards.

New issues have surfaced recently. Kristen Sullivan the director of the State Police Crime Laboratory released a statement on June 10 revealing that over 400 breath-test or over-limit test results sent to the RMV had required sections left blank. On both types of reports, the sections included a certification that the officer preparing the report was the one that refusal was made to or who administered the test, as well as acknowledgement that the report was prepared under penalty of perjury. OAT found that 435 of these reports were incomplete or improper since the device went into service in 2011. Joseph D. Bernard, the lead attorney in the original case, has called for Gov. Charlie Baker to remove all devices from service until these inconsistencies can be resolved. Continue reading

Michelle Carter has been released early from prison.

The case that sparked legal precedent and resulted in polarizing, nationwide discussions has once again made headlines, as Michelle Carter – the 23-year-old Plainville, MA woman who was sentenced to manslaughter after encouraging her then-boyfriend through text messages to go through with a suicide attempt – was released early on Thursday, Jan. 23 from her cell in the Bristol County House of Corrections.

Carter was originally sentenced to two and a half years in prison in August of 2017, with 15 months to serve and five years of probation. Her release on Thursday comes marks around 11 months of time served.

Reports indicate that Carter was released early from prison due to a significant accrual of good behavior – including working in the prison’s community garden and serving food in the kitchen. Inmates in Massachusetts are permitted to earn 10 days off their sentences each month if they perform various functions – like volunteering for jobs and services in the jail – and avoiding further trouble while incarcerated.

A case unlike any before it

The case generated nationwide appeal because of its unprecedented nature. Carter did not physically coerce Conrad Roy to get back into his truck and go forward with his suicide attempt, however the sheer amount of evidence presented by the prosecution through text messages made it difficult to argue that she wasn’t, in some way, legally culpable for his going through with it.

For example, the prosecution showed how Carter – who entered into a long-distance relationship in February of 2012 – sent text messages to Roy over the course of two weeks in 2014 that encouraged him to commit suicide or belittled him for being hesitant about committing suicide more than 40 times. Roy had also suffered from mental health issues and had attempted suicide in the past, facts that Carter was aware of.

Carter even was shown to have had two conversations allotting to over 80 minutes with Roy on July 12, 2014 – the day that he ultimately went through with his suicide – and even admitted to sharing blame for his death.

“Sam his death is my fault like honestly I could have stopped him I was on the phone with him and he got out of the car because it was working and he got scared and I [expletive] told him to get back in,” Carter was shown to have said in a text to a friend. “Sam because I knew he would do it all over again the next day and I couldn’t have him live the way he was living anymore I couldn’t do it I wouldn’t let him,” another text continued.

Trial Judge Lawrence Moniz ultimately convicted Carter of involuntary manslaughter, concluding that she had not only coerced Roy to re-enter the truck where he ultimately succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning, but had also refused to call for help despite knowing the scenario he was in. Continue reading

Governor Charlie Baker recently signed into law a new ban on using cellphones and other electronic handheld devices while driving. When it takes effect, it will change the rules of the road in Massachusetts for good – and has plenty of implications that are important to learn. Even without this law in effect yet, if you are involved in a vehicular accident where the other person was using a cell phone or other device, contact Altman & Altman LLP right away to get working on a claim.

What to know about the new law

The new ban on cell phones and electronic devices will go into full effect on February 23 – 90 days after it was passed through the legislature and signed into law by Governor Baker. However, motorists will receive warnings for their first violation until April 1, as a grace period will bridge the gap between the law going into effect and being fully enforceable by law enforcement officers.

To simplify the language of the law, it will effectively ban the use of any electronic device that takes your hands and attention away from focusing on the task of driving safely. This means that in order to call somebody or use other features of a cellular device, you will need to have a hands-free system of some sort – such as Bluetooth – set up within the vehicle, so you can activate it with buttons on the car’s steering wheel or through voice activation. The law does allow for so-called “single tap or swipe” actions to activate hands-free modes, if necessary.

