Prior DUI Convictions Will Count Against You

If you have been charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, a prior DUI conviction could dramatically increase any resulting breathalyzer refusal or DWI license suspension. Massachusetts has a lifetime look-back and the prosecution will check multiple sources for prior DUI convictions or assignments to a drug or alcohol treatment program, which count just like convictions.

Prosecutors in Massachusetts operating under the influence (OUI) cases are likely to check computerized records, court files, your Massachusetts driving record, probation record, County and Municipal Court records, as well as DMV databases for any prior offenses.

A prior offense may disqualify you from being treated as a first offender and multiple DUI convictions will substantially increase the length of your DUI and/or chemical test refusal suspension, as well as the waiting period which you must serve prior to being considered for a hardship driver’s license.

In some cases, the prosecution will not be able to prove a prior offense “beyond a reasonable doubt” during the criminal DUI trial. This does not mean that the Registry of Motor Vehicles cannot consider that prior offense when calculating the length of your license revocation or when deciding if your will be ignition interlock required.

If you have been arrested for DUI and you have any prior offenses, you should disclose them to your lawyer as soon as possible. Also, out of state offenses count the same as those committed in Massachusetts. Basically, any prior DUI conviction or assignment to a program will count, regardless of when and where it happened.

Driving on a Suspended License Q&A

Situation: In January I got pulled over for driving with a suspended license.  The reason I was doing so was that I was never informed that my license was suspended.  I found out that it was due to lack of payment on a previous ticket that I had tried to pay but had done so improperly.  I was likewise never informed that the payment never went through.  I went to court and the charge was dropped for driving with a suspended license, but the suspension is still on my record.  The day after I got pulled over, I went to the RMV and paid all necessary fees and got my license reinstated, which shows that I want to do the right thing and would have just paid the initial fee properly had I known that it did not go through.  The suspension on my license has made my insurance incredibly expensive, and so I need to appeal the suspension because I was never informed that it was happening and certainly would have done what was necessary to avoid it.

Answer: Since the charge of operating after suspension was dismissed, there is no way that it is generating an insurance premium increase. Here, the driver wants to have the fact that her license was suspended for four months removed from her driving history. This is impossible. The Registry is legally required to maintain complete and accurate records. Accordingly, the RMV will not erase, purge, or expunge items from someone’s driving record. The record shows that the Clerk-Magistrate denied the complaint application on the suspended license charge and that cannot be used against the driver for insurance purposes.

Mass. Driving Record Q&A

Situation: In January I got pulled over for driving with a suspended license.  The reason I was doing so was that I was never informed that my license was suspended.  I found out that it was due to lack of payment on a previous ticket that I had tried to pay but had done so improperly.  I was likewise never informed that the payment never went through.  I went to court and the charge was dropped for driving with a suspended license, but the suspension is still on my record.  The day after I got pulled over, I went to the RMV and payed all necessary fees and got my license reinstated, which shows that I want to do the right thing and would have just paid the initial fee properly had I known that it did not go through.  The suspension on my license has made my insurance incredibly expensive, and so I need to appeal the suspension because I was never informed that it was happening and certainly would have done what was necessary to avoid it.

Answer: Since the charge of operating after suspension was dismissed, there is no way that it is generating an insurance premium increase. Here, the driver wants to have the fact that her license was suspended for four months removed from her driving history. This is impossible. The Registry is legally required to maintain complete and accurate records. Accordingly, the RMV will not erase items from someone’s driving record. The record shows that the Clerk-Magistrate denied the complaint application on the suspended license charge and that  cannot be used against  the driver for insurance purposes. Unfortunately, the law requires that the payment default suspension remain on the driver’s record.

Be Careful When Lending Your Car

Lending your vehicle to the wrong person in Massachusetts can have severe consequences such as the loss of your driver’s license. For example, if you lend you vehicle to someone whose license is suspended, the Registry may revoke the vehicle’s registration or your Massachusetts Driver’s License. Also, if you are convicted of knowing allowing someone who does not have a valid driver’s license to drive your vehicle, you may have a criminal offense on your record.

If you knowingly lend your car to someone who has an ignition interlock restriction on his or her license, and your car does not have an ignition interlock device (IID) it is a violation of Melanie’s Law and this carries a penalty of 1 year in the house of correction and a 1 year license and/or vehicle registration suspension.

Conversely, if you have an ignition interlock “Z” restriction on your driver’s license and you lend your vehicle to someone, the Registry’s Ignition Interlock Unit will hold you responsible for any alcohol readings, circumvention, disconnection, and/or tampering which occurs. You should definitely think twice before lending an ignition interlock equipped vehicle to anyone. Rolling re-tests failures and missed rolling re- tests often occur in these situations.

