Proof of Prior Convictions in Mass. DUI Cases

In the case of Commonwealth v. James Cahillane, the Massachusetts Appeals Court decided that , in combination with a court docket showing that  the DUI defendant was assigned to an alcohol safety action program (ASAP), Mass. RMV records regarding the defendant’s prior OUI incidents could be used to prove that his most recent DUI conviction was his 3rd offense and he was, therefore, subject to the enhanced penalties of Melanie’s Law and treatment as a DUI 3rd offender. Melanie’s Law has authorized a variety of types of evidence that will constitute prima facie evidence. It permits the Commonwealth to use prior convictions alone or various criminal justice records to prove the prior offenses.

The first entry in the contested driving history is “12/10/1983 DWI ALCOHOL PROGRAM CANTON R,” and, under the heading “FINDING DATE” for that entry is the date 12/12/1983; these dates match the dates of the charge and of the ASAP assignment on the Stoughton District Court docket sheet. If the Registry driving history page containing that entry was properly admitted, the judge was warranted in finding that the “James S. Cahillane” on the Stoughton Docket who was assigned to an alcohol program in December, 1983, was the same person as the James J. Cahillane who admitted to sufficient facts in the second case.

Properly attested records of the Registry of Motor Vehicles are “competent evidence in all cases equally with the originals thereof.” Here, the judge examined the exhibit and concluded that it was one packet and, therefore, that the Registrar’s attestation at the beginning was properly read to apply to the entire group of documents. The Appeals Court determined that the judge’s ruling was a reasonable one and he could properly have concluded that the Registrar’s certification applied to all of the documents in the packet.

In affirming the DUI 3rd offense conviction, the Appeals Court ruled that there was no error in the admission of the defendant’s driving record. Further, the evidence was sufficient to permit a rational trier of fact to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had “been previously convicted or assigned to an alcohol … education, treatment, or rehabilitation program … because of a like offense two times preceding the date of the commission of the offense for which he has been convicted.”

This case shows how relatively easy it is for the prosecution in a DUI case to prove prior subsequent offenses, for the purposes of criminal sentencing. It is even easier to prove prior offenses when it comes to license suspensions and revocations.