Mass. Suspension for CT DUI Upheld on Appeal

connecticut_dui_suspensionThomas Scheffler was arrested and charged with operating under in the influence of liquor in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 14–227a. Following his arrest, he applied for and was allowed entry into a pre-trial alcohol education diversion program, under Conn. Gen.Stat. § 54–56g. After he successfully completed that program, the charges arising from the Connecticut arrest were dismissed. He did not admit to sufficient facts to establish his guilt. However, his license was suspended for 180 days in Connecticut.

Scheffler received notification from the RMV that his driver’s license would be suspended “because of the official notice of suspension/revocation received … from” Connecticut. On April 14, 2010, Scheffler’s license was officially suspended for one year. Scheffler appealed the suspension of his license to the Board of Appeal, and requested that the Connecticut arrest be expunged from his driving record because it did not qualify as a “like offense” for the purposes of G.L. c. 90, § 24. The Mass. DUI Law establishes more stringent penalties for defendants convicted of OUI in Massachusetts, when they have been “previously convicted or assigned to an alcohol or controlled substance education, treatment, or rehabilitation program by a court of the commonwealth, or any other jurisdiction because of a like offense …”

Scheffler additionally suggested to the Board that, even if a violation of § 14–227a was sufficiently similar to a violation of G.L .c. 90, § 24 to qualify as a “like offense,” the Connecticut arrest was dismissed without a finding of guilt or admission to sufficient facts and, as a result, the Connecticut arrest should still not be considered a “like offense” under § 24.

The Board concluded that Conn. Gen.Stat. § 14–227a was sufficiently similar to G.L.c. 90, § 24 to make the Connecticut arrest a “like offense” for the purposes of § 24. See Bellino v. Bd. of Appeals on Motor Vehicle Liab. Policies & Bonds, Civil Action No. 97–2020 (Suffolk Super.Ct. Jun. 8, 1998) (“Operating Under the Influence in Massachusetts appears to incorporate all level of alcohol related driving impairment … notwithstanding any arguably minor differences between two statutory schemes”).

The Board further determined that because § 24 expressly included completion of alcohol education programs among its criteria for like offenses, and because the disposition of the Connecticut arrest included a license suspension, the Connecticut arrest fell within the ambit of a “like offense” for the purposes of § 24. The Board concluded that the pre-trial disposition was “substantially similar to the Continued Without a Finding (CWOF) disposition offered under G.L.c. 90, § 24.” Consequently, the Board affirmed the RMV suspension of Scheffler’s license and denied his request to expunge the Connecticut arrest from his driving record.

The Board concluded that a violation of Conn. Gen.Stat. § 14–227a was a “like offense” for the purposes of G.L.c. 90, § 24, because the statutes both proscribed operation of motor vehicles while impaired by alcohol. On appeal, the Worcester Superior Court ruled that “there was no error in this determination.”

Scheffler emphasizes that the disposition of the Connecticut arrest through the pre-trial alcohol education program did not involve a conviction, a determination of guilt, or admission to sufficient facts that he operated under the influence of liquor. However, the Superior Court noted that, “the plain language of § 24 makes clear that none of those conditions is required for the Connecticut arrest to qualify as a ‘like offense.’”

The Superior Court determined that OUI suspensions are triggered by convictions or program assignments and, “the statute does not, by its terms, require a finding or admission of guilt in all cases.”

Finally, the Superior Court ruled that “the Board’s interpretation of § 24 in a manner that renders the Connecticut DUI arrest a ‘like offense’ for the purposes of that statute was proper and consistent in all respects with applicable law.”