Articles Posted in 1st Offense OUI DUI

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Certain well-known anti-drunk driving organizations are widely accused of having neo-Prohibitionist agendas and fueling anti-alcohol hysteria. Regardless of whether such criticism is warranted, this blog post explores the concept of moral policing as it relates to operating under the influence (OUI), as well as other demonized social behaviors, such as smoking and consumption of fatty foods.

The “war on drunk driving” seems to appeal to the “harm principle.” Under the “harm principle,” no exercise of power over an individual is legitimate unless the purpose is to prevent harm to other people. A person should not be forced to act in a certain way simply because it’s for his own moral, physical or intellectual good.

Anti-drunk driving campaigns try to stay in line with that principle, with the basic message being: Drunk driving is bad because it can, and often does, hurt other people. Few would find that message to be offensive. These organizations draw criticism, however, when they appear to be against drinking generally, as opposed to drunk driving. For example, certain organizations have announced that fewer liquor stores will reduce crime, opposed sale of alcohol at fairs and cultural events, and argued that children should be raised in alcohol- free environments. Why the criticism? Likely, it is because they are now getting into an area of self-regarding conduct and imposing moral or personal preferences on other people. When the public becomes uneasy about the possibility of a modern- day temperance movement, such organizations tend to fly under the banner, “We are not an anti-alcohol organization.”

Anti-smoking campaigns follow the same blueprint, rallying around the dangers of second-hand smoke–harm to other people. Smoking bans were supposedly designed to protect non-smokers, particularly employees of bars or restaurants, from the harms associated with second-hand smoke. Anti-smoking campaigns refused to admit that the true purpose of smoking bans was to protect smokers from themselves–to marginalize or further de-normalize an otherwise legal activity.

The new battle is on obesity and trans-fat, but can it be justified under the same “harm principle” used in, what some would call, the anti-alcohol campaigns? Or, is it pure moral or health policing, an attempt to protect people from themselves? According to the New York Times and other sources, there are now studies that indicate a purported trend of “second-hand obesity.” Specifically, some doctors who have studied the issue say that exposure to obese people can make one become obese because one’s idea of acceptable body type comes from looking at others.

This Massachusetts OUI lawyer sincerely acknowledges that drunk- driving creates real dangers to other people. The point is that anti-drunk driving movements need to be careful to distinguish between two very distinct behaviors: being drunk, which, with some exceptions, only hurts oneself, and driving while drunk, which can and does hurt other people. As the “second-hand obesity” movement perhaps best illustrates, when society fails to make meaningful distinctions between conduct that only affects oneself and conduct that affects others, a very slippery slope is created.

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Recently, in Souza v. Registry of Motor Vehicles, the highest court in Massachusetts held that as used in the Massachusetts operating under the influence (OUI/DUI/DWI) statute, the word “convicted” refers only to guilty findings and that a “continuance without a finding” (CWOF) is no longer considered a first offense for RMV license suspension purposes.

In Souza, the plaintiff appealed an RMV decision suspending his license for a period of three years. He had previously admitted to sufficient facts in an OUI case, and his case was continued without a finding and later dismissed upon successful completion of his probation. Thereafter, he was arrested again for OUI and refused a breath test. The plaintiff argued that his license should only have been suspended for 180 days because there was never a guilty finding and he was therefore never previously “convicted” of OUI within the meaning of the statute. The RMV argued that, in light of the remedial purpose of Melanie’s Law, “to increase penalties for drunk drivers in the Commonwealth,” a CWOF is the equivalent of a guilty plea. The Supreme Judicial Court rejected the RMV’s purpose-based argument and interpreted the law based on its plain language. It reasoned that if the legislature had wanted to include an admission to sufficient facts in the definition of “conviction,” then it would have done so expressly. The court reasoned that the plain meaning of “convicted” or “convicted of” is confined to a guilty plea, a finding of guilty, a judgment of guilty, or a plea of nolo contendere. The SJC went on to state that even if it were to accept that the RMV’s interpretation would be more consistent with the purpose of Melanie’s Law, the court could not read the statute in a way to advance the purpose where such a reading would disregard the language that the legislature chose to use.

Since the SJC’s ruling in Souza, Attorney General Martha Coakley, state Senator Katherine Clark, a Melrose Democrat, and House Judiciary Chair Eugene O’Flaherty, a Chelsea Democrat, have come together to close the perceived “loophole” created by the decision. The three politicians are working towards amending the definition of “conviction” at issue in Souza to include CWOFs. “We must respond quickly to close this loophole and ensure that repeat drunk drivers are taken off the roads for significant periods of time,” Coakley said in a statement, according to the Boston Herald.

