MA Registry to Issue New Licenses in March, 2018

Massachusetts Driver's LicenseThe Driver’s Licensing Department of the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles will make secure Real ID Act Complaint Licenses available to Massachusetts Residents in March of 2018. These new driver’s licenses are going to be required to enter Federal facilities, buildings, and installation as well as nuclear power plants and commercial aircraft which are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. Individuals who do not have a Real ID Act Complaint Driver’s License can still gain entry into these secure buildings and aircraft. However, those without the required driver’s license will have to use another secure credential such as a United States Passport or passport card.

These new driver’s licenses contain security features to prevent license fraud and counterfeiting. The rationale for these security features is to prevent terrorism and identity theft. The federal law was enacted in 2005 in response to the September 11th hijackings, where terrorists easily obtained fraudulent driver’s licenses. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has federal oversight over the implementation of the law and it requires crosschecking of identities through a federal database.

Driver’s license applicants will have to show valid birth certificates and social security cards in order to obtain driver’s licenses and the authenticity of documents will be subject to review. Several Motor Vehicle Departments have rightfully complained about the law because it was an unfunded federal mandate. There was no funding made available for states to implement the stringent requirements.

Separate and apart from the Real ID Act requirements, in order to obtain a Massachusetts Driver’s License, the applicant must be lawfully present in the United States and he or she must have at least an Employment Authorization for a Class D license and at least Permanent Residence to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).

The requirement to have a Real ID complaint driver’s license does not fully go into effect until October of 2020. This means that if your driver’s license will expire prior to this deadline, you do not need to get a Real ID license at this time. You can just wait until your license expires and get a new one at that time.

Massachusetts already uses sophisticated facial recognition technology to detect, prevent, investigate, and prosecute license fraud. This system compares facial images of licenses, learner’s permits, and identification cards with those already on file in the Registry’s expansive database. When a match is found an investigator is alerted and the Registry’s Enforcement Services Team and Special Investigation Unit works closely with specially trained Massachusetts State Troopers on these Comp./Fraud Lic. ID cases.

The Mass. RMV Hearing Process

If you are required to attend a hearing at the Driver Control Unit of the Registry of Motor Vehicles due to a driver’s license suspension, revocation, or reinstatement, you should be aware of your legal rights and responsibilities.

The most important legal right that you have at a Massachusetts Registry Hearing is the right to be represented by a lawyer. Registry of Motor Vehicles regulations specifically provide that a person who is undergoing a Registry Hearing has the right to be represented by counsel. Unless your personal appearance is waived by the hearing officer, hiring a lawyer will not excuse you from attending the hearing. However, given the complexities of the license suspension and reinstatement process, having the right lawyer represent you and advocate for you can be extremely beneficial.

Registry hearings can be recorded, so long as the recording does not interfere with the hearing. If the customer elects to record the hearing, the customer is responsible for any fees and expenses associated with the recording and, upon request, a copy of the recording must be provided to the Registrar at the Registrar’s expense. State regulations govern the cost of transcripts. The Registry electronically records all ignition interlock violation hearings, which can result in 10-year license revocations.

You are entitled to present documentary evidence to the hearing officer and you have the legal right, during normal business hours, to examine and copy documentary evidence in the Registry’s possession.

You have the right to call witnesses, cross-examine adverse witnesses, and to testify on your own behalf. At least 2 days prior to your hearing, you have the right to discover the identities of any adverse witnesses. Subpoenas may be issued in accordance with G.L. c. 30A § 12. The standard of proof used at RMV hearings is the civil preponderance of the credible evidence standard, which is much lower than the criminal “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.

When the evidentiary record is closed, the Registry is required to issue a decision within 10 business days. This does not necessarily mean that the Registry is required to render a decision within the 10 day period immediately following the actual hearing. The Hearing Officer is allowed to keep the record open for the receipt of additional evidence and documentary evidence which may come from police departments, courthouses, motor vehicle departments in other jurisdictions, or various other sources. The 10 day period does not commence until the record is closed.

If you are aggrieved by an adverse decision of the Registrar of Motor Vehicles, in accordance with G.L. c. 90 § 28, you have the right to appeal by going before the Division of Insurance, Board of Appeal. The Board has the power to reverse, modify, or vacate any RMV decision. Legal representation is strongly recommended.

 

The Real ID Act of 2005

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is working toward compliance with the Federal Real ID Act and the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) now issues driver’s licenses which are Real ID Act Compliant.

These new secure driver’s licenses will be required for entry into federal buildings and to board domestic fights. However, individuals who have a valid U.S. passport or passport card can use those documents to prove their identities instead of a driver’s license.

