Melanie’s Law, a piece of legislation that aims to reduce the number of repeat offenders requiring a Massachusetts drunk driving defense, may have just been significantly weakened.
Massachusetts OUI lawyers are watching closely to see what happens next.
To understand the ruling and what it could mean, you first have to understand the context. Melanie’s Law was passed in late 2005, with the goal of increasing the punishment for those charged with Operating Under the Influence (or Massachusetts OUI). The law is named for Melanie Powell, a girl who was killed by a drunk driver.
The law was the start of the state’s interlock ignition program (which officially got underway the following year). It also established a 1 year minimum mandatory imprisonment for someone found guilty of OUI while operating after a suspension for a previous OUI. That means that if your license is suspended for OUI, and you get caught driving drunk again, you would serve between 1 year and 2.5 years behind bars.
Additionally, you would pay a fine of between $2,500 and $10,000, and your license would be automatically suspended for three years for refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test to determine your blood alcohol level.
So with that understanding, here’s what happened in the Supreme Judicial Court case, according to The Patriot Ledger:
Back in 1997, a man admitted to sufficient facts for a finding of guilty. However, he did not plead guilty and he was not found guilty. He served probation, and the case was subsequently dismissed.
Fast-forward to 2010. That same man was stopped by police for suspicion of drunk driving. He refused to submit to a breathalyzer test. He was given an automatic three-year suspension.
He appealed that ruling, and the case made it all the way up to the state’s supreme court.
That court overturned his automatic suspension. The central issue in the case was what did the word “convicted” mean? It sounds fairly straightforward, but in a case where no one pleaded or was found guilty, that does not equal a conviction.
So what does this mean?
It could mean the overturning of a large number of three-year suspensions if the person involved was not actually found guilty of his or her offense. Court justices said that if lawmakers had intended to include the provision for admission to sufficient facts, it should have done that explicitly when it penned the bill.
Legislators have said that it was obviously not their intent to exclude this aspect. However, without their explicit direction, judges are left with wiggle room in their interpretation.
The Registry of Motor Vehicles in turn mistakenly gave out three-year suspensions by counting continuance cases as prior convictions under Melanie’s Law.
If you think you might be eligible to have your Melanie’s Law suspension overturned, contact the Law Offices of Michael DelSignore, conveniently located in Stoughton, Attleboro, New Bedford and Westborough.
Call (781-686-5924 for more information.