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.

Hire a Lawyer BEFORE your hearing!

Here’s an all too common unfortunate situation:

I received a DUI continuance with out a finding in March of 2013. Although the courts were only trying me as a first time offender, I had a prior DUI with the same finding 7-8 years ago. I went to the hearing for my hardship license on my own about two months ago at the Board of Appeal and had a horrific experience, where they basically tell everyone there they are alcoholics. I have completed all of my alcohol classes and abide by my probation as well as go to work and go to school. I need a license to work and go to school and they denied me based on my prior driving record and that I have had prior suspensions. I have never even applied for this ever before during any prior suspension, and besides a major surchargeable accident I had a couple years ago, I had not a single citation in six years. I was told that they can’t refuse you if you are applying for a Cinderella license for the first time and I am not sure if this is true or if there is anything I can do to get back on the road any time soon. My suspension was for 2 years because the Registry counted my prior DUI against me. Just wondering if there is anything I can do at this point.

The unfortunate answer:

There’s nothing that you or I can do. The Registry is legally entitled, and in fact required, to treat you as a second offender and it is completely untrue that you cannot be denied for a Cinderella license for the first time. That is misinformation and totally inaccurate. The grating of a hardship license is purely discretionary. If you’re serious about getting a Cinderella license, you need to contact a lawyer before your hearing. The Board has made its decision and there is nothing that I can do to help you.

In some cases, the Board will give you a re-apply date and in those cases, I can represent you at a new hearing. However, in your case the Board voted to affirm the suspension and it did not give you an opportunity to re-apply for a new hearing. Therefore, you will have to serve the balance of your suspension and there is nothing that can be done.

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.

Charged with an Ignition Interlock Violation? Hire a Lawyer.

I just spoke with a gentleman who is currently serving a 10 year revocation of his license for an ignition interlock violation. His ex-wife was driving his car after she had been drinking and she was the one who caused his ignition interlock device to register alcohol. This individual made the mistake of representing himself before the Registry of Motor Vehicles Ignition Interlock Department and the Registry found him in violation of G.L. c. 90 § 24 ½, the Mass. Ignition Interlock Law. He should have hired a lawyer to handle his Ignition Interlock Violation hearing , but he thought that he could handle it himself.

After serving several years without a license, he appealed the 10 year license revocation to the Board of Appeal of the Division of Insurance. The Board has the legal authority to grant a hardship or full license, even when the Registry has ruled against you. The Board is extremely busy, as it handles upwards of 5,000 hearings a year on a shoestring budget, with a very minimal support  staff.  Again, this individual appeared without an attorney. Maybe he didn’t want to spend the money or maybe he thought that he didn’t need a lawyer. The Board affirmed the 10 year revocation of his license and gave him no relief.

He recently filed another appeal to go before the Board of Appeal again. This time, he received a letter from the Board informing him that hearing was previously held in his case and after due consideration the Board voted to affirm the decision of the Registrar of Motor Vehicles and it did not authorize him to file a new appeal.  Nevertheless, the Board received another appeal of the same license revocation which it had previously affirmed and the new appeal was filed without the Board’s approval. The letter further observed that the Appellant failed to seek, or has been denied, relief from the Superior Court Department pursuant to G.L. c. 30A § 14, and the Board of Appeal will take no action on the request. Translation: the Board said “no, and don’t come back.”

Unfortunately, there is nothing that I can do for this person and he must serve the balance of his 10 year Ignition Interlock Device Revocation before he can try to get his license back. When that time comes, he will have to take written and road tests, pay a reinstatement fee, and serve 2 years with the IID.  He had a strong case and a lawyer could likely have prevented him from losing his license in the first place.

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.