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Mass. Driving Record Admitted in Error

Massachusetts Registry News

In Massachusetts, a person’s driving record is not subject to sealing and records of DUI convictions are accessible to the public, pursuant to the Lacey Packer Law.  Offenses and violations do not “drop off” of a person’s driving record, which is maintained by the Merit Rating Board and utilized by insurance companies and the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles.Recently, in the case of Commonwealth v. Winfield, the 82 Mass. App. Ct. 1102,  2012 WL 2308126, the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed a driver’s conviction for operating after suspension and reckless driving on the grounds that the introduction of her driving record was unfairly prejudicial and it denied her a fair trial.

For example, Jurors saw that the Registry sent Winfield a notice that her license would be indefinitely revoked for “IMMED THREAT–MEDICAL”; that her automobile registration would be revoked because of no liability insurance; a letter indicating that her license would be suspended because of 4 surchargeable accidents; a notice of a fine default and a returned check for insufficient funds; and a list of “all offenses and actions” that included a speeding violation and “minor traffic” infractions dating back to 1982.

In reversing Winfield’s convictions for driving while her license was suspended and reckless operation, the court ruled that “all of the information contained in the registry record was irrelevant, with the exception of the certification that the notice of license suspension had been mailed to the defendant…” The introduction of Winfield’s 30 year driving history denied her a fair trial because it may have prejudiced the jury against her. The only question for the jury was whether or not Winfield drove while her right to operate was suspended and whether she drove in a reckless manner. Her history of accidents, an immediate threat medical suspension, a bad check, and other minor automobile law violations had no bearing on that question and it should not have been introduced at her trial.

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