Before a judge can accept a guilty plea from an individual for a criminal offense, the court must be assured that the defendant is making his plea free and voluntarily and is of sound mind and completely understands the nature of the proceedings. In fact, it is the defense attorney’s role, at a plea hearing, to make sure the record is clear with regard to these issues. So, needless to say, if a defendant has been consuming alcohol prior to coming to court, it raises serious concerns for the court as to whether they have a “clear mind” when entering the plea. Not to mention, it could be considered a violation of a condition of release or even deemed contempt of court. The case below, exemplifies this issue.
A Superior Court Judge in Massachusetts decided to turn down a plea from a local drunk driver, deciding that the man was simply too impaired to make the decision to plead guilty. Rather than hear the guilty plea, Judge Richard Carey ordered the man returned to jail where he would be allowed to recover until he was sober enough to make the decision.
The issue of the defendant’s drunkenness arose after Judge Carey noticed the man’s clearly impaired behavior. Carey ordered officials with the Probation Department to conduct a test of Patrick Johnson’s blood after he appeared unsteady on his feet and slurred his words. Johnson also admitted to drinking six ounces of vodka prior to coming to court, further proving to the judge that the man was dangerously intoxicated.
The blood test ultimately showed that Johnson had a BAC of 0.28 percent, nearly four times the legal limit in Massachusetts. Judge Carey then sent Johnson back to jail to dry out and told him to come back and make his plea later next week when he isn’t under the influence.
The problem in this particular case is that Johnson is an admitted alcoholic. Johnson says that he drinks large amounts of alcohol regularly and feels that because of his extensive consumption, he no longer feels the effects of the alcohol. Johnson said that he believes he was perfectly clear-headed at the time he attempted to plead guilty to operating a vehicle under the influence. In fact, Johnson says he was totally aware of what he was saying and also understood the consequences of pleading guilty.
However, Judge Carey was not satisfied. In Massachusetts, before a judge can accept a plea, he or she must ask the defendant if they have consumed drugs or alcohol in the past 24 hours, a question designed to reveal if the person is impaired and not making good decisions. Johnson said he felt he should answer the question truthfully, and it led to his plea being postponed.
Johnson’s defense attorney says she is worried that Johnson may never be able to plead guilty given his regular consumption of vodka. She says that Johnson drinks large amounts of alcohol every day and that it would be nearly impossible to get him to court when he had not consumed alcohol during the previous 24 hours. Whether the man can stay clean long enough to plead guilty to drunk driving remains to be seen, though he’ll have his second chance this coming week.
Source: “Judge determines Vermont man too drunk to plead guilty to drunk driving,” by Buffy Spencer, published at MassLive.com.