New Bedford City Councilor Found Not Guilty of Drunk Driving
NEW BEDFORD — New Bedford Ward 3 City Councilor Hugh Dunn has been found not guilty of operating under the influence of alcohol in a 2021 crash that saw him hit two other vehicles after leaving a bar downtown.
Dunn will have to spend one year on probation for two other charges, negligent operation and leaving the scene of property damage, which were continued without a finding.
Following a bench trial at New Bedford District Court that lasted several hours on Tuesday, Judge Joseph Harrington determined that the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Dunn was driving under the influence.
The case hinged on a number of witnesses who saw Dunn that night, on April 30 to the early hours of May 1, 2021.
Witnesses included the bartender serving him drinks at Cork Wine and Tapas to the two New Bedford police officers who responded to the crash, as well as the paramedics and a nurse who treated him.
Both officers testified that they did not smell alcohol or notice typical signs of alcohol impairment in Dunn that night, although officer Abraham Nazario did say that the councilor appeared to be confused and even incoherent.
Defense attorney Tim Walsh called into question the testimony from a paramedic, saying in his closing statement that the man could not be considered a credible witness due to conflicting statements and issues recalling the incident.
And although surveillance video from the establishment shown in court appears to show Dunn and friends drinking at the bar for more than two hours, the bartender testified that he did not show signs of being drunk.
She served Dunn three vodka sodas and a shot of Jameson, according to her testimony — and she said that he also ordered, and drank, water.
Prosecutor Daniel Bennett argued in his closing statement that the receipt from that night shows a $200 tip on an $82 bill, which he said indicates Dunn may have had more to drink.
He added that under Massachusetts OUI laws, alcohol just needs to be part of the reason for the impairment — so if Dunn had taken a Benadryl and had some drinks, as he told investigators, it would still count.
But Walsh noted that most of the witnesses said they did not see any of the usual signs of alcohol impairment, adding that the prosecution only proved that Dunn had been drinking, not that he was drunk.
"Drinking alcohol and driving is not a crime," he told the courtroom, stating that the crime is being impaired by alcohol.
In handing down his decision, Judge Harrington noted that he couldn't speculate on the number of drinks imbibed that evening based on the tip.
Even if Dunn may have driven under the influence, he said, "I have to find beyond a reasonable doubt."
Ultimately, he did not.
Dunn's probation on the other two charges is set to end on Oct. 10, 2023.