The law bars drivers from reading text messages, continues existing prohibition on texting while driving and restricts motorists from looking at pictures or videos while driving – with the one major exception being apps used for navigation, like Google Maps or other GPS services. However, the phone must be mounted in a location that doesn’t obstruct the driver, such as in the corner of the windshield, on the dashboard or in the center console.

In addition to the new specifically prohibited actions, the law also allows for use of handheld electronics in a few specific instances, including:

  • Emergency situations where a call must be placed for medical attention, or an emergency call put in to police or fire departments
  • Situations where you are reporting a motor vehicle accident or disabled vehicle that you have witnessed
  • First responders who are on duty and driving emergency service vehicles are exempt from the law
  • Situations where the motorist is at rest, completely stationary, and not in an active lane of travel – meaning you cannot use your phone while simply stuck in traffic

Violations of the law can result in being pulled over by a police officer – which will result in a $100 for the first offense. Repeat offenders can be charged $250 for the second violation and $500 for the third and each subsequent offense. Additionally, the third violation and beyond will have consequences on your car insurance rates. Those with more than one violation will be mandated to complete a distracted driving program.

Contrary to some belief, the law does not apply to bicyclists, and it applies only to motor vehicles. Continue reading

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has overturned a manslaughter conviction that was handed down to a New Hampshire defendant following incidents where he, on two occasions, supplies a UMASS Amherst undergraduate student with heroin, which resulted in his eventual overdose six years ago, in October of 2013.

In 2017 Jesse Carrillo, the defendant who was a graduate student at UMASS at the time, was found guilty of heroin distribution and involuntary manslaughter, as the lower court argued that supplying the heroin that eventually resulted in the death of 20-year-old Eric Sinacori should result in the supplier shouldering responsibility for the young man’s death.

But the SJC disagreed with that opinion following Carrillo’s appeal of the sentence.

A California man has become the second affluent parent to be sentenced to serve jail time in relation to a wide-reaching fraud case involving college admissions. Devin Sloane, CEO of a Los Angeles water and wastewater treatment facility, was sentenced to serve four months, plus two years of supervised release, complete 500 hours of community service and pay a $95,000 fine in federal court in Boston on Sept. 24. He originally plead guilty to his charges in May.

Sloane is the second parent, the first being actress Felicity Huffman – who received a two-week prison sentence earlier in September – to be convicted of making fraudulent claims to a high-profile university as part of a scheme to get their children accepted into the school. A third parent, a Chinese foreign national, was also indicted on the same day of Sloane’s sentencing for allegedly paying $400,000 to get her son admitted into UCLA as a soccer recruit, despite never playing the sport competitively.

In Sloane’s case, not only did he knowingly defraud the University of Southern California (USC), he also lied to government officials at the IRS and directly conspired with the scheme’s admitted mastermind, William Singer, who is also awaiting trial. In total, there are 52 current defendants charged in connection with the college admissions scandal.

The Sloane case demonstrates another example of a wealthy parent utilizing outright fraud to trick a university into granting admission to their child. Sloane, according to federal prosecutors, took multiple steps to fraud USC into believing that his son was an aspiring water polo star, despite his son never playing the sport. He went so far as to purchase water polo equipment online, staged a fake photoshoot of his son playing the sport in their family pool, and then went so far as to hire a graphic design team to alter the photos to make it appear as though he were playing competitively.

The brazenness of Sloane’s case goes farther, as he paid $250,000 in a direct bribe to compromised USC officials to facilitate the fraud. When high school counselors of Sloane’s son – who knew he had never played the sport at any level – questioned how he was being recruited to play the sport at a collegiate competitive level, Sloane reportedly exhibited anger that he should even be questioned. Sloane would also cover up his bribe to USC by reporting it as a donation from his mother, who is deceased. Continue reading

A hate crime is defined as a prejudice or bias-motivated crime that occurs when a victim is targeted because of his or her membership in a particular race or social group. Even if the victim does not actually belong to that group, the act can be classified as a hate crime if such “membership” was perceived. Perpetrators of hate crimes often target an individual based on gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, or religion. This is not, however, an exhaustive list.

