Massachusetts takes operating under the influence ("OUI," also known as DUI or DWI) very seriously -- maybe even more seriously than it takes the Sox-Yankees rivalry. If you're caught OUI in Boston, or anywhere else in the Bay State, you could be fined, have your license suspended, or even face time behind bars. Before you have another Sam Adams and try to park the car in Harvard Yard, learn the law. If you've already been stopped on suspicion of drunk or impaired driving, then review this guide.
This article is a summary of basic OUI law. There may be additional issues for drivers with commercial licenses, several prior offenses, suspended licenses, minors in the vehicle, and drivers who have caused physical injuries or death. It is highly recommended that you find an attorney experienced in Massachusetts law to handle the more complex issues.
Sobriety Tests/Drug Tests
Every person driving in Massachusetts is assumed to consent to a breath or blood test. The law does not require blood tests for people with diabetes, hemophilia, and who have to use anticoagulants. The officer will request a breath/blood test if he/she has reasonable grounds to believe that you were operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or liquor.
At this point, an OUI case could arise in two ways. The first possible scenario involves a failed chemical test (Breathalyzer or blood test). The second possible scenario happens if you refuse to take a chemical test. Read below for a description of how your case may develop.
Scenario 1: You failed a blood/breath test
The Legal Limit of BAC-0.08%
In Massachusetts, drivers who have a blood alcohol content at or above 0.08% may be fined anywhere from $500 to $5,000 for a first offense. The drivers may also serve up to 2.5 years in prison. The same goes for drivers under the influence of marijuana, narcotic drugs or other depressants or stimulants. Massachusetts, like all other states, has a "zero tolerance" law for drivers under age 21. As a result, drivers under 21 have a legal limit of 0.02%. In any case, if your BAC is above the legal limit, your license will be suspended for 30 days while your case is pending.
Arraignment and Bail
After stopping you and determining that you were OUI, the police will typically arrest you. Arrestees are held at the Nashua Street Jail until arraignment. At your arraignment the court will formally charge you and set your bail. The court generally will not require you to post bail for your first or second OUI if your criminal record is clean.
You will have a pre-trial conference 4-6 weeks after your arraignment. This is where you must make sure that you have all of the information you need regarding your case. The conference also provides another chance to try and settle the matter with the prosecutor.
In Massachusetts OUI cases, defendants commonly move to suppress evidence from the traffic stop because either (a) the stop was unjustified, or (b) law enforcement did not read you your rights. This area of law can be complicated, and it may be in a defendant's best interest to find a Boston OUI lawyer to handle these complex legal issues.
Massachusetts OUI trials typically only take one day. You can elect to have either a jury trial or a bench trial (a trial decided by the judge). The bench trial generally takes slightly less time because the court does not have to go through the process of selecting a jury. The decision to have either a jury or bench trial can be an important strategic decision. Again, it may be best to consult an attorney.
Scenario 2: You refused a blood/breath test
The officer must inform you that if you refuse to submit to a test, your license will be suspended for at least 180 days for a first offense. If you are under age 21 or have prior offenses, your license will be suspended for at least three years, and possibly for life. View the RMV's webpage showing penalties for chemical test refusals.
Appeals and OUI Trial
You have a limited chance to appeal your driver license suspension after refusing a breath/blood test. You must appeal to the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles within 15 days, including weekends and holidays. The RMV typically upholds suspensions for refusing a breath/blood test, and then you must appeal the RMV decision to the district court handling your case. Only if: (1) you are found not guilty or your case is dismissed; and (2) you move for reinstatement, will the court reinstate your license. See above for OUI trial procedure.
Hardship Licenses and Reinstatement
After serving the mandatory suspension time and completing various other requirements, a driver may apply for either a Hardship License or to have his or her license reinstated. After meeting all of the requirements for a Hardship License or reinstatement, visit the Boston RMV branch at 630 Washington Street for a Suspension Hearing.
In any event, a person convicted of OUI will have to have an Ignition Interlock Device ("IID") installed on his or her car. There are seven IID distributors in the Commonwealth , and each has installation centers in or around Beantown.
Hardship License for Work and School
If you are found guilty of OUI, the court may revoke your license for up to a year after your first conviction (2 years, 8 years, 10 years, or life suspensions may result if you have prior convictions). After three months, you can apply for a new, limited license to allow you to go to work or school only, and only for 12 hours a day. The RMV will grant this limited license only if the applicant can show that his/her drug and alcohol issues are under control and he/she would suffer a hardship without the license. The waiting period for a Hardship License is longer with prior convictions.
Hardship License for General Use
After six months, you can apply for a limited license that may be subject to restrictions. This license will generally not limit the driver to only work and school use, but it will come with restrictions as the RMV finds appropriate. You can view the RMV's OUI Hardship Criteria application online.
The license reinstatement fee can range from $100 to $1,200. In addition, you must complete the license suspension period, pay all fines, complete an alcohol/drug education program, and serve any assigned jail/prison and probation time. Note that after a fifth OUI offense, you are not eligible for license reinstatement.
Now you have a pretty good idea of what may happen if you are found OUI in Massachusetts. As always, the best advice is to never get behind the wheel after consuming any amount of alcohol. Cabs aren't cheap in this town, but they definitely beat the costs of an OUI case and are infinitely safer for yourself and others.
Contact a qualified attorney.