When accused drunk drivers ask Massachusetts judges, not juries, to rule on their cases, they receive a not guilty verdict more than 80 percent of the time, according to a Globe Spotlight Team investigation. It is a degree of leniency virtually unsurpassed in the United States, specialists say. And it has public safety officials concerned that the scales of justice for one of the most common crimes are now tipped dangerously out of balance.

A special counsel found that in some courts, nearly all drunken driving defendants who waive jury trials are acquitted.

The study by the Supreme Judicial Court in the wake of a Globe Spotlight series recommends better training for judges on how to handle scientific evidence and seeks to halt ‘judge shopping’ in Massachusetts courts.

Nov. 2, 2012

Change urged for drunken driving cases

A special counsel urged the state’s highest court Thursday to embrace measures to help erase the “appearance of leniency’’ in drunken driving cases decided by judges instead of juries. Judges in some Massachusetts courts, particularly in Worcester County, acquit nearly all of the drunk driving defendants who waive their right to a jury trial, according to a year-long study of the court system. The study was commissioned by the Supreme Judicial Court last year in the wake of a Globe Spotlight series.

Part 1

For drunk drivers, a habit of judicial leniency

When state judges hear OUI cases without a jury, they acquit the vast majority of defendants, no matter how blatant the alleged offense. It is one more way Massachusetts stands out nationally — for all the wrong reasons — on this crime.

Part 2

//c.o0bg.com/rf/image_90x90/Boston/2011-2020/2013/12/05/BostonGlobe.com/Metro/Images/06spotro_photo1.jpg A judicial haven for accused drunk drivers

Plymouth County’s courts may be the most lenient in OUI trials. Judges hear most cases without a jury and acquit just about everyone, leaving police and victims appalled.

Part 3

Court mismatch makes OUI justice elusive

Lawyers who specialize in defending drunk drivers enjoy huge legal advantages built into state law, and have the ear of some judges prone to favor their arguments, no matter how far-fetched.

Photo gallery

From checkpoints to trial

Scenes from State Police checkpoints and some of the judges involved in the report.

audio transcript

Getting to not guilty

How a driver who said he was drunk was found not guilty.