Hate crimes and hate speech are distinctly different. Whereas hate speech is criminalized in and of itself, hate crimes involve a crime that exists even without the bias or prejudice but is elevated due to its prejudiced nature. For example, assault is a crime, but if a white Christian man assaults a black Muslim man, it may be classified as a hate crime.

According to a report released by the FBI on Tuesday, hate crimes are on the rise in MA. In fact, this type of criminal act increased by eight-percent from 2016 to 2017.

In January 2017, the bodies of 32-year-old Jenna Pellegrini and 48-year-old Christine Sullivan were found under a backyard tarp at a home in Farmington, New Hampshire. Each woman had suffered multiple stab wounds. Among the evidence collected at the home was an Amazon Echo smart speaker (commonly referred to as Alexa), which the prosecution believes may have recorded crucial sounds during at least one of the murders.

Last week, a spokesperson for Amazon said that the retail giant will not release information “without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us.” But it looks like that information will soon be on its way. Amazon was ordered by Judge Steven Houran to release all recordings, as well as any relevant data, such as whether anyone’s phone was linked to the Echo device. A Boston criminal defense lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with a crime.

“The court directs Amazon.com to produce forthwith to the court any recordings made by an Echo smart speaker with Alexa voice command capability,” wrote Judge Houran, “from the period of January 27, 2017 to January 29, 2017, as well as any information identifying cellular devices that were paired to that smart speaker during that time period.”

Timothy Verrill was arrested and charged with the murders of Pellegrini and Sullivan. Verrill, an acquaintance of Sullivan’s boyfriend, pleaded not guilty to the double murder charges. According to surveillance video, he knew the home’s security code and had been there with both women prior to the night of the murder. Investigators believe that Alexa may have been activated by “wake words” or someone saying “Alexa” from its location in the kitchen, where they believe Sullivan’s murder was committed.

The involvement of tech in criminal cases is quickly becoming commonplace. In October, a Fitbit  contributed to a murder suspect’s arrest, and Amazon had to produce data from another Echo device in a 2015 murder investigation in Bentonville, Arkansas. Although Amazon argued its First Amendment rights in that case, the defendant consented to the release of data. A MA criminal defense attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with a crime.

Privacy vs. Information

Amazon also attempted to avoid this most recent request, saying it was in violation of customer privacy, but Judge Houran disagreed. The argument of privacy vs. information isn’t expected to disappear any time soon. In fact, in a world where nothing is considered to be of value unless it’s recorded and/or shared, the battle has likely only just begun.

Smart devices, such as Alexa, Siri and Google’s Home assistant, are in millions of homes across the country. In addition to playing music and answering questions—such as what’s the weather today and who was the first female supreme court justice—smart devices record what people say. And that recording doesn’t just disappear into the ether. It is sent to a server, where it is…well, we can’t answer that for certain. What is happening to these recordings, and who is listening to our most intimate conversations?

I guess the better question is, what is your privacy worth to you? Continue reading

In early September, a gas pressure issue in Columbia Gas lines caused 131 Massachusetts homes to explode or catch fire. The tragedy resulted in one death and 23 injuries. Homes and businesses were destroyed, thousands had to be evacuated, and—more than a month later—many victims remain homeless, or without heat. Columbia Gas and its parent company Nisource Inc. have understandably faced heavy criticism from the victims and the general public. But the situation stands to become even more complicated.

A federal grand jury served Nisource with subpoenas on September 24, just two weeks after the explosions. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is also conducting an investigation. A Boston injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been injured due to the negligence of another.

Further information about the nature of the investigation is as yet unavailable, and a spokesman for the company declined to answer questions Thursday.

“We are cooperating with all investigations and inquiries into the Lawrence event, including the criminal matter. However, we can’t speak specifically to any of those inquiries,” said NiSource spokesman Ken Stammen.

But Why is it Criminal?

