Hardship Licenses Are Not Automatically Granted

The issuance of Hardship Driver’s Licenses in Massachusetts is far from automatic. I spoke with a client today who learned this the hard way. Like many, he made the costly mistake of appearing before the Board of Appeal without a lawyer, after being denied a hardship license from the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Not surprisingly, the Board voted to affirm the decision of the Registrar, which means that it voted to deny him a 12 hour hardship license. Absent a successful Motion for Reconsideration, he will be forced to serve out his appeal. This case shows why it is important to hire a lawyer before your Board of Appeal hearing. In many cases, this hearing is the hardship license candidate’s only chance to get hardship relief.

Anyone who thinks that they’re automatically entitled to a hardship license is wrong. Both the Board and the Registry have the ability to deny hardship licenses, even in cases where the applicant has met all of the requirements. Indeed, courts have determined that the Board has great discretion whether or not to grant a hardship license. See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Deramo, 436 Mass. 40, 44 n.6 (2002) (describing the decision of whether and on what conditions to grant of a hardship license under the Massachusetts Habitual Traffic Offender statute as “purely discretionary”); Jacobus v. Board of Appeals on Motor Vehicle Liability Policies and Bonds, No. 96-2711, 1997 WL 573203, at *3, 7 Mass. L. Rptr. 401 (Mass. Super. Ct. Nov. 10, 1997) (describing hardship relief from a section 24G(c) motor vehicle homicide suspension as “wholly within the discretion of the Board”). The Board may consider hardship, but is not bound to issue a hardship license even if hardship is present. See Deramo, 436 Mass, at 44 n.6; Jacobus, 1997 WL 573203, at 2. Also, a reviewing court may not substitute its own judgment for that of the Board, on questions largely left to the Board’s discretionary expertise.

Therefore, because the Board of Appeals is vested with complete discretion, when it comes to hardship licensing, it is absolutely essential to have a strong and well-prepared case. This is why a lawyer who regularly and routinely practices before the Registry and Board of Appeal can make the difference. Many people who represented themselves at hardship license hearings and lost wish they had hired a lawyer. Although there are no guarantees, in most cases, hiring a hardship license lawyer is money well spent.