Massachusetts’ driving while impaired laws differ in many ways from those in other states. The first major difference to note is the alternate label that the state employs for infractions. Rather than using the DUI label as is common in most states, Massachusetts enforces an Operating Under the Influence law (OWI). There are several other states that have adopted this label as well. The other major difference in Massachusetts laws are the possible reductions in sentencing when the proper actions are taken by a person found guilty.
The majority of Massachusetts OWI laws are fairly common when it comes to Blood-Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limits and Implied Consent policies. The “per se” BAC limit for drivers under the influence of alcohol is .08 or higher. Drivers in this state can also be taken into custody if they are suspected of being under the influence of drugs other than alcohol. Massachusetts also employs a Zero Tolerance policy when it comes to BAC limits for drivers who are too young to drink alcohol. Anyone under the age of 21 cannot operate a vehicle with a BAC that is at or above .02.
Like many other states, Massachusetts also carries an enhanced penalty for what is termed as an Aggravated OWI. Individuals caught driving with a blood alcohol level that is at or above .2 can face increased legal penalties. The state also has Implied Consent laws, which require that drivers submit to a breathalyzer test should the arresting officer have reason to suspect that they are under the influence of any substance. Should the individual be unable to submit to this test for any reason, he or she can be evaluated via a blood test in order to determine the level of possible intoxication.
Penalties For OWI Offenses
The penalties for OWIs in Massachusetts vary according to the number of offenses that are on an individual’s record. A first offense requires a minimum license suspension of one year. However, unlike most states, this suspension time can be reduced when an individual attends alcohol education courses. The second offense comes with a suspension period of two years while the third comes with a dramatic increase of 8 years. The second and third OWI offenses in this state require that an individual attends mandatory alcohol assessment and education sessions. Additionally, the vehicle of any driver arrested for an OWI can be confiscated by the authorities. It is also possible for the judge to require an ignition interlock device for any individuals found guilty. Upon the second and third offense, this measure will be mandatory.
OWI does not qualify as a felony offense in this state unless the following situations have occurred: The defendant must be facing his or her third offense in the state or the situation must be one that has involved the serious injury or death of another individual. Offenses at this level can come with a prison sentence that is at least two and a half years.
What Is The Legal Alcohol Limit In Massachusetts?
As in other locations throughout the U.S., the legal alcohol limit is .08 percent in Massachusetts. Commercial drivers face a stricter limit of .04 percent, and drivers under 21 cannot legally drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .02 percent or higher.
Police determine a person’s BAC by taking a breath or blood test. As a result of Melanie’s Law, passed in 2005, refusing to take this test can result in an automatic license suspension of 180 days – or longer if a person has an operating under the influence (OUI) conviction.
Penalties for driving with a BAC above the legal limit may include:
- For a first OUI offense, a person may face two and a half years in jail, a fine of $5,000 and a license suspension of one year.
- A second conviction can yield a jail term of two and a half years (with 30 days being mandatory), a fine of $10,000, a license suspension of two years and required compliance with ignition interlock law.
- A third OUI may produce a five-year prison sentence (150 days mandatory), a fine of $15,000, a license suspension of eight years and vehicle seizure.
Additional offenses can yield even greater penalties. For example, a fifth conviction could result in a fine of $50,000 and lifetime loss of driving privileges.
Ignition Interlock Requirements In Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, drivers convicted of repeat operating under the influence offenses are subject to ignition interlock law. Repeat offenders must install a device that requires a passing breath test to start a vehicle.
Ignition interlock devices (IIDs):
- Must be installed and maintained at a vehicle owner’s expense
- Are required for a period determined by the severity of an offense
- Allow for reinstatement of driving privileges with a Z restriction
While having an IID installed in a vehicle for years can be costly, most people with repeat OUI offenses do choose to take on this expense in order to be able to drive.
Massachusetts OUI Penalties
Massachusetts dictates that anyone aged 21 and older who is driving on a state road with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent or greater is guilty of operating under the influence (OUI). The state can also place OUI penalties on any minor under the age of 21 with a BAC of .02 percent or greater and any commercial driver with a BAC of .04 percent or greater.
Like most states, Massachusetts has an implied consent law that binds drivers to consent to a chemical blood, breath or urine test for drugs and alcohol. Those who refuse to consent to testing are subjected to fines and automatic suspensions of their driver’s licenses. First-time offenses and refusals are penalized by an 180-day license suspension. Second offenses and refusal are subjected to a three-year suspension and 30 days of prison time. Third offenses and refusal are subjected to a five-year license suspension and 150 days of prison time. A fourth offense and refusal results in a lifetime suspension of the driver’s license.
Massachusetts has a lifetime “look back period” for which prior offenses are taken into consideration when imposing penalties. While there is no statutory provision for plea bargain agreements in Massachusetts, it is possible to have an OUI reduced to “wet reckless,” or a conviction of reckless driving involving alcohol.
Massachusetts OUI Penalties for First Conviction
A first OUI conviction is punishable by up to 30 months in prison, a driver’s license suspension for one year and a fine between $500 and $5,000. A $250 assessment and a $50 contribution to the DUI Victim Trust Fund are also imposed. In addition, convicted drivers are required to attend a court assigned treatment program.
Massachusetts Penalties for Second Conviction
A second OUI conviction is punishable by a two-year license suspension, a fine of between $600 and $10,000 and a prison sentence of between 30 days and 30 months. In addition, an ignition interlock device is required and installed at the driver’s expense. If the suspension is shown to create a hardship, convicted drivers become eligible for a hardship license after one year.
OUI Penalties for Third Conviction
A third OUI conviction is punishable by an eight-year license suspension, a fine of between $1,00 and $15,000 and a prison sentence of between 150 days and 2 1/2 years. An ignition interlock device is required, and convicted drivers become eligible for a hardship license after 2 years.
Massachusetts OUI Penalties for Fourth Conviction
A fourth OUI conviction is punishable by a 10-year license suspension, a fine of between $1,500 and $25,000 and a prison sentence of between one and three years. In addition, an ignition interlock device is required after the prison term is served, and convicted drivers become eligible for a hardship license after five years.
OUI Penalties for Fifth Conviction
A fifth OUI conviction is punishable by a permanent (lifetime) license suspension, a fine of between $2,000 and $50,000 and a prison sentence of between two and five years.
If a child under the age of 14 is a passenger during an OUI offense, the driver is guilty of child endangerment. The first conviction of child endangerment is punishable by between 90 days and 2 1/2 years in prison, a fine of between $1,000 and $5,000 and a license suspension of one year.
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