Understanding Melanie’s Law – Massachusetts OUI Laws

Like most states, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts takes OUI (operating under the influence) charges very seriously. In October of 2005, then Governor Mitt Romney signed “Melanie’s Law” which enhanced many of the existing penalties for driving while under the influence as well as the penalties for refusing to take breathalyzer tests.

It is worth noting that Massachusetts now has a lifetime look back period for OUIs and this will impact all drivers who had previous convictions.

Sentencing enhancements and loss of driving privileges:
Under current Massachusetts law, those who are stopped for OUI are deemed to impliedly consent to submit to a breathalyzer test. It is important to note that while refusing to take a test when stopped cannot be mentioned as part of the prosecution’s case against a driver, failing that test can (and is) mentioned regularly. Failing a breath test means a driver has a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher, unless that driver is under age 21 where the level need only be .02.

The following penalties apply to OUIs in Massachusetts:
First time offender refusing breathalyzer – drivers who refuse to take a breath test will face an automatic 180 days license suspension. These penalties are increased for drivers under age 21 to a three year suspension and a commercial license holder will have their rights suspended for one year.

  • First time offender failing breathalyzer – if a driver submits to a breathalyzer test and fails, there are still harsh penalties. At a minimum, a driver over the age of 21 will lose their right to drive (with no potential for a hardship license) for a minimum of 30 days. Drivers under the age of 21 will lose their driving rights for a minimum of 210 days. It is also worthy of note that the driver’s vehicle will be impounded for a minimum of 12 hours and may not be retrieved sooner.
  • Operating a vehicle with a child under 14 in the car – under these new laws (in addition to other penalties) anyone who is found driving under the influence with a child under age 14 in the vehicle will be charged with child endangerment in addition to the OUI charges they are facing.

There are other important highlights of this law including:

  • Ignition interlocking devices – anyone who is found guilty of more than one OUI will be required to use an ignition interlocking device for not less than two years. This time will “restart” if the driver was eligible for a hardship license.
  • Operating after suspension – if a driver is operating a vehicle after license suspension for an OUI, there will be an automatic sentence to the House of Corrections for up to two and a half years. The mandatory minimum sentence is 60 days and there are also serious fines ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 plus the loss of driver’s license.
  • Manslaughter by Motor Vehicle – in the event a drunk driver (or one under the influence of drugs) is responsible for the death of another person, there will be a five year minimum jail sentence. This sentence could be as long as 20 years and the offender will also pay fines of up to $25,000 and be faced with a potential lifetime loss of their driver’s license. The minimum loss of license will be as many as 15 years.

Massachusetts has very harsh OUI laws and anyone who is facing these charges needs an attorney who understands all of the laws, particularly Melanie’s Law and how they apply in each case. If you have been charged with an OUI in the Worcester area, contact us to discuss your case.

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