If you are pulled over by an officer and accused of operating a vehicle under the influence, you will likely be asked to take a breathalyzer test. This may occur on-scene or after you are arrested and taken to the police station. Whether or not you take the test can have some legal ramifications. Some people may want to consult with an attorney to decide which is the best decision to make. This is exactly what was argued in a Massachusetts Supreme Court case, Commonwealth v. Neary-French. At the core of this case was the question of whether there is a right to legal counsel before deciding to take a breathalyzer test.

“Critical Stages” Argument

According to Massachusetts law, defendants facing criminal charges have a legal right to counsel at all critical stages of the process. The defendant in this case argued that “the decision whether or not to submit to a breathalyzer test can have a significant impact on trial strategies and available defenses, rendering the decision a critical stage in proceedings.” Essentially, the argument is that critical stages begin before someone is actually charged of a crime or goes through any formal legal proceedings.

Right to Legal Counsel Before Deciding to Take a Breathalyzer

The Massachusetts Supreme Court did not agree with this line of reasoning. They ruled in favor of the plaintiff in this case. According to the court, anyone driving in the state of Massachusetts consents to a breathalyzer test by virtue. Furthermore, the decision whether or not to take a breathalyzer does not jeopardize one’s rights according to the Sixth Amendment or Article 12 of Massachusetts Law. An influential factor in their decision was a Supreme Court case, Kirby vs. Illinois. According to the decision in that case, the right to legal counsel does not begin until the start of criminal proceedings. Basically, it begins when a defendant is formally charged with a crime (via an arraignment, preliminary hearing, or other legal proceeding). Therefore, being asked to take a breathalyzer would not qualify under that criteria.