The Massachusetts Safe Driving Bill

There is legislation currently being considered in Massachusetts which would allow illegal aliens who are residing in Massachusetts to legally obtain driver’s licenses. This bill, Massachusetts House Bill 3285,  is scheduled for a public hearing at the Statehouse on February 5th at 11:00 AM and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition strongly supports the proposed legislation, which is known as the Safe Driving Bill.

If the legislation passes, Massachusetts will join 11 states other states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C which allow residents to obtain valid driver’s licenses regardless of the resident’s immigration status. Currently illegal immigrants can obtain licenses in Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Puerto Rico, California, Washington State, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico to name a few states.

From a practical standpoint, many of these illegal immigrants are driving anyways and this bill would allow them to get valid licenses after undergoing written and road tests, to insure that they can drive safely. However, there are concerns regarding issuing licenses to those who may have suspensions, revocations, or long driving records in their home countries.

Currently, those without legal status in the United States are denied licenses in Massachusetts because the Mass. Registry requires driver’s license and learner’s permit applicants to provide a valid social security number or a denial letter issued by the U.S. Social Security Administration. Applicants who submit denial letters must prove their immigration status by presenting an I-94 Record of Arrival & Departure, a current non-U.S. Passport, and proof of the applicant’s visa status. If House Bill 3285 is enacted, the Registry of Motor Vehicles will not be able to deny a Massachusetts resident a driver’s license due to the lack of a social security number or legal immigration status.

Passage of the Mass. Safe Driver Act will reduce the number of license fraud cases in Massachusetts, as these cases are often the result of a person applying for a Mass. license with a fraudulent social security number.

Surchargeable Accidents and your Driver’s License

In Massachusetts, an accident is considered surchargeable if you were more than 50% at fault. Surchargeable accidents will count towards 7 surchargeable events license suspensions and they are likely result in future car insurance premium increases.

How much an at fault accident will increase your insurance rates depends on the rules and rating factors your insurance company has on file with the Division of Insurance. Most insurance companies assign a fixed number of points for each type of at-fault accident or traffic violation,and the total point value is used to determine a percentage increase to the premium for the policy. At-fault accidents may affect future insurance premiums for 3-5 years.

In many instances your Massachusetts automobile insurance premium will increase if you are found to be at-fault in an accident. However, Mass. law prohibits insurance companies from increasing your rates premium based on surchargebale accidents or traffic violations that occurred more than five years prior to your policy effective date.

In Massachusetts, courts ultimately determine who is at fault in a car accident. However, there are presumptions which your insurance company can use to impose surcharges. For example, if you rear-end another vehicle, you will be presumed to be more than 50% at fault. Likewise, in a single car accident, the operator will be presumed to be at fault and receive a surcharge.

When your insurance company finds you at fault in an accident, you will receive a surcharge notice. If you are at-fault in an accident with more than $500.00 in damages, your insurance company will notify the Massachusetts Merit Rating Board and the accident will appear on your driving record. With this happens, the RMV will count the accident towards 7 surchargeable event suspensions. It will not count towards habitual traffaic offender revocations.

You have the legal right to appeal a surchargeable accident to the Board of Appeal at the Division of Insurance. You must file your appeal within thirty (30) days of the surcharge date. Filing an appeal does not prevent your insurance company from increasing your insurance rate. However, if the Board of Appeal vacates the surcharge, your insurance company is legally required to refund any monies paid as a result of the premium increase caused by the fault determination.

The hearing is informal and public, and typically lasts 20 to 30 minutes. The Hearing Officer will make an audio tape recording of the hearing. You or your representative and the insurance company representative will each be given an opportunity to present all pertinent information.

You are entitled to call witnesses and you may ask questions of the insurance company’s representative. You are entitled to be represented by counsel. To reverse a surcharge, your testimony and evidence presented must overcome the presumption of fault. If you prevail, the Registry will remove the surchargeable accident from your Massachusetts driving record.

If the Board’s decision is unfavorable, you can appeal to Superior Court, within 30 days of receipt of the adverse finding.

You Have 20 Days to Appeal a Civil Motor Vehicle Infraction

calendarI have been getting some inquiries from people who have been cited for motor vehicle infractions and they appear to have legitimate defenses to the violations. However, they were found responsible because they failed to file their appeals within the required 20 day appeal period or pay the required $25.00 filing fee.

In Massachusetts, if you want to exercise your right to appeal a citation for civil infractions, you must do so within 20 days of your receipt of the citation. You can appeal by sending the citation to the Registry using the envelope provided by the police officer who issued you the citation. For your citation appeal to be docketed, you must pay the required $25.00 filing fee. The failure to pay the appeal fee may result in your appeal not being processed and you will lose you right to contest the citation.

