Statement from DA Joseph D. Early Jr. on Today’s SJC Ruling Regarding Marijuana Stops

September 19, 2017

Today’s Supreme Judicial Court decision provides much-needed clarity regarding police testimony involving roadside assessments in operating under the influence of marijuana cases. Thomas Gerhardt was charged with OUI marijuana after a February 2013 traffic stop on Route 146 in Millbury. As a result of today’s decision, the case will be returned to Worcester District Court for prosecution.

The Court determined that a police officer may testify, as a lay witness, to the officer’s observations of the defendant’s performance on “roadside assessments,” including the walk and turn and one-legged stand, tests historically used roadside to test for alcohol impairment.  The officer cannot, however, give an opinion as to the effects of marijuana consumption on the individual or an opinion on the effects of the marijuana on that individual’s driving performance. An expert witness would be required to give that opinion. The Court allows that lay jurors can use their common sense when determining if, considering all of the factors and evidence presented, the driver is impaired by way of marijuana.

Importantly, the court determined that roadside assessments and officer observations of operation and behavior are all admissible for jurors to weigh in the process of deliberation.