According to the NTSB, Columbia Gas workers, who were tasked with replacing old pipes in Lawrence, were given bad work orders by the company. The orders failed to acknowledge the existence of a pressure-sensing feedback line, which resulted in high-pressure gas being pumped into the system, and the subsequent explosions.

“We’re sharing information we think is of interest that investors need to know about,” said Ken Stammen, a Nisource spokesperson. “Beyond that, there are limitations around what we can say about investigations.”

Leonel Rondon, an 18-year-old Lawrence man was killed in the September 13 explosions and many more were injured.

“I think it’s appropriate and right to do,” said Dan Rivera, Lawrence Mayor, when asked about the criminal investigation. “A young man lost his life and the city was turned upside down.”

Nisource Linked to Three Previous Explosions

Considering Nisource’s history, such a deadly error is even more disturbing. The company is linked to three prior gas explosions.

  • In November 2012, a Columbia Gas of Massachusetts explosion destroyed the Scores strip club in Springfield, MA and injured 21. About a dozen nearby buildings were also damaged.
  • In December 2012, a gas pipeline operated by Columbia Gas Transmission exploded in Sissonville, West Virginia, destroying three homes and propelling a 20-foot section of pipe through the air.
  • In March 2015, an “improperly abandoned” Columbia Gas of Ohio service line exploded, causing $9 million in structural damage.

Many of Nation’s Oldest and Leakiest Pipes are in Boston

A recently-published USA TODAY report reveals that tens of thousands of miles of old pipelines need upgraded across the country. Many of these are in Boston and the surrounding suburbs, which have some of the nation’s oldest and leakiest pipes. This “silent danger” has caused a general sense of alarm among MA residents, but Nisource President Joseph Hamrock says that they are working hard to resolve the problem.

“This tragic event has been a humbling experience for all of us at Nisource and Columbia Gas,” said Hamrock. “We realized that much work lies ahead of us to finish our service restoration in Greater Lawrence, and regain the trust of our customers and the communities we serve.”

According to Nisource, approximately 8,500 gas meters had to be shut down for service following the explosions. About 700 of those belonged to area businesses. A MA injury attorney can help you recover damages if you’ve been injured due to another’s negligence.

Columbia Gas initially reported that the thousands of customers impacted would have gas by November 19, but they updated that date to December 16, last week.

Insurance Payments Will Cover Most of Nisource’s Expenses

Although the September tragedy has already cost Nisource about $462 million, most of those expenses will be “substantially recovered” through the utility company’s insurance policy, which has a limit of about $800 million. The $462 million accounts for approximately $415 million in personal injury and property damage expenses, and the remainder will be payments to utility companies that helped with the restoration project. In addition to the criminal investigation, Nisource will likely face civil suits from victims of the explosion. Continue reading

Assault and Battery are common crimes in Massachusetts, whether together or as stand-alone offenses. But most people don’t really understand the conduct behind each of these crimes. It is common for someone to refer to a certain act as an assault, when they really mean battery, and vice versa.

Assault and Battery Distinguished

Assault is an act that creates a fear of imminent, harmful, or offensive conduct. Battery is the crime that occurs when the harmful or offensive conduct is carried out. The key distinction between the two crimes is that for battery, there has to be a touching. If there is no touching, but the victim is in fear of a touching, that crime is an assault. For example, if a person attempts to punch another person, but misses, he/she may be charged with assault. If there is a touching (the punch lands), the charge will likely be battery.

In Massachusetts, cocaine is among the most heavily trafficked drugs. It is a Class B illegal substance, along with many prescription opioids. In other words, it is a crime to possess, manufacture, or sell cocaine in the state of Massachusetts. Most cocaine-related offenses (whether the drug is in powder or rock form) are considered felonies, the most serious type of crime. Massachusetts laws impose severe penalties for cocaine offenses, due in part to the threat of violence that often arises in the drug’s trade. Federal law also prohibits the possession, manufacture and sale of cocaine and other illegal drugs.

Possible Penalties

If convicted of a cocaine related offense, you may face the following penalties:

Contact Information