Traffic tickets in Massachusetts can result in the imposition of license suspensions such as a 4 year habitual traffic offender revocation or a 60 day 7 surchargeable event suspension. Therefore, it is important to appeal if you were unjustly cited. Also, a responsible finding on a traffic citation may result in an increase in your automobile insurance premium.

Failing to file a timely citation appeal can result in unforeseen consequences such as the loss of your driver’s license and an increase in your car insurance rates.

The 20 day appeal period applies only to citations where the “all civil infractions” box is checked and there is a monetary fine amount listed. If the “criminal complaint application” box is checked on the citation, you only have four (4) days to appeal. You can do this by checking off the box on the citation indicating that you are requesting a hearing and signing the citation. You must then bring the citation to the Clerk-Magistrate’s office of the District Court which has jurisdiction over the location where the automobile law violation was alleged to have occurred.

If you fail to send the criminal complaint citation to the appropriate Clerk-Magistrate’s Office within 4 days, you will lose your right to a Clerk-Magistrate hearing and your case will likely be scheduled for an arraignment.

If you have received a citation for a criminal offense, meaning that the “criminal complaint application” box is checked, you should contact a lawyer to discuss your options and legal representation.

Complaint Regulatory Suspensions in Massachusetts

MassDOT imposes Complaint Regulatory license and registration suspensions for a variety of different reasons. The purpose of a complaint regulatory license suspension is to bring the driver in for a hearing and if the driver fails to appear the Registry will indefinitely revoke his or her license until the customer personally appears for a hearing and satisfies the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

One of the primary reasons for complaint regulatory suspensions in Massachusetts is allowing someone whose license is suspended to operate your motor vehicle. Under Melanie’s law, it is a criminal offense to knowingly lend your vehicle to a person whose license is suspended or revoked. However, you can have your vehicle’s registration revoked even without a conviction or even being charged. When law enforcement notifies the RMV that someone was operating a vehicle registered to you without a valid license, the Registry will automatically send you a complaint regulatory letter.

The Registry also imposes complaint regulatory suspensions in cases where Massachusetts residents have registered their vehicles out of state. If you are a Massachusetts resident, you must register your vehicles in Massachusetts. Many residents register their vehicles in other states to avoid having to pay Massachusetts automobile insurance rates. This is illegal and the RMV will take action against you if you are found to have improperly registered your vehicle out of state. You can also be cited by the police for this offense.

There are other reasons for complaint regulatory suspensions such as being issued a license without an ignition interlock “Z” restriction when you are legally required to have the IID. If you have received a complaint regulatory suspension letter from MassDOT, you must personally appear at a Registry hearing and you are entitled to be represented by a lawyer at that hearing. Call today to discuss your case.

Keep Your Mass. Driving Record Clean

The importance of keeping your Massachusetts Driving Record clean cannot be overstated. Having a poor driving record has a litany of potential negative consequences such as denial of employment, loss of a commercial driver’s license, civil liability, insurance premium increases, license suspensions, and employment consequences.

Many employers check their employee’s Motor Vehicle Records to insure that they are safe drivers. Violations can result in the loss of a company car, a reprimand, or a negative performance evaluation. CDL Drivers face stiff consequences for violations, especially those involving drugs or alcohol. Keeping your driving record clean can avoid employment consequences. Some employers require their employees to proactively report certain traffic violations and police contacts. Others may learn about off duty driving related incidents such as DUI offenses by periodically checking motor vehicle records.

In public safety occupations such as police officer or firefighter, your driving record will almost certainly be scrutinized as during the background investigation process and the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission has repeatedly upheld bypasses of candidates for employment as correctional officers, firefighters, and police officers based on driving records which show surchargeable events, citations and/or suspensions for 7 surchargeable events. The Massachusetts State Police also routinely rejects candidates due to driving records. Driving related criminal offenses such as operating under the influence will appear on your driver history and may result in your disqualification from employment.

Commercial Driver’s License Holders need to use special caution to keep their records clean and accumulating violations can result in CDL suspensions and disqualifications. For example, a single OUI conviction will result in a 1 year CDL suspension and two DUI convictions will trigger a lifetime CDL loss. Also, a breath test refusal is considered the same as a DUI for CDL license suspension purposes. This means that a DUI conviction with a prior chemical test refusal or vice versa, will result in a lifetime CDL loss.

School bus, livery, taxi, and limousine drivers should pay careful attention to avoid surchargeable accidents or receiving citations, as they could result in the loss of a job. Employers are becoming more conscious of negligent hiring and negligent entrustment cases and this has promoted them to place more weight on driving records.