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The Boston City Council proposed an ordinance on March 15, 2012 that would require valets to deny keys to those suspected of being drunk. In response, insurance company representatives have expressed concern that such an ordinance would raise costs and place an unreasonable amount of responsibility on valet attendants, according to the Boston Globe. One valet company owner told the Globe that valet attendants do not interact with patrons for a long enough period of time, often only seconds, to determine whether the operator is too drunk to drive. Like these others who are concerned, this Massachusetts OUI / DUI / DWI attorney has questions about this proposal.

This proposed ordinance seems to be a hot potato game of pass the liability. Thus, valet attendants, who interact with patrons for a matter of seconds and who are untrained in detecting drunkenness, might be more inclined to notify police of “suspected” drunk-drivers. Could information relative to what is typically a 3-5 second interaction (according to a Globe source) be enough to provide a reasonable suspicion for police to stop a driver?

The next issue involves the distinction between drinking and operating under the influence. It is not a crime to have a drink and drive. It is presumptively a crime to drive while having a BAC of .08 or more. It is a crime to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol. The proposed ordinance blurs that distinction and would effectively deprive anyone who has had a drink, regardless of BAC, of having the keys to their own car.

All of this may lead to the issue of paternalism v. personal autonomy in the context of drinking and driving. Certainly, drunk-driving is a problem in society. However, can one not make an un-coerced decision not to drive after having a drink? Does one need a valet attendant, an acquaintance of 3-5 seconds, to tell one that driving isn’t an option? To what extent is it proper to use the instruments of law to force one into doing that which is “right” or “wise”?

In response to the last question above, our criminal law in Massachusetts is already designed to deter drinking and driving by imposing very severe, broad-brush penalties. If we need valet attendants to help enforce it, then perhaps those strict “deterrent” aspects are not working.

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In modern society, where travel is easy, the interstate differences in drunk-driving laws may create sticky situations. Melanie’s Law, our Massachusetts OUI statute, provides for enhanced penalties as well as other “remedial” measures, such as mandatory installation of ignition interlock devices, for repeat offenders. In our increasingly interstate system, application of certain repeat offender provisions of Melanie’s Law becomes problematic because different states take different approaches to offender status. For example, some states have a policy of expunging or sealing first offense drunk- driving convictions after the accused successfully completes any probationary term and alcohol awareness program. If an individual with an expunged or sealed OUI conviction is later charged with drunk driving again, the charge in some states would be for an OUI first offense. Massachusetts, on the other hand, would treat that person as a second-time offender.

A major problem created by this interstate inconsistency relates to finality of pleas. All states are interested in the finality of pleas and other dispositions. When Massachusetts converts out-of-state first offenses into Massachusetts second or subsequent offenses, the out-of-state pleas may be challenged for lack of voluntariness or intelligence. Before any accused can enter a guilty plea, he or she must have notice of the nature of the charge. When an OUI is charged as a first offense in another state and the accused pleads, the plea may not be made intelligently when he or she has no notice that it will be a Massachusetts second offense. Massachusetts should apply its laws in a way that is mindful of other states’ interests in finality of pleas instead of creating potential grounds for vacating foreign pleas.

The question becomes, “Why should Massachusetts defer to another state in terms of an OUI offender’s status and the nature of an OUI charge?” One answer involves comity, respect for the sovereignty of other states. Another involves certainty, predictability, and uniformity. It is more than important for people to have some degree of certainty as to their offender status. Treating out-of-state first-time offenders as Massachusetts second-time offenders undermines that certainty. One’s offender status becomes fluid, changing as state lines are crossed. While Massachusetts has valid public policy interests, the intended deterrent effect of enhanced penalties (and so-called “remedial” measures) for repeat offenders is substantially undercut when a person does not even know that he is or could be charged as a repeat offender.

It is true that under traditional approaches to conflict of laws, it is essentially the rule that State A will not enforce the penal laws of State B. This is a fairly- accepted proposition because the wrong is to the particular state. However, not all provisions of Melanie’s Law affecting repeat offenders are considered “penal.” As noted above, the requirement that second and subsequent offenders install an interlock ignition device on cars they own or operate has been deemed “remedial” as opposed to punitive. Also, under more modern approaches in conflict of laws, courts engage in “interest analysis” or “comparative impairment” analysis instead of having clear-cut choice of law rules. “Interest analysis” involves considering which state is more interested in seeing its rule applied. “Comparative impairment” is essentially the flip side to that coin, where courts consider which state would be more aggrieved if its rule were not applied. In light of the conflicting interests noted above, and from the perspective of a Massachusetts OUI/DUI/DWI lawyer, it would be interesting to see how a Massachusetts court would conduct an analysis on this issue.

