Cases take time, be they civil or criminal. There a number of reasons for this, including, an overworked court system, delays in obtaining discovery, or sometimes, a case can take a considerable amount of time because an issue was raised that was so essential to the case that it needed to be decided before the case could continue. A long-litigated case, the Commonwealth v. Gerhardt, recently went back before the Massachusetts Supreme Court for just this reason. The case concerned one, Thomas Gerhardt, who was pulled over in February of 2013 after an officer observed Gerhardt driving with his rear lights on. Gerhardt was subsequently charged with driving under the influence of marijuana based on his performance on several different field sobriety tests.
Prior to trial, the judge in the case determined that there were issues that had been brought up that needed to be decided before the case could go to trial. Pursuant to a Massachusetts rule of criminal procedure, if the trial judge believes that there is a question that is “so important or doubtful as to require the decision of the Appeals Court, the judge may report the case so far as necessary to present the question of law arising therein.” Mass. R. Crim. P. 34. The trial judge reported four questions to the appellate court after a hearing in October of 2014, asking for its opinion on the matter. The defense then asked that the Massachusetts Supreme Court to respond to the questions instead, which it subsequently agreed to do. The questions that court was asked to consider dealt with whether a police officer could testify about the field sobriety tests in a marijuana case, whether a non-expert could offer their opinion of if an individual was high, whether a police officer who was not an expert witness could testify as to how marijuana affects an individual, and whether a juror could rely on his or her own experience as well as common sense concerning the effects of marijuana, as jurors are allowed to do in an alcohol DUI case.
The case was not heard by the Supreme Court until February 2016. After oral argument, the high court remanded the case back down to the district court, asking the judge to address a number of questions before it made its ruling. The main question was “Is there a scientifically established correlation between marijuana use and impaired driving?” If the lower court answered in the negative, the court stated that there was no need to look further into the matter. However, if their answer was ‘yes,' the Supreme Court had further things it wanted the lower court to consider, such what physical characteristics indicated marijuana use, whether police officers could offer their opinion if a person is too impaired on marijuana to drive, and any other questions the district court judge felt were relevant.
The District Court reported its findings to in October of last year and the case finally went back before the Massachusetts Supreme Court for oral argument on January 6, 2017. Once a holding is rendered in the case some months from now, Thomas Gerhardt will finally know if he is going to be tried on the DUI charge-- more than four years after his initial arrest.
In Fulton County Georgia, as throughout all of Georgia, we have a two-year statute of limitations for all misdemeanor cases and a four-year statute of limitations for almost all felony cases. That means that the prosecution must begin within those time periods. The formal filing of an Accusation or the return of a Grand Jury Indictment initiates the prosecution. In Fulton County, they have been known to file the formal Accusation on the last day of the statute of limitations. As a result, even though an accused arraignment will be set outside of the two years since the arrest, the case can still be prosecuted. If you or a loved one have been arrested for DUI, be sure to contact Fulton County DUI Attorney Richard Lawson today.