The Real ID Act of 2005 was passed to protect against terrorism and it requires motor vehicle departments across the country to meet new security requirements regarding the issuance of official identification cards and driver’s licenses. These new credentials have both public and secret security features to resist counterfeiting, identity theft, license fraud, and illegal duplication. Massachusetts residents will have until October of 2020 to obtain Real ID Act Compliant Driver’s Licenses. Pursuant to an extension granted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, current MA driver’s licenses can be used until the deadline.

The current Massachusetts RMV Policy is that no driver’s license of any type may be issued or granted to a person who is not lawfully present in the United States. The Registry enforces this policy by requiring that driver’s license applicants have at least an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) for a Class D license and a Permanent Resident ID or “green card” for a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License).

With the nationwide implementation of the Real ID Act, the Registry will likely be discovering and investigating additional cases of license fraud, which can result in criminal prosecution pursuant to G.L. c. 90 § 24B and mandatory license revocations.

Anyone who receives a letter from the Mass. RMV regarding license fraud is entitled to legal representation at any Registry Hearing, including those hearings conducted at the Special Investigation Unit / Enforcement Services Department of the Registry of Motor Vehicles, which is located at 25 Stuart Street in Boston. This unit is staffed with highly trained State Troopers and other personnel who investigate identity theft and license fraud cases. This is the only location were license fraud hearings are conducted in Massachusetts.

New DUI Marijuana Court Ruling

With the legalization of Marijuana by the Massachusetts Legislature as a result of a referendum ballot question, there have been many changes in the law and some of those law changes impact Massachusetts Hardship Licenses as well as suspensions and revocations. Medical Marijuana is low legal in Massachusetts and the Registry of Motor Vehicles no longer suspends licenses for certain drug convictions such as possession of marijuana, even if the conviction entered prior to legalization.

The highest court in Massachusetts, the Supreme Judicial Court, recently issued a major ruling regarding the crime of Operating Under the Influence of Marijuana. In a DUI Drugs Trial, a police officer who is not qualified as an expert witness cannot legally testify that the driver was under the influence of marijuana or that the consumption of the marijuana impacted the driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.

In Mass. DUI drugs trials, law enforcement officers cannot refer to roadside assessment as field sobriety tests and failing these tests does not mean that the defendant was sufficiently impaired by marijuana to diminish his or her ability to drive safely.

The Mass. SJC also ruled that only an expert witness can testify that a person was “high” on marijuana. A police officer can testify as to observations but not that those observations necessarily mean that the driver was under the influence of marijuana.

Drug recognition experts can still testify regarding their opinions and observations. However, police officers who have not been trained, testified, and certified as drug recognition experts will not be allowed to testify as to their opinions.

Given these legal restrictions, obtaining convictions for Operating under the Influence of Drugs will likely be more difficult. This may encourage police officers to suspend driver’s licenses by using the immediate threat law.

Appealing a Breathalyzer Refusal Suspension

If the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles suspended or revoked your driver’s license or right to operate, you have the right to contest the Registry’s action, but you must follow certain procedures, otherwise, you will lose your right to appeal.

In these refusal appeals, there are generally three questions which must be addressed. First, did the arresting police officer have reasonable grounds to believe that the person arrested committed the crime of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol? Second, was the person actually placed under arrest for DUI? Third, did the person refuse to submit to a breath or blood test after having been told that his or her license or right to drive would be suspended for a minimum of 6 months and a maximum of life?

Also, the police are required to follow certain procedures when documenting a breath test refusal and the failure to follow those procedures might result in a successful suspension appeal.

You must personally appear for your breathalyzer refusal appeal hearing between the hours of 9:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M. within fifteen days of your drunk driving arrest. Because only a few hearing officers are authorized to conduct Chemical Test Refusal hearings, they are only held at the Boston RMV Branch, which is located on the third floor at 136 Blackstone Street in Boston, Massachusetts. These hearings are held on a walk-in basis and you must personally appear. You have the right to present any witnesses, documents, or other evidence you wish to have the Registry consider. There is no provision in the law for any extension of the 15-day appeal period, and no letter, phone calls, or other communications to the Registry will extend the appeal period beyond 15 days or to grant a hearing at any location other than the Boston RMV Branch. However, once your initial refusal hearing is opened, it is possible to appear for a follow up hearing and to present initial evidence, while the record remains open.

You have the right to be represented by a lawyer at these hearings and this is strongly recommended, especially if you are facing a 3-year, 5-year, or lifetime refusal suspension.

