, Newburyport, MA

January 11, 2013

Highest court to hear DUI case

By Dave Rogers
Staff Writer

---- — BOSTON – A New Hampshire man’s desire to stay out of prison for the next 2 1/2 years is in the hands of state Supreme Judicial Court judges who will decide whether to grant his request to squash damning evidence that led him to plead guilty to a fifth drunken driving charge in 2011.

Gregory S. Bartlett, 51, of Plaistow, N.H. is arguing that evidence that led to his guilty plea was illegally obtained after a Merrimac police officer driving through Amesbury blocked him from leaving the Mandarin Chinese Restaurant parking lot after witnessing him drive erratically on Route 110.

Expected to present arguments yesterday inside the John Adams Courthouse were Bartlett’s attorney Geoffrey DuBosque and Assistant District Attorney Elin H. Graydon. A clerk in the downtown Boston courthouse said the judges have 130 days to render a decision.

Bartlett said because the Merrimac police officer was out of his jurisdiction, he had no authority to detain him until Amesbury police arrived about a minute later. In addition to the drunken driving charge Bartlett was charged with possession of a class D substance to distribute and distribution of a class C substance.

According to court documents, then Merrimac police officer Charles Sciacca, now a member of the Amesbury Police Department, had crossed into Amesbury to purchase a soda when he noticed Bartlett crossing repeatedly over the middle line on Route 110 west. Suspecting Bartlett might be intoxicated, Sciacca followed him, with an intent to pull him over in Merrimac. But less than a mile from Merrimac, Bartlett stopped abruptly in the middle of the road, turned on his blinkers and took a left turn into the restaurant’s parking lot. Sciacca followed Bartlett into the lot, and fearing for the public’s safety and a safety of the driver, he pulled in front of the Bartlett’s Chrysler blocking him in. He then called Amesbury police who sent an officer to scene right away.

Prosecutors argued that because the two towns have a signed mutual aid agreement, the Merrimac officer was within his authority and his rights to detain Bartlett. It’s an argument backed by the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, which submitted its own brief.

“The action of the on-duty, out-of-jurisdiction police officer in simply blocking an apparently impaired motorist’s vehicle in a parking lot until the local police arrived, even if the court were to find he was acing merely as a private citizen, was not an unreasonable seizure nor was he acting on behalf of the local police in doing so; therefore, there was no constitutional violation and any evidence obtained by the local police should not be suppressed,” the police chief’s association wrote in its brief.

The police chief’s association added it was obvious Sciacca was acting in good faith pursuant to a mutual aid agreement between the two communities and to grant Bartlett’s appeal would make it harder for police officers to get potentially dangerous motorists off the road.

Amesbury police currently have a mutual aid agreement with Salisbury and Newburyport as well as Merrimac.

After being indicted in Essex Superior Court in October of that year, a series of motions filed by Bartlett’s attorneys prolonged the case into 2011. In 2010, his attorney filed a motion to suppress evidence collected by local police, arguing that the Merrimac police officer had no right to stop him from leaving the parking lot because he was out of his jurisdiction.

A Superior Court judge was not convinced and denied the motion in April 2010. Bartlett appealed the judge’s decision leading to an appeals court judge, who denied his claim in November, 2010. In his February 2011 superior court trial, Bartlett was found guilty of OUI (fifth offense) and possession of a class D substance. He was found not guilty of possession of a class C substance.

That conviction was later dismissed by the state as Bartlett agreed to plead guilty to a similar OUI charge. Bartlett was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in state prison with three years probation but filed an appeal shortly thereafter.