Finally, you must ensure that  only those household members who are listed on your policy as authorized drivers are allowed to operate your vehicles. If you let a driver operate your vehicle and he or she is not listed as a driver on your automobile policy, your insurance company may deny coverage. When your auto policy renews, you should carefully review it to confirm that it lists all authorized drivers. Lending your car to a household member who is not listed, especially an inexperienced operator, can result in huge consequences if there is an accident.

Be careful when lending your vehicle to someone to avoid the pitfalls listed above.

The Boston Branch of the Mass. RMV is Moving!

OWithin the next month, the Boston Branch of the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles is slated to move to from 630 Washington Street to its new home at 136 Blackstone Street in Boston. The Registry’s telephone numbers will remain the same. You can continue to reach customer service a 857-368-8000 and the suspension unit at 857-368-8200.

The Registry’s new location is owned by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and this move will save the state millions in real estate costs. The new Boston RMV branch will be located on the second and third floors of the MassDOT’s “Parcel 7” building, which is located next to the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

Parking at the Registry’s new Boston location is expected to be a nightmare. The building contains its own parking garage. However, that garage only has 310 parking spaces which are accessible to the public. It is within walking distance to the Haymarket MBTA Station. The telephone number for the parking garage is (617) 973-6954.

The Boston Public Market will occupy the first floor of the building in 2015. This will feature fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious foods.

The Registry’s Special Investigations Unit, which conducts license fraud hearings and investigations, will remain at the State Transportation Building, 10 Park Plaza and the Registry’s Ignition Interlock Unit will remain at 25 Newport Avenue Extension in Quincy.  All ignition interlock violation hearings will continue to be heard at the Quincy location.

The Registry will conduct license suspension, hardship license, and reinstatement hearings at the Blackstone Street branch and it will be the only location in Massachusetts where you can appear for a chemical test refusal suspension, which must  be held within 15 days of your breathalyzer refusal suspension.

No Mass. License Reinstatement without Class

My license has been suspended due to the fact that I failed to complete the driver retraining program on time. I was ordered to take this class after I had received 3 tickets within 2 years for a bad sticker. One of which was my mother’s car. Then the year after I didn’t have the money right away to fix what I needed to get a sticker for my car right away. When I finally did get up the money the day I was taking the car to get fixed for the sticker I got pulled over. Then once again, I got stopped shortly after that driving my fiancé to work at 5am. I don’t believe I should have to take this course for having a bad sticker. It wasn’t a matter of reckless driving or speeding. It was a matter of not having money to fix my car for the sticker.  I don’t know if this is a mistake, it doesn’t seem fair.

Unfortunately, once you are required to take the class for accumulating surchargeable events, there is nothing that I can do. The law is clear and reinstatement orders from the Board of Appeal contain the following provision:

If you have not addressed: outstanding fines/fees related to the return of your motor vehicle license (ex: moving violations, excise tax, parking tickets, etc.); a requirement to complete a National Safety Council course; or reinstatement requirements for any out of state motor vehicle license suspension/revocation, any modification or issuance of a motor vehicle license by this Board will not be effective unless and until these requirements are satisfied.

You must take the class in order to get your license reinstated.

Mass. JOL Violations & License Suspensions

If the Registry has suspended your license due to a JOL violation, it is illegal for you to operate a motor vehicle until your license is fully reinstated. Also, the RMV can legally combine JOL offenses with any other prior and future motor vehicle offenses to determine impose new suspensions or reinstatement  requirements. The Mass. RMV states that you must serve JOL license suspensions even if you have since reached 18 years of age and are no longer the holder of a JOL.

If you are found responsible for speeding while on a JOL, the RMV will suspend your license for 90 days for a first offense, pursuant to G.L c. 90 § 20. Absent a successful appeal, MassDOT will not reinstate your license until you complete the Attitude Retraining Program, serve the entire suspension, pay the $500.00 reinstatement fee and pass written and road exams. The RMV will also require you to pass the State Courts Against Road Rage (SCARR) program if you have not already done so in the past.

You must provide proof of completing the NSC Attitude Retraining and SCARR programs to a Registry Hearing Officer when you reinstate. You cannot get your license reinstated if you have not taken the classes, even if you have served your suspension time.

You have a right to request a hearing on the suspension with an RMV Hearing Officer. If you appealed the citation in the District Court and you won the appeal, you should bring a certified motor vehicle abstract from the Clerk of Courts to your RMV hearing. Without the abstract, the citation record is deemed to be correct.

According to the Registry, you are not eligible for a hardship license or any driving privileges while suspended. However, the Board of Appeal does have the ability to grant a hardship license. No appeal will delay the suspension, which will not be postponed. The Registry holds hearings on a walk-in basis from 9:00AM-4:30PM weekdays (except holidays) at RMV offices in Brockton, Worcester, Springfield, Lawrence, and at the Driver Control Unit in Boston.

