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Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Holds That Continuance Without a Finding (CWOF) For OUI Different Than Conviction, Operating Privileges Positively Effected

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.

The court’s decision in Souza has particularly important implications for those who have admitted to sufficient facts in OUI first offense cases. If you or someone you know has been charged with operating under the influence /OUI / DUI / DWI in Massachusetts, contact the Law Offices of Stephen Neyman, P.C. at 617 263 6800 or send Attorney Neyman an e-mail. Attorney Neyman has decades of experience in handling Massachusetts OUI cases and all other criminal matters. Call him today at any time (as his office is open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week) to schedule a meeting to discuss your OUI matter.

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