Massachusetts Drunk Driving Law
Drunk driving, which is more formally known as operating under the influence, is not the minor motor vehicle offense it once was. Penalties and license suspensions have steadily increased over the years so that a DUI conviction can have major consequences. The latest revision to the Massachusetts Drunk Driving Law was enacted by the passage of Melanie’s Law. This legislation substantially increases the penalties for DUI and breathalyzer refusals by increasing the length of breathalyzer refusal suspensions, requiring ignition interlock devices for repeat offenders, and making prior DUI convictions easier to prove. It also provides for vehicle forfeiture in certain cases, creates the new crime of OUI child endangerment, implements new minimum mandatory jail and prison sentences for certain DUI offenses, creates the new crime of operating after suspension for OUI, makes it a crime to knowingly allow someone to drive your vehicle with a suspended license, and it criminalizes offenses related to the ignition interlock device.
A person can commit the offense of operating under the influence of alcohol in one of two ways, both of which violate G.L. c. 90 § 24 and result in automatic license suspensions upon a conviction or alcohol program assignment.
First, a person can commit the crime of DUI in Massachusetts by operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, such that the driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle safely is diminished by alcohol. This means that the driver has consumed enough alcohol to decrease his) alertness, mental clarity, self-control, reflexes, judgment, and ability to respond promptly, so that he has a reduced ability to drive safely.
Second, a person commits the crime of DUI in Massachusetts by operating a motor vehicle while having a blood alcohol level of .08 percent or greater by weight. Here, the fact finder can consider evidence of a breath or blood test result of .08 or greater if the judge or jury believes that evidence is reliable.
In either case, to obtain a DUI conviction in Massachusetts, in addition to proving one of the two theories listed above, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person charged with OUI operated a motor vehicle and that the operation occurred either on a public way or in an area where the public has a right of access or where the public has access as invitees or licensees.
In order to convict a Massachusetts DUI defendant of 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, or subsequent offense DUI, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant has the requisite number of prior operating under the influence convictions. However, even when the prosecution cannot prove prior offenses or there is a plea bargain made whereby the defendant will only be found guilty of as much as the complaint which alleges a 1st offense DUI, MassDOT is required to set the length of the DUI license suspension based on the number of prior DUI convictions or alcohol program assignments found in the defendant’s driving and criminal records. For the purpose of ignition interlock requirements and Massachusetts DUI license suspensions, all prior DUI convictions and program assignments count, no matter where or when they occurred.
The Massachusetts DUI law contains escalating license suspensions and revocations for repeat DUI offenders such as 2-year suspensions for 2nd offenders, 8-year revocations for 3rd offenders, 10-year revocations for 4th offenders, and lifetime license revocations for those who have 5 or more drunk driving convictions or alcohol program assignments no matter when or where they occurred.
There are also escalating breathalyzer refusal penalties which range from 6 months for adult first offenders to 3 years for 2nd offenders, 5 years for 3rd offenders, and permanent lifetime license revocations, with no possibility of getting hardship licenses, for those who refuse to submit to a chemical breath or blood test, after having been arrested for DUI, who have 3 prior DUI convictions or assignments to alcohol education programs.
The Registry of Motor Vehicles is required to impose these increasingly severe consequences in the form of progressively longer license suspensions and revocations solely based on its records, and the Registry is not bound by any determination made in the DUI trial regarding whether to charge or convict as a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th offense DUI. For RMV purposes, all that matters is that the person was convicted and the number of prior convictions contained in Registry records, including out-of-state convictions or program assignments.