 

CDL Disqualifications & Revocations

Federal Regulations, 49 CFR 383.51, carry strict penalties for holders of Commercial Drivers Licenses who commit certain traffic violations. For example, if you receive a citation for “excessive speeding,” which is defined as speeding in excess of 15 miles per hour over the speed limit, it will be counted against you as a serious traffic violation (STV).  However, in order for this to affect your CDL, the speeding violation must have been committed while you were operating a CDL vehicle.

A Reckless Driving, Careless Driving, Negligent Operation or Operating so as to Endanger conviction will result in a 60-day suspension of your Class D, passenger car, license in Massachusetts regardless of whether the offense was committed in a passenger car or CDL vehicle.

Other violations committed while operating a commercial motor vehicle such as improper and unsafe lane charges count towards the 60-day Serious Traffic Violation Disqualification penalty. However, this particular infraction should not apply in all situations. I have personally seen CDL drivers cited for marked lanes violations when all they did was park their tractor trailer units in improper spots at truck stops and rest areas. Instead of being issued parking tickets, they were issued traffic citations which later resulted in the suspension of their commercial driver’s licenses.  If this happens to you, it is important to appeal the citation because it does not seem to be the type of violation that was intended to cause the loss of a CDL. Instead, the disqualification appears to be focused on penalizing someone who makes unsafe lane changes while operating a tractor trailer unit.

Another example of stricter penalties for CDL drivers is the .04 blood alcohol limit. Under both state and federal law, a CDL holder who operates a CDL vehicle with a BAC of .04 or above will result in an automatic CDL revocation or disqualification. This penalty can be imposed whether the driver is on or off duty, so long as the driver was operating a CDL vehicle, such as a tractor trailer unit, at the time of the violation. The blood alcohol limit for drivers of non-CDL vehicles is .08.

If you depend on a Commercial Drivers License to earn a living, you should take the steps necessary to protect your livelihood by driving carefully, being aware of what could cause a CDL disqualification, and assert your appellate rights when necessary.

The Registry is Cracking Down on License Fraud

Four Customer Service Representatives at the Boston Registry of Motor Vehicles Branch were recently indicted on license fraud charges in Federal Court. The Registry will undoubtedly be revoking the fraudulent licenses which these clerks issued. Most, if not all, apparently were issued based on Puerto Rican birth certificates and other official documents to Dominicans and others who were not lawfully present in the United States.

Also, as part of a crackdown on license fraud in Massachusetts, the RMV is allowing police officers and other law enforcement personnel to request that the Special Investigations Unit of the Registry of Motor Vehicles revoke an individual’s Mass. license or right to drive in Massachusetts if a police official determines that that the driver’s license or Registry ID card was obtained fraudulently or that the license or identification card possessed by a person does not match that person’s true identity.

When the Special Investigations Unit of the Registry of Motor Vehicle, which is also known as the Enforcement Services Unit, receives a license fraud report, the RMV will schedule a Comp. Fraud. Lic. / ID Hearing. These Complaint Fraudulent License (CFL) hearings are only conducted at 25 Stuart Street / 10 Park Plaza in Boston.

Anyone who fails to appear for a license fraud hearing will have his or her right to operate revoked indefinitely until the individual personally appears before a hearing officer at the Special Investigation Unit. The Registry’s Enforcement Services Unit will place a hold on the person’s record and no transactions will be allowed until the hold is lifted by Enforcement Services.

The RMV may impose a license suspension or revocation whenever a hearing officer determines that a person fraudulently used or obtained a Massachusetts Driver’s License, Learner’s Permit, or Identification Card. In addition to the RMV’s discretionary suspension, a separate one-year license suspension will be automatically imposed, by operation of law, whenever a driver has been convicted of license fraud in violation of G.L. c. 90 Section 24B, which is a felony that carries a maximum sentence of up to 5 years in state prison. Even without a criminal conviction, the RMV may impose a suspension for if a Hearing Officer determines that an individual fraudulently used or obtained a license, permit, or ID card. In some cases, the Registry can suspend and prosecute even if the attempt was unsuccessful and no credential was ultimately generated. This is because the crime is complete when a person provides false information in any application for a license, permit, or ID card.

 

Tough Penalties for CDL Holders in Massachusetts

Both Massachusetts and Federal Laws impose severe penalties for truck drivers who violate DUI and breathalyzer refusal laws. These laws can result in a lifetime commercial driver’s license revocation which may be extremely difficult to reverse, even at the Massachusetts Division of Insurance Board of Appeal or in court.

