Operating Under the Influence or with Blood Alcohol .08+
In Massachusetts, drunk driving is called OUI, which stands for Operating Under the Influence of alcohol. Many states use different abbreviations such as DUI for Driving Under the Influence, or DWI for Driving While Intoxicated.
Massachusetts drunk driving charges can be proven either by showing that the driver was impaired because of his or her consumption of alcohol (in whatever amount) or by showing that his or her blood alcohol concentration was .08% or above. For many people, these are the most serious, if not the only, criminal charges they will face. Drunk driving charges are complicated, technical, and the subject of constantly changing litigation strategies. You should consult an attorney in EVERY drunk driving case.
It is just as illegal to drive while intoxicated on drugs as it is to drive while intoxicated on alcohol, but it is also much more difficult for the Commonwealth to prove. Proving that someone was on drugs usually requires expert testimony and compliance with detailed procedures. As with OUI Liquor, you should consult an attorney in EVERY OUI case.
Defending OUI Cases
There are a litany of issues involved in every drunk driving case. The first is whether the police had cause to stop the car. Next is whether the police had cause to order the driver to exit. Following that, were there field sobriety tests? Were those tests conducted correctly and will the results be admissible in court? These are a few of the first issues that have to be addressed in a drunk driving case, and all that comes even before the police officer's decision to arrest and request that the defendant submit to a breath test.
Then there are the license implications. Every drunk driving case involves some loss of license. Those license suspensions can be fought, and they can be minimized. For many people, and especially for those holding a Commercial Drivers License, the loss of license can be worse than the criminal penalties.
Breathalyzers provide the Commonwealth with a number that can be very powerful evidence in a drunk driving case. Where there is a breathalyzer reading, an attorney can advise you about whether or not the Commonwealth will be legally allowed to introduce that reading into evidence. In cases where the breathalyzer was refused, that fact cannot be used against you at trial, so the jury will never know why they did not hear about a breathalyzer reading.
If you are told that you either failed a breathalyzer test, or refused to take a breathalyzer test, your license will be immediately suspended. You have the right, under G.L. c. 90, s. 24(1)(g), to an appeal of this suspension, and there are often significant legal issues that make taking advantage of that right valuable. However, you only have 15 calendar days (that's 15 days, including weekends and holidays) in which to appear for the appeal. If you are considering an appeal, do not delay.
In cases where there was a prior OUI, all the penalties, and especially the loss of license are increased. Third offenses are felonies and almost without exception ought to go to trial. Fourth and subsequent offenses carry extremely serious penalties, can result in a dangerousness hearing, and the Commonwealth will always demand jail time. The Commonwealth is not always able to prove the prior offenses and is frequently forced to reduce the charge.
Costs and Collateral Consequences
Even in cases where deferred probation is available, the cost of complying with that probation can be extremely high, and the deferred probation can be used as a prior offense in later cases. The result is that, even for first offenses, if the case can be fought, it is often better to fight the charge than to accept the Commonwealth's offer.
The politics surrounding drunk driving offenses have driven the penalties and collateral consequences steadily up over the years, but there are many ways to minimize the effect a case can have on your life. The best way to do so is to contact an attorney as early in the process as possible to begin discussing strategies for resolving your case.
If you or someone you know has been charged with OUI, contact me now to set up a free and confidential consultation.
See: G.L. c. 90 s. 24; License Suspensions; Dangerousness Hearings.