By Dave Rogers
---- — AMESBURY — The state’s highest court earlier this week denied a New Hampshire man’s attempt to quash damning evidence that led him to plead guilty to a fifth drunken-driving charge in 2011.
As a result, Gregory S. Bartlett, 51, of Plaistow, N.H., will have to serve the next 21/2 years in prison, followed by three years of probation, as originally sentenced in 2010.
In January, Bartlett’s attorney Geoffrey DuBosque went before the state Supreme Court and argued that evidence that led to his client’s 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.
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 two drug possession-related charges.
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. Amesbury police currently have a mutual aid agreement with Salisbury and Newburyport as well as Merrimac.
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. On his return trip 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, he pulled in front of Bartlett’s Chrysler, blocking him in. He then called Amesbury police who sent an officer to the scene right away.
On Monday, the SJC ruled that the officer “properly effectuated a stop in order to ensure that the defendant’s erratic operation did not endanger other drivers, and in order to determine whether the defendant was operating while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These actions were within the authority that the mutual aid agreement granted him. In addition, [the officer]’s radio call to Amesbury shortly after effectuating the stop fulfilled the requirement in the agreement that he ‘notify the host community as soon as practically possible.’”
Praising the ruling was Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, who called it a common-sense decision that recognizes the authority of police officers to protect the public from immediate danger when outside of their jurisdiction.
“A drunk driver poses a grave threat to the community. In making the stop, this officer acted appropriately to ensure the safety of the public,” Blodgett said.
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 21/2 years in state prison with three years probation but filed an appeal shortly thereafter.