Thousands of people are arrested for operating after suspension of their driver’s licenses in Massachusetts. A ruling released yesterday by the highest court in the Massachusetts will make driving on a suspended license much more difficult for prosecutors to prove.
To convict someone of driving after suspension or revocation of their driver’s license, the prosecution most prove that the defendant was notified of the suspension or revocation. For years, this was done by introducing, at trial, a certified copy of the defendant’s Registry of Motor Vehicles record, which included a certified copy of the suspension or revocation notice.
In the case of Commonwealth v. Peter L. Parenteau, the SJC ruled that prosecutors could no longer rely on the suspension or revocation notices without live testimony from a witness regarding the mailing of the document to the person charged with operating after suspension or revocation.
Because the letter advising the defendant that his license had been suspended was introduced to prove that it had been actually mailed, live testimony was required. The record was accepted to prove that the defendant’s license was suspended. However, it could not be used to prove that it was mailed.
Using the suspension letter as proof of mailing violated the defendant’s right to confront and cross-examine witnesses, a right guaranteed under the 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. See Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 129 S. Ct. 2527, 2531-2532 (2009).
Here, the defendant was stopped for operating after suspension when his license had been revoked for 10 years for operating under the influence, 4th offense. At his prior DUI trial, the judge informed him of a 2 year loss of license, as he was treated as a second offender. However, the Registry discovered that he had a 3 prior convictions and it revoked his license for 10 years. It is not surprising that the defendant appealed his conviction, as driving on a license which was suspended or revoked for OUI is a serious offense which carries an additional automatic loss of license and a minimum mandatory jail sentence.