Use and abuse of powerfully addictive drugs like heroin and synthetic opioids like Oxycontin have thrown the country into crisis on many fronts. Massachusetts has been plagued for years with heroin addiction and now also finds itself dealing with the synthetic opioid epidemic. One of the ways it has manifested is in a growing number of drugged driving cases in Boston. These can result in serious and fatal car accidents.
Although drugged and drunk driving cases are similar, there are some big differences. Specifically, the ways in which evidence is gathered and impairment proven.
Proving alcohol impairment is fairly straightforward, as it moves quickly through the system and presence of the toxin in the blood at certain levels is a clear giveaway of intoxication. Plus, many law enforcement officers readily know the signs and symptoms of alcohol use. Conversely, it may require additional proof to determine if someone is on drugs as opposed to having some type of medical issue. It can also be complicated if one has a valid prescription, though no prescription excuses one for driving while impaired. These difficulties in identifying drug impairment are at the heart of why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) created a course and certification for Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) who may be needed to testify in both criminal and civil trials. An Example of An Alleged Drugged Driving Accident
According to a recent news article from Jalopnik, an alleged drugged driver crashed his car into a dental office on the second story of a building in California. Photos of the crash show the car half-sticking out of the side of the building at a height of about 15 feet off the ground. Authorities have said the defendant allegedly admitted to have taken drugs prior to getting behind the wheel of his Nissan Altima before the very unusual car crash.
This accident occurred around 6 a.m. when the defendant was allegedly driving at a high rate of speed. At this point, the defendant is alleged to have hit a raised concrete divider. When the car hit the divider in such a way that managed to launch it into the air and it crashed into the dental office. At the time of the alleged drugged driving car crash, there were three occupants in the vehicle. The driver allegedly tried to get out of the car and was hanging there when first-responders arrived on the scene and they had to assist him down so they could arrest him on suspicion of drugged driving. Somewhat incredibly, the occupants of the vehicle were only said to have suffered minor injuries in the car crash.
It is important to note even though the suspect has been alleged to have operated a motor vehicle while under the influence of narcotics, this is not proof of guilt and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until he is found guilty in a court of law beyond a reasonable doubt by a judge or jury.
National Drugged Driving Statistics
While this particular incident is fairly unique, it does underscore the disturbing rise of drunk driving accidents. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a survey found that in a one year alone in the U.S., more than 20 million people over the age of 16 drove drunk, and nearly 12 million people drove a motor vehicle after taking drugs. This includes prescription narcotics and illicit street drugs. The study also found a gender discrepancy in the results as women are less likely to drive while intoxicated than men when talking about both drugs and alcohol. When we see that more than half as many people drive on drugs as drive on alcohol, which we already considered an epidemic, we are dealing with a very serious problem.
Differences of Proof in Drugged Driving Cases from Drunk Driving Cases
As our Boston drugged driving accident lawyers can explain, there will most likely be a criminal case before the case can be brought to trial in a civil negligence lawsuit. This is because of the privilege against self-incrimination that is based upon the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A criminal defendant cannot be compelled to answer civil discovery and even do the things generally necessary to defend a civil lawsuit. This means the criminal case must be concluded in many situations, before the civil lawsuit can continue. It must be filed within the statute of limitations. Filing can toll the statute of limitations, meaning it won’t run while the case is being held in abeyance.
The good news for the defendant is drugged driving is often difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Many times, it comes down to whether the arresting officers were DRE certified. Fortunately, for the plaintiff in a civil case, proof beyond a reasonable doubt is not required. In a civil lawsuit, a case must be established by a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, it must be established that it is more likely than not that a defendant is liable for a Boston drugged driving car accident.
Another issue is that a defendant may be able to have the case dismissed in criminal court because the police, without DRE training, lacked probable cause to make an arrest. If this happens, the criminal case will be dismissed long before trial as many cases are in Massachusetts. This is also not a major problem in many civil car accident lawsuits, because there is no probable cause standard. A case must generally be able to survive a motion for summary judgement, but this is also a much different standard of proof.
Many of these questions are determined on a case-by-case basis, so the best thing to do is to speak with an experienced car accident lawyer during a free initial consultation. To aid in your decision on which attorney to hire, you want to make you sure the law firm will actually take cases to trial when a reasonable settlement cannot be reached and the facts and evidence support such action.
If you or someone you love has been injured a Boston drunk driving accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at (617) 777-7777.
Drugged Driver Manages To Crash Car Into Second Story Of Building (Updated), January 15, 2018, By Jason Torchinsky, Jalopnik
More Blog Entries:
Massachusetts Drugged Driving a Serious Problem, Police Say, March 28, 2017, DUI Injury Lawyer Blog