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Mass. Ignition Interlock Law Repeatedly Upheld

Massachusetts Registry News

My office routinely receives inquiries regarding the Registry’s requirement for repeat offenders to install ignition interlock devices in their vehicles. An IID is an alcohol sensing instrument that prevents a motor vehicle from starting if it detects a blood alcohol concentration over a preset limit of .02. Under Melanie’s law, DUI convictions from many years ago can trigger the requirement to use an ignition interlock device during the entire term of any DUI hardship license and for a period of two years thereafter. However, the Massachusetts Ignition Interlock Law has withstood repeated court challenges where courts have ruled that it is not ex post facto and that it does not constitute double jeopardy.

Melanie’s Law, St. 2005, c. 122, enacted on October 28, 2005, changed the law governing the prosecution of OUI offenses in Massachusetts. The ignition interlock device (“IID”) requirement of Melanie’s Law, went into effect on January 1, 2006.

The Melanie’s Law amendments mandate that a person who has two or more convictions for DUI may not be issued a new license or have his or her license restored “unless a certified IID has been installed on each vehicle owned, each vehicle licensed and each vehicle operated by that person as a precondition o the issuance of the new license or right to operate or the “restoration of such person’s license or right to operate.” The IID must be installed in all vehicles owned, rented, or operated by the licensee for at least two years. The driver must pay the cost of installing, monitoring and maintaining the IID.

Persons with a prior OUI conviction or G.L. c. 90, § 24D “first offender” disposition who are entitled to have their licenses fully reinstated, must also have an IID installed for a period of 2 years, regardless of any prior use with a hardship license. Drunk driving convictions which occurred prior to January 1, 2006, when the IID requirement of Melanie’s Law went into effect can be counted and the IID requirement is not retroactive because the event triggering the requirement is the driver’s decision to remove hardship restrictions on his license, not his prior QUI conviction. “A law is not made retroactive because it alters the existing classification of a thing. Nor is a law retroactive if ii draws upon antecedent facts for its operation.” Melanie’s law is not limited to prospective application.

For example, in Weitz v. Collins, Weitz had two OUI convictions from 1990 and 1994 and instead of applying for reinstatement of his full license in 1996 when he was eligible, Weitz continued to use a hardship license for 11 years. In 2006, he was informed by the Registrar that his license would not be reinstated unless he installed a certified IID on his vehicle, which he refused to do. After the Registrar suspended his license indefinitely, Weitz sought review in Superior Court. Judge Rufo ruled that the IID requirement is non-punitive and not the type of law to which an ex post facto argument may attach. He also found that the IID statute withstood due process challenges.

As explained above, the Registry of Motor Vehicles and the Board of Appeal can require subsequent OUI offenders to have an IID installed on every vehicle they own, lease, or operate, as a condition of the reinstatement of a license or right to operate when that license or right to operate was suspended because of an OUI conviction and reinstated after January 1, 2006.

The IID requirement of Melanie’s Law is not “ex post facto,” because that prohibition applies only to statutes that are punitive in nature; civil remedies are not subject to the prohibition against ,ex post facto laws. The IID requirement has a “primary aim of public safety,” it is, therefore, non-punitive. Consequently, because it is not punitive, it does also does not violate the prohibition against double jeopardy.

In summary, the IID requirement of Melanie’s Law has withstood ex post facto, due process, and double jeopardy challenges at various levels and it is not likely to be reversed. 

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