James Hampton Wade, a 22-year-year old Marblehead man, is facing charges of operating under the influence of alcohol and drugs, both second offenses, operating a motor vehicle to endanger, leaving the scene of property damage, and resisting arrest after allegedly crashing his car into a utility pole on Saturday night. Police allegedly received a report of the accident, which split the pole, shortly after 9 p.m. on Saturday. A person reportedly exited the car, “stuck an air bag back in,” and left the scene. Police allegedly followed a trail of antifreeze from the accident location to the vehicle allegedly operated by Wade. Wade, walking down the street, was located shortly after police found the car. He allegedly told police that he crashed into the pole because he had taken too many Prazosin pills and that he had planned on reporting his car stolen before police arrived. Wade allegedly struggled with the arresting officer, who claims to have injured his neck, for one minute. The car was towed.
During booking, police allegedly found a $12.75 receipt, which had cleared about 20 minutes before the crash was reported, from a local bar. Wade was arraigned in Lynn District Court and released on personal recognizance Monday, and his pre-trial date is scheduled for Jan. 3.
This might be a difficult case for the government to prove if Wade retains an experienced Massachusetts criminal defense attorney. It is unclear whether the drunk-driving count is based on anything more than the bar receipt. For example, it is unclear whether Wade took a breathalyzer test, submitted to any field sobriety tests, or exhibited any signs of impairment. There may not have been probable cause to support this count of the complaint or the government might ultimately struggle with proving it, particularly where the $12.75 bar receipt could easily have been for just one or two drinks, food, or drinks for another person. It would also be interesting to find out how much time elapsed between the accident report and the encounter with Wade. Timing is important because even if Wade did exhibit signs of intoxication at the time police confronted him, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that he was intoxicated at the time of the alleged operation. For example, he could have had drinks after the alleged accident. In order for the Commonwealth to prevail at trial they must demonstrate that Wade was operating a motor vehicle on a public way while under the influence of alcohol. All three of these elements must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The most litigated element is the “intoxication element.” The Massachusetts jury instructions tell jurors that to prove this element the Commonwealth does not have to prove that the defendant was drunk but just that his or her ability to operate was impaired do to alcohol. In some cases, such as this one, when the defendant is not arrested behind the wheel of the car an experienced Boston area defense attorney can shed doubt on whether the defendant was driving the car while he or she was under the influence.
With respect to the operating under the influence of drugs count, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that Wade was under the influence, apart from his alleged statement to the police that he had taken too many Prazosin, and a good defense lawyer will examine whether there are grounds, such as whether there was a possible Miranda violation, to suppress the alleged statements.
The basis of the operating to endanger count is also questionable, as it is unclear whether anyone actually saw the way in which the driver was operating the car.