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The most recent article in the Boston Globe’s OUI series is entitled “Court mismatch makes OUI justice elusive: Lawyers who specialize in defending drunk drivers enjoy huge legal advantages built into state law, and have the ear of some judges prone to favor their arguments, no matter how far- fetched.” The front-page article is essentially a lengthy criticism of defense attorneys who utilize these “huge legal advantages,” which are, literally, the constitutional protections of the criminally accused.

The article first references the “special legal advantage” of “the prohibition on putting a driver’s refusal to take a breath-test into evidence.” While the phrase “special legal advantage” implies some sort of legal windfall, the highest court in Massachusetts has concluded that refusal evidence violates the privilege against self incrimination guaranteed by article 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, our state constitution. The Globe article calls this constitutional safeguard a “devastating advantage for the defense.”

The article next states that “Massachusetts, like other states, also enforces intricate procedures police must follow in making OUI stops, procedures that some officers complete imperfectly, sometimes carelessly, opening easy lines of attack for aggressive counsel…It is, in short, a lopsided competition… ” Firstly, such “lines of attack” are seldom “easy” in drunk-driving cases, even for the most experienced and skilled OUI attorneys. Secondly, those “intricate procedures” that police are required to follow before seizing a person are dictated by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. It is unclear to this reader whether the author of this piece would encourage flouting those constitutional requirements in OUI cases to even the so-called “lopsided competition.”
Perhaps the most troubling portion of the article states, “Call it OUI, Inc., the cottage industry of lawyers and expert witnesses whose livelihoods are built on getting drivers charged with operating under the influence of alcohol off the hook—and back on the road.” It should first be noted that, contrary to the implication here, not all those “drivers charged” with operating under the influence are guilty of operating under the influence and getting “off the hook.” As is well known, defendants enjoy, at least nominally, the presumption of innocence (though the above-referenced statement is a testament to the unfortunate and common presumption of guilt). Secondly, it is a defense attorney’s duty to zealously work to get their client “off the hook,” regardless of whether they are guilty or not guilty. This type of thinly-veiled, if not blatant, disapproval of OUI defense lawyers is seemingly inappropriate.

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For almost 30 years, happy hours have been banned in Massachusetts, but the casino bill may signal their return. The Senate recently passed an amendment, called the “Restaurant Equality Amendment,” that would even the playing field between Massachusetts bars and restaurants and casinos that come to Massachusetts. The casino measures would allow casinos to serve free drinks, raising concerns among some legislators that smaller businesses would suffer. This has sparked a debate centering on the potential drunk-driving implications, particularly because the purpose of the 1984 ban on drink specials was to reduce drinking and driving.

Senator Robert Hedlund, a Weymouth Republican, has said that the amendment would simply allow restaurants and bars to compete with the casinos, according to CBS Boston. Senator Susan Fargo, a Lincoln Democrat who opposes the amendment, thinks that there would be a sharp increase in drunk-driving injuries and fatalities if the existing happy hour restrictions are lifted, according to that source. Massachusetts Mothers Against Drunk Driving spokesman David P. DeIuliis told the Worcester Telegram and Gazette that MADD has not yet taken a formal position but that the organization is continuing to monitor the casino legislation.

In 2005, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a research report analyzing happy hour/drink special laws. According to that report, research has indicated that drunk- driving rates are sensitive to drink prices, particularly among underage people. However, from that research it would seem that if the problem group is underage drinkers, then the problem could possibly be attributed to lack of enforcement of laws limiting underage access to alcohol. The report also addresses enforcement of “sales to intoxicated” and “happy hour” statutes, referencing the strategy used in Massachusetts involving identification of the place of last drink in OUI cases.

Regardless of the conflicting positions in this happy hour debate, it draws renewed attention to drinking and driving in Massachusetts, which may prompt more zealous enforcement of OUI laws. Certain police departments have already voiced their opposition to lifting the ban. For example, a representative of the Lowell Police Department told the Lowell Sun, “We’re trying to control increases in alcohol consumption, not promote the consumption of alcohol…That’s exactly what these happy hours do.” While that police officer’s concern was with consumption of alcohol, as opposed to driving under the influence of alcohol, MADD has distinguished those two behaviors. “We’re concerned, but we’re not an anti-alcohol organization,” a MADD spokesman told the Worcester Telegram and Gazette.

