Mass. Criticized for “Lienient” DUI Laws

mass_drivers_license_hardshipIn 2005, Massachusetts enacted Chapter 122 of the Acts of 2005. More commonly known as Melanie’s Law, the express purpose of the legislation was to increase penalties for drunk drivers In Massachusetts. The law forces repeat OUI offenders to use the ignition interlock device, it imposes harsh administrative license suspension penalties for chemical test refusals, implements a lifetime lookback period, provides for the towing and 12 hour impoundment of vehicles for those who refuse the breathalyzer, and has the effect of disqualifying some drivers from holding a license for the rest of their lives. It also makes getting DUI convictions easier for prosecutors and makes it easier for them to prove prior drunk driving offenses which, if proven, subject the person accused of drunk driving to enhanced penalties.

Nevertheless, in spite of all of this, the federal government has recently criticized Massachusetts as being “too soft” on drunk drivers. According to a Boston Herald article, Massachusetts has adopted only 4 of 11 items proposed by the National Transportation Safety Board’s proposed DUI crackdown. Of the 11 recommendations, Massachusetts currently uses DUI sobriety checkpoints, which are also known as drunk driving roadblocks, it uses sanctions to separate hardcore drunk drivers from their vehicles, it has legislation which restricts plea bargains where DUI offenses are reduced to lesser non-alcohol related charges, it has administrative license suspensions for chemical test failures and breathalyzer refusals, and it has a lifetime lookback period, where the NTSB recommends a minimum 10 year lookback period.

Massachusetts has yet to implement t anti-drunk driving measures such as programs to enforce DUI license suspensions, ignition interlock requirements for first offenders, and a law which creates the crime of “aggravated DUI,” which is committed when someone operates a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of .15 or above.

Senator Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth) has filed a bill which would require interlock for first offenders and it would eliminate the ability to resolve two pending DUI offenses at the same time, thereby avoiding enhanced penalties. Further increasing the penalties for OUI is a controversial move. Many who suffer with long license suspensions and other harsh consequences claim that the Massachusetts DUI laws are draconian and others claim that they are too lenient.  I predict that Senator Hedlund’s bill is likely to pass.