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Massachusetts top court rules field sobriety tests not definitive for marijuana impairment

[JURIST] The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that evidence of a field sobriety test is not conclusive evidence of driving under the influence of marijuana.

The court found that although there is clear scientific evidence that the field sobriety test performance can be used to measure blood alcohol content of at least 0.08 percent, no scientific evidence exists showing the correlation of performance on the sobriety tests and marijuana intoxication.

The case involved a challenge to the admissibility of field sobriety test results as evidence in driving under the influence of marijuana cases. The court ruled that the evidence can still be admitted, but there are restrictions to how it is to be presented.

Instead of "field sobriety tests," the tests will instead be referred to as "roadside assessments." There shall also be no statements regarding if driver "passed" or "failed" the assessment and no statement can be made that the results indicated impairment.

The results of the roadside assessments can still be used to indicate a driver's "balance, coordination, mental acuity, and other skills necessary to safely operate a motor vehicle." However, it cannot be used as a definitive test of impairment.

The court also ruled that because there is no scientific consensus on the physical characteristics that indicate marijuana intoxication, no lay person may "offer an opinion as to the defendant's sobriety or intoxication," although they still may still testify on the defendant's observable appearance, behavior, and demeanor."

In December, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker delayed [JURIST report] the implementation of a voter approved marijuana legalization initiative by six months. Licensing of cannabis shops is now scheduled to begin July 1, 2018.

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