For example, if you have a prior drunk driving conviction and you refuse to submit to a breath or blood test, after being arrested for operating under the influence of alcohol many years later, you will have a lifetime Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) revocation. This is because two events, such as a DUI or a refusal, not arising out of the same incident, will automatically trigger a lifetime CDL disqualification and revocation.

G.L. c. 90F, §9(B), which is a Massachusetts state statute applicable to CDL holders, enacted pursuant to Chapter 246 of the Acts of 1990, provides for lifetime disqualification penalties for any CDL holder who has two or more OUI offenses or two or more chemical test refusals, or any combination thereof, arising from two or more separate incidents. This Commercial Driver’s License Suspension is consistent with federal regulation 49 CFR §383.51, the purpose of which is to increase highway safety by removing certain drivers from the roadways. The Massachusetts and Federal regulations are consistent with the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 which is federal legislation governing commercial driver’s licenses. This law standardizes the penalties for drunk driving and breath test refusals when it comes to CDL holders.

The Board of Appeal has been upholding the lifetime CDL revocations even when a driver has a reinstatement order from a judge. The Board has taken the position that the early restoration order applies only to a Class D passenger car license and not a CDL. This interpretation has been upheld in Superior Courts.

Massachusetts to Issue New Licenses in 2017

In order to comply with federal identification document security standards which were implement as a post September 11, 2001 anti-terrorism safeguard, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles will begin issuing driver’s licenses which comply with the Federal Real ID Act in the Fall of 2017. Although compliance with the Real ID Law was controversial, it is necessary in order for Massachusetts license holders to be able to enter secure federal buildings and board planes, using their licenses as forms of identification. In order to get one of these more secure identification credentials, the applicant will have to satisfy the Registry of Motor Vehicles that he or she is legally present in the United States. Those who are here illegally will not be able to obtain a Massachusetts Real ID Driver’s License. However, these individuals can use another secure document such as a valid passport to prove their identities and to be able to board aircraft.

Real ID Act Compliant Licenses are not mandatory. The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles will continue to issue driver’s licenses which are not complaint with the Act. Therefore, Massachusetts drivers will have the option of obtaining a Real ID Mass. Driver’s License or the less secure older form of a driver’s license, which confers the same driving privileges.

These new licenses are necessary because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) prevents air carriers and others from accepting a driver’s license which does not satisfy certain security requirements. The Registry has been granted numerous extensions, so as to give it more time to meet Real ID Act Standards and this latest action will ensure compliance when the latest extension expires. The Registry has been working hard to make the necessary operational and logistical improvements required to be able to issue this more secure credential and it will be ready to do so next year.

Commercial Drivers License Suspensions

Prior to implementation of the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) program in Massachusetts, any person licensed to drive an automobile could also legally drive a tractor-trailer or a bus. In many of the states that did have a classified licensing system, a person was not skills tested in a representative vehicle. As a result, many drivers were operating vehicles that they may not have been qualified to drive. In addition, drivers were able to obtain driver’s licenses from more than one state and hide or spread convictions among several driving records and continue to drive, despite suspensions or revocations.

To address the problems with unqualified truck drivers, the Federal Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 (the Act) was signed into law on October 27, 1986. The goal of the Act is to improve highway safety nationally by ensuring that drivers of large trucks and buses are qualified to operate those vehicles and to remove unsafe and unqualified drivers from the highways. The Act retained the state’s right to issue a driver’s license, but established minimum national standards which states must meet when issuing CDLs. Massachusetts adopted the Federal Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act in 1990.

The Act is designed to protect the public from unqualified and potentially dangerous commercial drivers. The law outlines a series of criminal or other offenses or serious motor vehicle violations which would disqualify an operator from possessing a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Section 9 Chapter 90F sets forth the penalties for CDL violations as well as certain non-CDL violations such as DUI or refusing to submit to a breath test, regardless of whether the person arrested for Operating Under the Influence is operating a CDL vehicle or not. A single DUI or breathalyzer refusal violation results in a one year CDL disqualification. If a CDL holder commits a violation contained in the list on two separate occasions, the CDL is subject to revocation and the CDL holder would be disqualified for life from reinstating his CDL privilege. Chapter 90F, Section 9 includes a life-time look-back period.

When a CDL, operator violates one of the Laws or regulations contained in c. 90F, Section 9, he is disqualified from holding a CDL for a certain period of time. A disqualification means that a person is not allowed to posses the license or right to operate.

Unfortunately, the Board of Appeal has determined that it does not have the discretion or statutory power to order the Registrar to modify the disqualification where the individual offenses are valid and proper.