, Salem, MA


January 20, 2014

Westfield man appeals conviction in boy's boat death


Morse’s lawyer argues that his conviction must be overturned because prosecutors didn’t prove he was impaired and the jury never specified the theory.

He is also challenging the state law on misleading a police officer, saying it is overly vague and violates the constitutional right against self-incrimination.

But prosecutors say they amply proved that Morse drove the boat while under the influence. After turning into the sun, Morse continued to operate the boat for four seconds before hitting the kayak, and a man on shore said the boat kept moving even after that.

“Considering these factors, the jury readily could have concluded that the defendant’s consumption of alcohol or marijuana diminished his ability to safely operate the ski boat by impairing his temporal and spatial perception, slowing his reaction time, and exacerbating his eyes’ vulnerability to light,” Assistant District Attorney Thomas Townsend argued in a legal brief.

Prosecutors said Morse misled police and intentionally hindered their investigation by withholding that he had smoked marijuana. State troopers never asked specifically about marijuana but did ask whether he had consumed anything other than alcohol that might have impaired his ability to know what was going on around him. He answered no.

Morse’s lawyer contends that his response to the trooper’s “ambiguous question” cannot be considered a false statement. He said Morse’s rights against self-incrimination were violated because he was convicted based on his refusal to tell police he had smoked marijuana that day, which would have helped police gather evidence against him.

But James Adamopoulos said Morse’s answer virtually shut down any further testing by police. Since his son’s death, he has pushed for a change in the law that would require mandatory testing for both drug and alcohol use after fatal vehicular crashes.

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