If you drive an employer supplied vehicle, have a CDL, or may be a candidate for public safety employment, you should be careful to keep your driving record clean. This is especially true in Massachusetts where driving records cannot be sealed or expunged.

New Requirements for Massachusetts CDL Holders

massachusetts_CDLMassDOT has announced that holders of Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDL) in Massachusetts need to self-certify that they are in compliance with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations prior to a deadline of January 30, 2014. This is required by the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and it is a national requirement.

CDL drivers need to certify required information to the Commercial Motor Vehicle section of the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles regarding the type of business for which they operate a Commercial Motor Vehicle, the type of CDL vehicle which they drive, whether they drive only within Massachusetts or interstate, and whether the US DOT requires them to hold a valid medical certificate. CDL drivers who are required to carry medical certificates must provide a copy to MassDOT.

Commercial Drivers who are required to complete the self-certification process can do so on the Registry’s website, which will accept scanned or electronic copies of the medical card, if required. Mass. CDL holders can also mail or fax a completed and signed CDL Self-Certification Form to the MassDOT Driver Licensing CDL Unit.

Massachusetts CDL Drivers who fail to comply will the requirements will have their CDL driving privlidges indefinitely revoked and the Mass. RMV will disqualify them from driving a CDL. If the driver does not update his or her information after disqualification, the Registry will automatically downgrade the CDL to a Class D passenger car license within 60 days. Failure to comply with the certification requirements and fully reinstate the CDL within a 12 month period will require the driver to re-take CDL written and road tests.

Mass. License Fraud Suspensions

Using facial recognition and cross-matching technology, the Registry of Motor Vehicles has been generating a substantial number of indefinite license revocations for COMP FRAUD LIC/ID. The Registry imposes these indefinite suspensions whenever the Special Investigations Unit, which is made up of RMV officials and State Troopers, has reason to believe that the crime of license fraud occurred.

If you received a letter from the Registry’s Special Investigations Unit accusing you of license fraud, you should contact a lawyer. The penalties for presenting fraudulent documents and information in Massachusetts are severe. Pursuant to G.L. c. 90 § 24B, procuring or attempting to procure a Massachusetts learner’s permit, a license to operate motor vehicles, or a RMV identification card is a felony which carries a sentence of up to 5 years in state prison.

Providing false information to obtain a permit, license, or ID is also a felony which carries a sentence of up to 5 years in prison. Falsely impersonating another person to obtain license, permit, or ID is also a felony and it may constitute the crime of identity theft, which is in addition to the separate crime of license fraud.

It is a crime to attempt to obtain a license, permit or ID and this crime is complete as soon as false information is provided. It does not matter whether the false information resulted in the issuance of a license or not. Providing a false social security number is a criminal offense, even if you provide your true name and date of birth.

In addition to any criminal penalties, license fraud will result in the automatic suspension of your driver’s license or right to operate, even if no criminal charges are filed.
The Registry detects license fraud in a variety of ways such as facial recognition and cross-matching information provided with the U.S. Social Security Administration. If you have received a letter from the Registry regarding license fraud, you should contact a lawyer to discuss your case and options. I have successfully handled a large number of Massachusetts License Fraud cases.

Road Tests for Mass. License Reinstatements

If your Massachusetts Driver’s License is suspended or revoked for over one year, MassDOT may require you to take a written and road test prior to getting your license reinstated. Also, the Registry routinely requires competency road exams for those who have had their licenses suspended as a result of a “complaint medical” or an “immediate threat medical.”

Depending on how long you have been off the road, you may want to attend a driving school and practice driving prior to taking your road test with the Registry of Motor Vehicles. As adults, we may pick up some bad driving habits and these habits may cause you to fail your road test and have to re-schedule.

When you a take a road test in Massachusetts, you will be held to the same standard of a sixteen and a half year old who has never held a driver’s license before. The Registry examiner may require to you to demonstrate all of the driving maneuvers customarily required of those who are being licensed for the first time. These include parallel parking, three point turns, using hand signals, demonstrating the proper use of the parking brake and the like.

Also, as the operator of a motor vehicle in Massachusetts, the Registry will require to insure that all passengers have their seat belts securely fastened before you start the vehicle or put the vehicle in motion. Not wearing your seatbelt or insuring that the road test examiner and sponsor have their seatbelts fastened before proceeding is an easy way to fail your road test.

Common ways that people fail road tests in Massachusetts include: failing to come to a complete stop at a red light or stop sign, failure to signal, blocking a crosswalk, and failing to look while backing. These are just a few examples a good driving instructor can help insure that you do not make these common mistakes.