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August 8, 2011, when the stocks plunged dramatically, marked the most severe decline since the fall of 2008. Economists discussed the possibility of yet another recession, which would hurt even worse because of the nation’s weak starting point, CNNMoney reported on August 10, 2011. Readers may be asking what relevance this has to Massachusetts OUI/DUI/drunk driving cases, and the answer is in the following: While drunk drivers come from every walk of life, studies also show that, in addition to various other factors, drunk drivers are more likely to be unemployed (or working class). This post will touch upon the relationship between unemployment and problem drinking and the ramifications for Massachusetts operating under the influence cases.

Certain theories of alcoholism and problem drinking focus on stress levels and socio-environmental factors. Under such theories, drinking problems develop as mechanisms for coping with stressful circumstances, such as unemployment and financial strain. Researchers have had difficulty, however, in determining the causal relationship between unemployment and alcohol abuse. In other words, it seems to be unclear whether unemployment leads to alcohol abuse or whether alcohol abuse leads to unemployment. If the former is more accurate and unemployment creates an increase in problem drinking, then we would expect to see more Massachusetts OUI arrests and prosecutions if we are to be thrown into another financial crisis.

Massachusetts drunk-driving arrests have decreased in the past five years, the Boston Herald reported on July 20, 2011. However, that article indicated that last year there were 14,834 OUI arrests, down from 17,804 OUI arrests in 2008 and 15,850 in 2006. This is worth noting because 2008 was the height of the economic recession, and according to these statistics, it was also a high point in OUI arrests. Obviously, on the other hand, that there were more arrests does not necessarily mean that there was more drunk driving in 2008. For instance, it could mean that there were simply more police patrols for drunk driving.

As mentioned above, it is possible that unemployment may be a cause of “problem drinking.” This raises another important OUI issue. It is known that a large majority of repeat OUI offenders are “problem drinkers.” Here in Massachusetts, repeat OUI/DUI/DWI/drunk driving offenders are subject to mandatory minimum sentences, and judges are forced to take a broad-brush approach without consideration of the defendant’s situation or individual traits. Anyone facing a mandatory minimum sentence should be aware that the quality of one’s defense attorney will be critical.

While the link between financial crises and OUI arrests and prosecutions may be tenuous, it is always important to consider the effects of the current economic, social and political backdrop. This is largely because developments in all areas of the law, including OUI/DUI/DWI law, do not happen in a vacuum and because courts, police, prosecutors, and lawmakers all tend to take the temperature of the day.

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Just over a month after the high profile acquittal of Casey Anthony, Caylee Anthony’s grandparents and crowds of others memorialized what would have been the toddler’s birthday, CBS reported on August 10, 2011. The tribute to the child’s short life seems to have spurred renewed interest in “Caylee’s Law,” a proposed bill that would make a parents’ failure to report a child missing or dead within 24 hours or 1 hour, respectively, a felony. The widespread support for “Caylee’s Law” should prompt consideration of reactive legislation named after children who have suffered tragic deaths, such as Massachusetts’ own “Melanie’s Law,” which was passed in 2005 to enhance punishments for Massachusetts OUI/DUI/drunk driving offenders.

“Melanie’s Law” was named after Melanie Powell, a 13-year-old who, while walking to a beach in Marshfield, was killed by a drunk driver. The driver, who had a prior OUI conviction, was convicted of motor vehicle homicide and drunk driving. She was sentenced to 2 ½ years in state prison and two years of post-release probation. Melanie’s parents and grandfather then started a push for tougher drunk driving legislation. “Melanie’s Law,” which came in the wake of public anger , was the result.

Laws fueled by public outcry and named after deceased children tend to be counterproductive and poorly-reasoned. Too often, consideration of the policy behind such laws is lacking at best. These kinds of laws are frequently designed to appease an outraged public , and bad knee-jerk laws are passed in an emotional haze. Still, some legislators use these “tough” laws as a tool to garner support and win votes. Attaching the name of a child victim to proposed legislation is another powerful tool for legislators championing such laws. This tactic creates the perception that a vote against the law is a vote against the child, curbing opposition.

There are several examples of laws named after young victims, particularly in the area of sex crimes. The Jacob Wetterling Act, the Adam Walsh Act, and Dru’s Law are just a few of the many. While most would agree that prevention of sex crimes is an important goal, many have criticized these laws because they do not do much in terms of achieving that purpose. Perhaps the most common criticism is that blanket sex offender registries make it difficult to differentiate between dangerous convicted criminals and those convicted of sex crimes in relatively inoffensive circumstances, such as a teenager who had consensual sex with his barely underage teenager girlfriend. One can draw parallels between this type of indiscriminate grouping and the way in which Melanie’s Law strips the courts of discretion in certain cases and closes out consideration of the unique qualities of OUI defendants.

