Are Changes Coming to First Offense Operating Under the Influence Cases?

Currently in Massachusetts individuals who are convicted or plea to first offense operating under the influence (OUI) charges, suffer license suspensions between 45 and 90 days. Upon such a plea or conviction individuals are immediately eligible to apply for a hardship license. This suspension period runs on and after (consecutive) to any license suspension for refusing the Breathalyzer Test.

Under legislation filed on January 22, 2019 by Governor Baker, significant changes may be coming to these suspension periods. As proposed, the drivers license suspension period would be increased to a minimum of 6 months to not more than 1 year. Again, this suspension would be in addition to any suspension already imposed for refusing to submit to the breathalyzer test. Under the legislation a driver could face a six month suspension for refusing the breathalyzer test as well as a one year suspension for a plea or conviction to a first offense operating under the influence.

In addition to these extensive new proposed suspension periods for first time offenders, Governor Baker is seeking changes to the Ignition Interlock Program. Currently, only operators who are reinstating their right to operate who have two or more operating under the influence convictions are required to have an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) in their vehicles. Under the Legislation, individuals who plea to or are convicted of a first offense operating under the influence charge will need to have an IID installed in any vehicle owned, leased or operated by the individual for not less than six months. Own three vehicles, you will need to pay for the installation and maintenance of three interlock devices for at least six months under the legislation. Already facing steep fines between the court and license reinstatement, there are significant costs associated with the installation, maintenance and removal of an IID, not limited to the Commonwealth's $30.00 per month program administration fee.

Finally, and maybe most importantly expect far longer wait times at the limited Registry of Motor Vehicle Branches where Hearing Officers are located. Currently, there is no interlock device requirement on first offense OUI convictions in Massachusetts. Individuals can choose to serve the 45 to 90 day suspension period or apply for a hardship license. Under either case there is generally only one visit to see a Hearing Officer. Due to current Registry policies, individuals will be required to appear at least twice before a Hearing Officer before being able to pay any reinstatement fees. Individuals will also need hearings at the end of IID restriction period to obtain permission from a Hearing Officer to have the device removed. Multiple visits to limited branches will only add to the wait times to see one of the few Hearing Officers across the Commonwealth. 

Making legislation is often compared to making sausage, and this is just the first step in the process. That being said, it certainly seems additional consequences are coming to those convicted of or plea to a first offense operating under the influence charge.

 

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