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  • DUI & DWI in Massachusetts

    Introduction

    Drunk driving―or operating under the influence (OUI)―is a serious crime in Massachusetts.

    As such, you could face license suspension, steep fines, and even jail.

    Massachusetts OUI Defined

    Massachusetts uses your blood alcohol content (BAC) to determine whether you’re legally driving under the influence. Below are the BAC limits and their corresponding ages or qualifiers:

      • 0.08% or higher―Drivers 21 years old or older operating regular passenger vehicles.
      • 0.04% or higher―Drivers operating commercial vehicles.
      • 0.02% or higher―Drivers younger than 21 years old.

    Additional Drug and Alcohol Crimes

    Massachusetts mandates additional drug- and alcohol-related laws, beyond typical OUI laws.

    You can learn more about these related drug and alcohol charges in Chapter 2 of the MA Driver’s Manual, but we’ve outlined them below for quick reference.

    Open Container Law

    It’s illegal to operate a motor vehicle with an open container of alcohol anywhere in the vehicle, no matter who’s holding it. This means you can’t drive with an empty liquor bottle in your backseat, nor have a passenger drinking a can of beer.

    Break this law and you face a $100 - $500 fine.

    Other Medications and Drugs

    You can also expect an officer to pull you over if any prescription, illegal drug, or over-the-counter medication is affecting your ability to drive. Depending on factors specific to your case, you could face an OUI conviction just as you would for drunk driving.

    Furthermore, the state will revoke your learner’s permit or driver’s license for any drug conviction. Revocation periods vary between 1 year and 5 years.

    OUI Crimes and Penalties

    Many OUI penalties are the same for drivers of all ages. We’ve noted any differences as they arise.

    Operating Under the Influence

    If you’re convicted of operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or some other abused chemical substance, your penalties depend largely on the number of offenses you’ve had.

    NOTE: This is an outline of the MA OUI fines and penalties―you might face more or less depending on your specific case. Also, when it comes to OUI and license suspension, the RMV takes into consideration your entire driving history, including prior incidents and alcohol education programs.

    First Offense

    • License suspension for one year.
    • $500 - $5,000 fine.
    • Possible jail time up to 2 ½ years.
    • Possible alcohol education program (see below).
        • Drivers under 18 years old must attend a Youth Alcohol Program (YAP) and serve an additional suspension period of one year.
        • Drivers between 18 and 21 years old must attend a Youth Alcohol Program (YAP) and serve an additional suspension period of 180 days.
    • A license reinstatement fee ranging from $50 to $1,200, depending on the specifics of the crime.

    Second Offense

    • License suspension of two years.
    • $600 - $10,000 fine.
    • Possible jail time between 60 days and 2 ½ years. The judge can suspend this sentence to a minimum of 30 days; otherwise, you aren’t eligible for parole until you serve 30 days.
    • Possible alcohol education program (see below).
    • Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device (IID―see below).
    • A license reinstatement fee ranging from $50 to $1,200, depending on the specifics of the crime.

    Third Offense

    • Felony charge.
    • License suspension for eight years.
    • $1,000 - $15,000 fine.
    • Possible jail time between 180 days and 2 ½ years, or prison time between 2 ½ years and 5 years. Your judge can reduce the sentence to 150 days; otherwise, you aren’t eligible for parole until you serve 150 days.
    • Possible alcohol education program (see below).
    • Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device (IID―see below).
    • Possible vehicle registration revocation.
    • A license reinstatement fee ranging from $50 to $1,200, depending on the specifics of the crime.

    Fourth Offense

    • Felony charge.
    • License suspension for 10 years.
    • $1,500 - $25,000 fine.
    • Between 2 years and 2 ½ years in jail, or between 2 ½ years and 5 years in prison. Your judge can reduce the sentence to 12 months; otherwise, you aren’t eligible for parole until you serve at least 12 months.
    • Possible alcohol education program (see below).
    • Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device (IID―see below).
    • Possible vehicle registration revocation.
    • Possible motor vehicle forfeiture.
    • A license reinstatement fee ranging from $50 to $1,200, depending on the specifics of the crime.

    Fifth Offense

    • Felony charge.
    • Lifetime license revocation.
    • $2,000 - $50,000 fine.
    • Possible jail time of at least 2 ½ years, or prison time between 2 ½ years and 5 years. Your judge can reduce this to 24 months; otherwise, you aren’t eligible for parole until you serve at least 24 months.
    • Possible vehicle registration revocation.
    • Possible motor vehicle forfeiture.
    • Possible alcohol education program (see below).

    Vehicular Manslaughter

    If your OUI leads to another person’s death, you face:

    • License revocation for 15 years for a first offense, and a lifetime revocation for a second offense.
    • Between a minimum 5 years and maximum 20 years in prison.
    • Up to a $25,000 fine.

    Also, your judge might also impose OUI education programs, a substance abuse treatment program, and other related treatment penalties.

    Other OUI Penalties

    Chemical Test Penalties

    All drivers are subject to a chemical test when they’re pulled over for suspected drunk driving.

    Failed Chemical Tests

    Drivers who fail the chemical test (i.e. have a higher-than-allowed BAC for their age or driver’s license) face an automatic license suspension for 30 days, which usually gives the court enough time to conclude the court case and impose the longer-term OUI penalties.

    There are further consequences for drivers under 21 years old who fail a chemical test.

    If you are between 18 and 21 years old, you must:

    • Complete a Youth Alcohol Program (YAP).
    • Serve an additional 180 days on your license suspension.

    If you are under 18 years old, you must:

    • Complete a Youth Alcohol Program (YAP).
    • Serve an additional one year on your license suspension.

    Chemical Test Refusal

    Drivers who refuse the chemical test face even longer suspension periods.

