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Immediate Threat Revocations Are Constitutional

Massachusetts Registry News

This afternoon, a client alleged that the Registry’s practice of instituting indefinite immediate threat license revocations violates the due process clause of the United States Constitution. When it comes to driver’s licenses, constitutional due process principles generally require that a driver be given a notice of the allegations against him or her and a meaningful opportunity to respond or tell his or her “side of the story.”

Also, in order to satisfy the due process clause, the Massachusetts immediate threat law must bear a reasonable relation to a permissible legislative objective. Here, the objective is to protect the public from allegedly dangerous drivers. The law states that “the registrar may suspend or revoke without a hearing any certificate of registration or any license issued under this chapter whenever the holder thereof has committed a violation of the motor vehicle laws of a nature which would give the registrar reason to believe that continuing operation by such holder is and will be so seriously improper as to constitute an immediate threat to the public safety.”

In most driver’s license revocation cases, the Registry of Motor Vehicles affords drivers hearings before taking their licenses. Here, however, the immediate threat law allows the Registry to give the driver, whose license is revoked, a hearing within 30 days after the immediate threat suspension. This appears to be constitutionally permissible, because the purpose of the law would not be satisfied if a dangerous driver was allowed to remain on the road, pending a Registry hearing. The governmental interest would be frustrated if a potentially dangerous driver was allowed to continue driving, and thereby jeopardize public safety, after the RMV received a facially credible report alleging that the driver’s continued operation constituted an immediate threat to the public.

In most immediate threat cases, the Registry gives a driver at least 10 days notice prior to implementing the immediate threat license revocation. This is more than the law requires, as it states that the Registry can indefinitely suspend first and hold a hearing later. At the hearing, the driver is presented with the allegations against him or her and allowed to produce exculpatory evidence. The immediate threat report is reviewed and the Registry hearings officer makes a decision as to what the driver will need to do in order to get back on the road. In most cases, drivers who have had their licenses suspended or revoked under the immediate threat law are not automatically reinstated. They are required to satisfy the Registry that they do not constitute a threat to public safety and, depending on the cases, some drivers are required to serve suspension time.  A lawyer who specializes in Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles cases can be very helpful in reversing an indefinite immediate threat revocation as quickly as possible.

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