If you are reinstating after a 2rd, 3rd, or 4th offense DUI suspension, you will be ignition interlock required pursuant to the IID Provision of Melanie’s Law, G.L. c. 90 § 24 ½. This means that you will have to take your road test in a vehicle which is equipped with a certified ignition interlock device. You will be ignition interlock required, and have a “Z” restriction on your driver’s license while any hardship limitation is in place and for at least two year after the removal of the 12 hour driving restriction.

If you are taking a road test in a vehicle which does not have a center console mounted emergency brake, you should notify the Registry Hearings Officer who schedules your road test. Notifying the Registry of this will allow them to schedule the test with an examiner who can perform the road test without a center console emergency brake. Otherwise, your road test may have to be rescheduled.

You must have a sponsor accompany you for the road test, just as you would if you were getting a driver’s license for the first time. The sponsor will be required to sit in the back seat and the RMV examiner will sit in the front passenger seat.

The vehicle which you are using for the road test must be registered, inspected, insured, and in good working order. It must have functioning seatbelts, turn signals, and other required equipment. If you are IID restricted, your vehicle must have a functioning ignition interlock device which you must use during the road test.

If you have questions regarding road tests in Massachusetts, you can contact the Registry of Motor Vehicles at 857-368-8000.

Fatal Accident Preliminary Suspensions

If you have the misfortune of being involved in a fatal motor vehicle accident in Massachusetts, the Registry of Motor Vehicles has the right to immediately revoke your driver’s license for “FATAL ACCD PRELIM.” The Registry imposes these license revocations pursuant to G.L. c. 90 § 29, which requires Massachusetts police departments to promptly notify the Registrar of any serious or fatal motor vehicle accident.  When the Registry of Motor Vehicles receives notification of a fatal accident, the Registrar is required to impose a fatal accident preliminary suspension unless a preliminary accident investigation indicates that the driver whose license is to be suspended may not have been at fault in the accident.

If your license was suspended under the fatal accident preliminary suspension law, you are legally entitled to have the accident impartially investigated and you are further entitled to a hearing regarding the suspension and reinstatement of your driver’s license or right to operate. If the Registry refuses to reinstate your license, you can appeal the adverse Registry action to the Massachusetts Board of Appeal of the Division of Insurance. The Board has the legal authority to order the Registry to reinstate your license.

You cannot be considered for any type of hardship or work license during a fatal accident preliminary suspension, because the purpose of the law is to remove a potentially dangerous driver from the road until the accident can be fully investigated. This is an administrative license suspension which is not intended to punish the driver whose license is taken. In Massachusetts, the Collision Analysis & Reconstruction section of the Massachusetts State Police is charged with investigating fatal accidents. This investigation includes a reconstruction which can be time consuming.

If the Registry of Motor Vehicles suspended your license due to a fatal accident and the reconstruction shows that you were “without serious fault,” the Registry should immediately reinstate your license. If, on the other hand, you were found at fault in the accident, as a result of the reconstruction and investigation, the Registry will leave the suspension in place and the RMV will further revoke your license if you are convicted of vehicular homicide or if the police file an immediate threat suspension request based on the results of the investigation and reconstruction.

If your license has been suspended or revoked because of the above-described circumstances, you should definitely contact a lawyer. My office has successfully handled cases of this nature and obtained full license reinstatements at the Board of Appeal.

Operating After Suspension Conviction Overturned

massachusetts_sjcThe Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has recently ruled that a certified copy of a letter from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, which was introduced in an operating after suspension trial, to prove that the defendant was notified of his license suspension was admitted into evidence in violation of the defendant’s right to confront his accusers, which is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution.

In order to convict someone of operating after suspension in Massachusetts, the prosecution must prove, among other things, that the Registry notified the defendant that his license was suspended or revoked. The prosecution usually proves this with a certified copy of the suspension letter from the Registrar to the driver.

In the case of Commonwealth v. Joseph Lee, the Mass. SJC ruled that the prosecution could not introduce the suspension letter without producing an employee from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles to lay a proper foundation for the suspension letter’s introduction.

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives those accused of crimes the right to confront their accusers. In this case, the defendant’s Constitutional right was violated because the prosecution failed to produce a live witness for the defendant to confront regarding the suspension letter. Therefore, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the driver’s rights were violated and the Court reversed his conviction for operating after suspension, which carried a mandatory jail sentence because his license was suspended for DUI.

This case demonstrates the importance of having a good lawyer represent you in the event that you are charged with the crime of operating after suspension in Massachusetts.