    21 and Older

    • First offense: 180 days.
    • Second offense: 3 years.
    • Third offense: 5 years.
    • Fourth or subsequent offense: Lifetime.

    Younger Than 21

    • First offense: 3 years.
    • Second offense: 3 years.
    • Third offense: 5 years.
    • Fourth or subsequent offense: Lifetime.

    NOTE: If this is your first, second, or third chemical test refusal, the MA RMV will tack on additional suspension time in order to get you into an alcohol education program, even though you refused the chemical test (thus refusing to have your BAC on record). The MA RMV is very clear about your requirement to take an alcohol education course, even if you win your case in court.

    OUI Alcohol Education Program

    Some OUI offenders will be required to enroll in an alcohol education program, and sometimes the program helps reduce the suspension period.

    For example, if you’re:

    • Younger than 21 years old, you may reduce your suspension to 210 days.
    • 21 years old or older, you might get your suspension to 45 days - 90 days.

    Courts provide specific information about these OUI schools, which vary in name from Youth Alcohol Program (YAP) to Driver Alcohol Education Program (DAEP).

    Ignition Interlock Device

    Among other things, Melanie’s Law (see below) brought a state-managed ignition interlock device (IID) program for drivers eligible for hardship licenses and license reinstatement.

    A few quick facts about IIDs:

    • IIDs come at the driver’s expense.
    • You must have an IID on all vehicles you own, lease, or operate.
    • All second and subsequent OUI offenders need IIDs.
    • You need an IID if you’re eligible for a hardship license or license reinstatement, and you must keep the IID for the duration of the hardship license and for 2 years after license reinstatement.
    • When a multiple offender has an IID installed, that driver gets a Z restriction on his license. This restriction stands for “Zero Tolerance,” meaning he can’t drive with any measurable amount of alcohol in his system.
    • A vehicle with an IID won’t start if the driver’s breath has a reading of 0.02% BAC or greater.
    • The IID vendor will upload and transfer data to the MA RMV. Please visit the state’s list of approved ignition interlock device vendors to find one.
    • You face license revocation if you don’t comply with IID laws.

    Check out the state’s Ignition Interlock Device Brochure to learn more about MA IIDs, including additional requirements of you and the vendor.

    Melanie’s Law Penalties

    The IID regulations are just the beginning―Melanie’s Law brought about additional OUI-related charges and penalties.

    OUI with a Suspended License

    If you’re caught operating under the influence and you already have a suspended license, you’re charged with both different crimes at the same time. You’ll receivie OUI penalties (see above) as well as penalties for driving with a suspended license.

    OUI and Child Endangerment

    If you’re caught operating under the influence with a child passenger who’s 14 years old or younger, you’re charged with OUI and child endangerment at the same time and face the following penalties:

    • First Offense: Between a minimum $1,000 fine and maximum $5,000 fine; imprisonment in a house of correction between 90 days and 2 ½ years; license suspension for 1 year.
    • Second and Subsequent Offenses: Between a minimum $5,000 fine and maximum $10,000 fine; imprisonment in a house of correction between 6 months and 2 ½ years or a state prison between 3 years and 5 years; license suspension for 3 years.

    SR 22: Car Insurance and Proof of Financial Responsibility

    To date, the MA RMV doesn’t require OUI offenders to file an SR 22 or any other kind of proof that they’re carrying the state’s minimum liability coverage in order to obtain hardship licenses or reinstate their full driving privileges.

    However, car insurance rates often take a hit when OUI is involved. Whether you’ve just now lost your license or your suspension period is almost up, talk with your current coverage provider about possible rate increases you’ll face when you start driving again.

    Commercial Drivers and OUI

    If you’re a commercial driver operating a vehicle with a BAC of 0.04% or higher, you’re breaking the law.

    CDL OUI penalties generally are much stricter than those for regular passenger vehicle drivers. These penalties are made even more severe by the fact that your commercial vehicle is your livelihood.

    For example, if you’re convicted of an OUI:

    • First offense: You lose your CDL for a minimum of 1 year (3 years if your vehicle is placarded for hazardous materials).
    • Second offense: You lose your CDL for life.

    Also note that if you’re caught committing a felony related to manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing controlled substances with any vehicle, you’ll lose your CDL for life.

    The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) handles all regulations and penalties associated with commercial vehicle drivers throughout the country. Visit the FMCSA’s Disqualification of Drivers for specific information.

    When to Hire an OUI Attorney

    Even if your OUI doesn’t bring some of the more serious penalties like exorbitant fines and jail time, you’ll still go before a judge, prosecutor, and your arresting officer. You should consider hiring an OUI attorney, who can help you navigate the legal system and get the best possible outcome based on your offense.

    Applying for a Hardship License

    Some MA drivers who’ve committed certain OUI- and other drug- or alcohol-related offenses are eligible for hardship licenses.

    Some examples of hardship license criteria include:

    • No evidence of any vehicle operation since the revocation.
    • Completion of all suspension and revocation requirements.
    • Serving the minimum amount of suspension/revocation time before applying for a hardship license.
    • Completion of any required alcohol education programs.
    • Documentation or proof of genuine hardship.

    The MA RMV provides the following hardship license applications:

    Reinstating Your MA Driver’s License

    You must meet all requirements of your OUI suspension in order to reinstate your driver’s license, including:

    • Completing your minimum suspension period.
    • Paying all fines, including any additional court costs.
    • Serving jail time or completing your probation, if applicable.
    • Completing an alcohol education program.
    • Paying your license reinstatement fee, which can range from $50 to $1,200.
    • Sometimes, drivers must also re-apply for their licenses, which includes taking all the required tests.

    Because you have an OUI-related suspension or revocation, you must see a Hearings Officer to have your license reinstated. Check the Suspension Hearing Sites and Schedules for a location nearest you.

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