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Knowledge of Penalty Required for Breathalyzer Refusal Suspension

Massachusetts Registry News

The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles imposes tough penalties for those who refuse to submit to a breathalyzer or BAC blood test, after having been arrested for operating under the influence of alcohol (OUI), which is commonly known as DUI. First offenders 21 and over will lose their licenses for 6 months, second offenders and those under 21 will have their licenses suspended for 3 years, DUI 3rd offenders will be suspended for 5 years, and 4th offenders will be suspended for life, with no possibility to get any type of hardship license. Because of Melanie’s Law, there is a lifetime look-back period when counting prior DUI offenses for the purposes of the Mass. Breathalyzer Refusal Law, G.L. c. 90 § 24(1)(f)(1). These breathalyzer refusal suspensions are in addition to any suspensions imposed for having been convicted of DUI. Thus, there are usually two suspensions associated with each Massachusetts Drunk Driving case, one for either refusing or failing the breathalyzer, and another for drunk driving charges which result in convictions.

In order for the breathalyzer refusal license suspension to be valid, the Registry must prove that the person who refused breath or blood test was “informed that his license or permit to operate motor vehicles or right to operate motor vehicles in the commonwealth shall be suspended for a period of at least 180 days and up to a lifetime loss.” In other words, to be valid, the breathalyzer refusal must be made with the knowledge that the person refusing would lose his license for 6 months to life. Without this key information, the chemical test refusal (CTR) suspension can be reversed on appeal. However, this appeal must be filed within fifteen (15) calendar days of the refusal suspension. There are no exceptions to this rule.

In light of the requirement that a breathalyzer refusal can only be valid of the person refusing was informed of the consequences, many Massachusetts police departments have breathalyzer rights forms in Spanish and Portuguese as well as English. However, not all police departments may be doing this. It may be a defense to a chemical test refusal suspension that the person refusing was not informed of the consequences, because of a language barrier. Refusal suspensions may also be reversed, at either the RMV or District Court level, on other legal grounds.

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