Marijuana & Mass. License Suspensions

Possession of less than an ounce of Marijuana has been “decriminalized.” Also, possession of marijuana with a valid “medical marijuana” card has been legalized under Massachusetts law. However, marijuana still remains an illegal controlled substance under federal law.

If you are convicted of a marijuana related offense such as criminal possession of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute, distribution, trafficking, or cultivation, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles will automatically impose a license suspension. This is because the Massachusetts Drug Law, G.L. c. 94C, requires MassDOT to automatically suspend your driver’s license or right to operate whenever a Massachusetts, Federal, or even out of state court notifies the Registry’s Court Records or Suspension Department of the drug conviction. The RMV imposes these suspensions automatically, usually within 10 days of notification from the courts. In most cases, notification is automatic and done via a computer connection between the Clerk-Magistrates’ offices and the Mass RMV. Notification can also be accomplished by the submission of paper abstracts or faxes to the Massachusetts Registry’s Merit Rating Board in Quincy.

Once notification of a marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or other drug conviction is made, including convictions for Class A, B, C, D, and E controlled substances, which are classified under the Mass. Controlled Substance Act, G.L. c. 94C, action against your license or right to operate will be initiated.

If you have received a letter from the Registry of Motor Vehicles regarding the suspension of your license or right to drive from the Registry, you must cease operation of all motor vehicles in Massachusetts, regardless of whether or not you have a license issued by any other state. Also, no appeal of your drug suspension will prevent it from going into effect. If you are caught driving while suspended, you risk being arrested and if you are convicted you will have an additional loss of license which may disqualify you from hardship relief.

I have been very successful in appealing drug suspensions and obtaining full license reinstatements as well as 12 hour hardship licenses for qualified clients who have a valid need to drive. If you have lost your license due to a drug conviction, I urge you to contact me for legal representation. You may be able to get your full license back or a work license which allows you to drive for 12 hours each day, 7 days a week.

If you have received a civil citation for possession of less than one (1) ounce of Marijuana, this will not be reported to the Registry as conviction and you will not lose your Massachusetts Driver’s License or right to drive. However, other drug convictions, including criminal convictions involving marijuana, will result in the Registry taking action against your license.

Surchargeable Events & Mass. Car Insurance

Unlike some other states, Massachusetts requires that every vehicle on the road to be covered by a minimum amount of insurance. Letting your insurance policy lapse will result in the automatic revocation of your vehicle’s registration and an operating an uninsured motor vehicle conviction will cause the Registry of Motor Vehicles to suspend your driver’s license. Therefore, the Mass. RMV does not require SR-22 insurance certificates, as every vehicle registered in Massachusetts is required to have insurance.

The Massachusetts Safe Driver Insurance Plan (SDIP) is used by some companies to set your insurance premiums based on steps. Under this plan, which has been approved by the Massachusetts Division of Insurance, if you receive automobile law violations, DUI convictions, or at fault accident surcharges, your insurance premium will increase. Likewise, years of incident free driving may lower your step and resulting automobile insurance bill.

Under the SDIP, Step 9 is the lowest and Step 15 is considered the “neutral step,” where neither credits nor charges are applied. For every surchargeable accident or traffic violation, a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 5 steps will be assigned. Major violations such as operating under the influence convictions can result in a 5 step increase, which represents a major increase in the amount you will pay for car insurance in Massachusetts.

When calculating your car insurance rate in Massachusetts, it is illegal for an insurance company to consider any surchargeable accident or motor vehicle offense which resulted in a conviction or surcharge that is more than 6 years prior to the effective date of the insurance policy.

It is also illegal for Massachusetts insurance companies to increase your insurance premiums for surchargeable accidents or moving violation convictions which are more than 5 years old.

Insurance companies can develop their own merit rating plans and, so long as their plans are approved by the Division of Insurance, they are not required to use the SDIP. Regardless of whether your company uses the SDIP or its own plan, tickets and surchargeable events will generally cause  your insurance bill to increase and the premiums for those with a DUI conviction can be substantial.

Surchargeable events include at fault accidents, DUI drug or alcohol program assignments, and responsible findings or convictions for motor vehicle law violations such as speeding or driving while suspended. Insurance companies use these events to increase your premiums and the Registry uses them to impose license suspensions such as those for 7 surchargeable events.

The Massachusetts Merit Rating Board maintains records which are used to determine your insurance premium. You and your lawyer have the legal right to inspect these records to ensure their accuracy.  If you need legal assistance in dealing with a surchargeable event suspension, I urge you to contact my office for a free review of your case.

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.