Pursuant to G.L. c. 277 § 70C, in some suspended license, no liability policy, unlicensed operation, and other misdemeanor cases, the prosecution or the court may reduce the criminal charge suspension to a non-criminal civil infraction or violation. This is an attractive option, because it can be resolved with the payment of a fine. However, even when a criminal charge such as operating after suspension is reduced to a civil motor vehicle infraction, the Registry of Motor Vehicles will still suspend your license and the violation counts, just like a criminal violation, towards 7 surchargeable event suspensions and habitual traffic offender revocations. For example, I recently received the following e-mail from a driver who is facing a 30 day license suspension for drag racing: “I am getting my license suspended on the 24th Jan for 30 days due to motor vehicle racing. The charge was decriminalized at arraignment. RMV is still pulling my license.” This is a valid suspension.
It bears noting that, a finding of responsible for the criminal violation which was reduced to a civil infraction cannot be counted as a prior offense in situations where there is an escalating punishment for second and subsequent offenses.
On the other hand, obtaining a continuance without a finding (CWOF) or a dismissal upon payment of court costs, will not trigger a driver’s license suspension for driving while on a suspended license, negligent operation, reckless driving, or several other criminal automobile law violations. Therefore, keeping the charge “criminal” instead of reducing it to a civil infraction may be a better option, at least for license suspension purposes, so long as the charge is resolved by a CWOF or a dismissal.
The laws which regulate automatic and mandatory license suspensions in Massachusetts are often misunderstood, even by some lawyers who do not routinely practice before the Mass. RMV or the Division of Insurance Board of Appeal. It is for this reason that it makes sense to hire a lawyer who specializes in license suspension cases and who understands the collateral consequences of court activity. Once a case is resolved in court, it is extremely difficult to change the outcome and avoid the unforeseen consequences of decisions made.