BOSTON -- The state Supreme Judicial Court has reversed an Adams man's 2010 conviction on drunken driving because a judge's instruction to the jury may have colored their decision.
In a decision released Thursday, the SJC found that Northern Berkshire District Court Judge Michael J. Ripps erred in an explanation to the jury as to why no breathalyzer evidence was presented at trial.
Henry T. Gibson, who was 40 at the time of his court case, argued on appeal that his right against self-incrimination was "violated when the judge instructed the jury that a person may refuse to take a breathalyzer test," according to the SJC decision.
The judge's explanation, in response to a question the jury returned with during deliberations, was among a longer list of reasons why a breathalyzer might not have been introduced at trial.
"You may have noticed there was no evidence of a breathalyzer test," Ripps told the jury. "There are many reasons you might not hear evidence about a breathalyzer. The police do not have to offer it, a person does not have to take it. The machine might not have been working."
Ripps also urged the jury to decide the case by putting aside the question of why no breathalyzer was used.
The SJC indicated that since breathalyzer tests are commonplace, jurors could have been left to conclude that Gibson refused to submit to one once the judge said a person could refuse.
The state's case was based "solely on a theory of impaired operation the commonwealth was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that alcohol diminished the defendant's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle," according to the SJC.
Gibson was pulled over in North Adams around 10 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday in 2010 after he drove through a red light.
Officer Anthony Beverly testified that Gibson didn't pass some field sobriety tests, although Gibson disputed that, according to the SJC's decision.
Beverly testified he "smelled alcohol" on Gibson and "observed ‘inconsistent' behavior and ‘sluggish' movements," but never explained how that could have indicated Gibson was under the influence. Gibson said he had drank four beers over the course of as many hours and ate lots of food while watching the game, but that he also was tired and had been up since 5:30 that morning.