Gov. John Winthrop (1644)
The Cape Cod Times reports that a Brewster man facing his third drunk driving charge after smashing his 1989 Ford F350 dump truck into an Orleans ambulance in March will face a judge at a pre-trial hearing on December 9. You may remember this incident, as the man had his 10 year old daughter in the truck with him at the time. But when he goes to trial, his two prior convictions for drunk driving will be difficult to present to the jury, thanks to our Legislature. The ability to present court transcripts as evidence was one of the provisions gutted from the drunken driving bill called Melanie’s Law, which Gov. Romney had filed after the death of Melanie Powell earlier this year.
It is interesting that making the introductions of prior convictions more difficult is what the six legislators on the Conference Committee chose to strike. For instance, they left in a provision that allows for a breathalyzer to be attached to a car’s ignition, which had been attacked as violating civil liberties (Porcupine is not certain where the right to drive drunk is enshrined as a civil liberty, but the most unusual things are referred to as quasi-constitutional rights these days). Of course, the breathalyzer can only be required if a prior conviction can be established. And in the changed bill, in order to introduce evidence of prior convictions, the prosecutor must produce a witness or have the arresting officer testify – if they are not available, a conviction cannot be introduced, making it more difficult to effectively prosecute repeat offenders.
Is it surprising that five of the six legislators on the Conference Committee are defense attorneys who represent drunk drivers in court? This is a bi-partisan problem, as two of the House Conference members – Rep. O’Flaherty (D) and Rep. Webster (R) – are all practicing attorneys. Sen. Creedon (D) says there is no problem with the weakened bill, and obtained a ‘not guiltily’ verdict for a DUI client while the Conference negotiations were going on.
Gov. Romney said that he hoped the Legislature would reconsider and strengthen the law, but there is little chance that will happen in this Session. Even as 40 Members and staffers were jetting off to Spain (?), the Legislature has already slipped far behind in legislation passed. A few years ago, The Legislature changed from a one year to a two year Session. Since then, like kids studying for a test, they have pushed all the legislation into the second year of the Session. For instance, in 2001 there were 220 Session laws passed and in 2002 there were 514. The pattern repeated itself in the next two year session – 2003 had 172 and 2004 had 508. Where do we stand in 2005? The Legislature plans to adjourn for the year in mid-November, and so far there have been 113 passed – substantially fewer than the other first year Sessions. Only about a dozen of the bills passed were not either pertaining to a specific town or a sick leave bank, so the actual substantive legislation is even less. At least they took up and passed Chapter 25 of the Act of 2005, which will allow Indians to enter the City of Boston.
What message does all of this send? Over 1/3 of auto crash deaths are related to alcohol, placing Massachusetts eighth in the nation. The day after passage of the bill, a 19 year old college student was in a crash which killed a friend. The Legislature drifts along, refusing to act, secure in the knowledge that the public won’t hold this against them next year when elections come. Hey, they voted for the bill! It’s not their fault that it was gutted – and who can remember who did that, anyway? Public amnesia, the idea that while the Legislature is a corrupt place, their own Legislator is a fine person, will come to their rescue once again.
At least Michael Gomes of Brewster will have an easier time at his trial this December. I hope is daughter isn’t riding with him.