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In recent years, punishments for drunk-driving offenses have become ever more severe in Massachusetts and throughout the country. Laws that provide for tough drunk driving penalties, such as Melanie’s Law in Massachusetts, are very popular politically, perhaps because many unthinkingly take the view that severe sentences will reduce the number of deaths and injuries that are caused by drinking and driving. However, a much more thoughtful consideration of penal theory is necessary to answer the question, “How much punishment is appropriate?”
There are three main theories of criminal punishment: deterrence, retribution, and rehabilitation. This blog post addresses deterrence and retribution in terms of increasingly severe drunk driving penalties. While rehabilitation would perhaps be the most effective approach to drunk driving, particularly when offenders have problems with alcohol, current laws leave little opportunity for rehabilitation analysis, especially with respect to penalties for second and subsequent offenses.

Deterrence theory can be broken down into two parts: general deterrence and individual deterrence. The reasoning behind general deterrence is as follows: if people know that punishment will follow the commission of a given crime, then people will be less likely to commit that crime. In other words, general deterrence serves to provide self-interested persons with reasons to not commit crimes. Individual deterrence is the idea that once a person is punished for a crime, he or she will be less likely to offend again for fear of being punished again. With regard to general deterrence, increasing drunk driving penalties , standing alone, is of little value because it is known that the perceived risk of detection and arrest is of much more consequence than severity of punishment. Considering individual deterrence, the problem with simply imposing harsher penalties is that the majority of OUI/DUI-related fatalities and injuries are caused by problem drinkers struggling with alcohol addiction, and it is more than difficult to deter those with such problems. Moreover, this theory hinges on the concept of the rational thinker, but those who are truly drunk are presumably not thinking entirely rationally. Statistics do show that no matter how severe the potential punishments, drunk driving continues.

Retribution is currently the leading justification for criminal punishment, and it has been on the rise since the 1970s. The idea behind retributivism is essentially “an eye for an eye.” While there are different camps within retributivism (negative, positive, assaultive), this is a somewhat simple approach to punishment, with the basic premise being that society is justified in punishing criminal offenders because the offenders have earned it. In the context of strict drunk driving statutes, this theory does not work because there is no black and white. Anyone with a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or higher is treated as a drunk driver, and while that is convenient, not every person is the “average person” in terms of physiology. Drunk -driving laws leave room for punishing those who were not drunk, and sometimes, for punishing those who were not even really driving. Thus, a theory based entirely on moral culpability falls apart.

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Shayna Fernandez admitted to drinking her last beer as late as 4:30 in the morning this past Saturday. Just over two hours later she was involved in an accident on Route 93 in Andover. As a result of that accident two people died and one was injured. According to reports Fernandez had recently dropped a friend off in Lowell. She ended up on Route 93 northbound. Witnesses have indicated that she might have been driving as fast as ninety miles per hour in the far left lane when she hit a car being driven by a sixty two year old Saugus man. The victim’s car rolled over. The driver and one of his passengers were killed and a third man survived with injuries. Fernandez failed Field Sobriety Tests at the scene. She took a Breathalyzer Test and blew a .145, nearly two times the legal limit. Bail was set at fifty thousand dollars cash. The case will likely be prosecuted in the Salem Superior Court even though the district courts have jurisdiction over the charges. Fernandez is being charged with two counts of Motor Vehicle Homicide, Negligent Operation, OUI and assorted Criminal Motor Vehicle Offenses. A conviction for these crimes will likely result in a state prison sentence for Fernandez.


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Any Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyer will tell you there is no up side to taking a Breathalyzer Test, and in most instances the same sentiment applies to Field Sobriety Tests. Fernandez’s problems defending this case will no doubt be compounded by the negative results generated by these tests. Jurors rarely acquit where high readings are involved. Eyewitness testimony about the rate of speed at which she was traveling was sufficiently damaging to her defense particularly in a case where death resulted. An accident reconstruction will likely be performed by the state police, possibly supporting the eyewitness’ observations. Driving ninety miles per hour with the death of innocent people resulting, will, in and of itself trigger a criminal prosecution. A suspicion of alcohol ingestion or intoxication magnifies the problem. However, failed tests validate the subjective findings of the police and make defending this case extremely difficult. It is important to remember that in Massachusetts the prosecutor cannot mention to a jury that a defendant refused to take a breathalyzer test. Nor can the district attorney comment on a failure to attempt to perform field sobriety tests. What they can do is take the results of these tests, if taken, and use them to support their prosecution. It is much easier to defend someone who has not taken these tests.

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