First Offense Drunk Driving in Massachusetts: The Roadmap to Moving Forward

THIS TOO SHALL PASS

Massachusetts takes drunk-driving offenses very seriously.  But there are many, many questions that arise after an individual is arrested for drunk-driving in Massachusetts, e.g., when is the next court date?  Should I retain a lawyer? What are the typical terms of a plea-deal with the District Attorney if this is my first and only criminal violation?  When can I get my license back?  Should I fight the Massachusetts drunk-driving charges against me?  All of these questions are valid, and while each case is fact specific, this posting attempts to provide some clarification to the most basic of questions after you have been arrested for drunk-driving in Massachusetts.

ON A MONDAY I WAS ARRESTED, ON A TUESDAY I WAS ARRAIGNED

In almost every instance, upon your arrest for driving under-the-influence in Massachusetts you will be given a criminal citation.  There will be a court-date on your criminal citation, and this court date will be your arraignment.  Before your arraignment in Massachusetts for drunk-driving, it is highly desirable to obtain an attorney.  However, if you do not retain an attorney before your arraignment there a few things you should know.

Generally speaking, the arraignment is the first opportunity the prosecuting attorney will have a chance to review the police report in regards to the events that lead up to your arrest for driving-under-the-influence in Massachusetts.  Your actual time in front of the court will be extremely brief, and barring some previous criminal violations, or any other reason where the prosecution might believe you are a danger to yourself or to society at large, you will be allowed to leave the court on your own recognizance.  Further, you will also be given a next court date, which will be the Pre-Trial hearing.

There are three possibilities with respect to legal representation at a Massachusetts drunk-driving arraignment:  (1) You will have already met and retained an attorney before the arraignment, and said attorney appears with you at the arraignment; (2) Based upon your financial situation, the court may appoint an attorney on your behalf; or (3) Based upon your financial situation the court will determine that you are ineligible to obtain a court-appointed attorney, the court will enter a “Not Guilty” plea on your behalf, and you will be required to retain an attorney before your next court date.

Further, you are given two options with respect to entering a plea on the day of arraignment: “Guilty” or “Not Guilty.”   For all intents and purposes, regardless of your culpability, your desire to move forward, or your wish to take full responsibility for the acts you committed that lead to your arrest, it is always advisable to plea “Not Guilty” at arraignment.  There are many reasons to do this, and while we will not provide you with an exhaustive list here, the first and foremost reason is that there are many factors that must be discovered and discussed with someone who has your best interests at heart before entering a guilty plea.  Moreover, most first-time drunk-driving offenders in Massachusetts are entitled to plea “No Contest”, which will allow a defendant to honestly answer – on any subsequent job applications, etc. – that they have never been found guilty, or pleaded guilty to a crime.

ON A WEDNESDAY MY PRE-TRIAL WAS CONTESTED

After your Massachusetts drunk-driving arraignment, the next court hearing will be the “Pre-Trial Conference.”  At the pre-trial conference, this will be the first opportunity for your attorney and for the Assistant District Attorney assigned to your case to sit-down and to discuss the possibility of an amicable outcome.  At this stage, most Massachusetts first-time drunk-driving offenders will be offered the general plea deal, which is referred to as the “24D Disposition.”  The 24D Disposition is offered to almost all first-time offenders who do not have any prior criminal records, and while the terms of such a disposition vary from case-to-case, the terms usually are as follows:  (1) 45 day loss of license; (2) enrollment in a 16-week alcohol class; (3) the enrollment in “Brains-At-Risk”, a one-day, hour-long class explaining the risks and ramifications of brain-injuries; (4) one-year of supervised probation; (5) statutory fines and a $65.00 monthly probation fee; and (5) a hardship license available immediately after disposition of the case based upon the following two-conditions:  proof-of-enrollment in the alcohol class, and a letter from your employer evincing that you need to drive to work, or are otherwise required to drive as part of your employment.

Almost all first-time Massachusetts drunk-driving offenders will take what is commonly called a “CWOF.”  The acronym stands for a: Continuance Without a Finding.  This means that your case will be “continued” for one year, and there will be no finding of guilt or innocence by the court.  If, after the one year of probation, you have complied with the terms of your probation, including paid all statutory fines, completed your alcohol classes, etc., then the case will be dismissed upon the year anniversary of the disposition in your case.

ON A THURSDAY THE JUDGE’S GAVEL FELL

If your Massachusetts drunk-driving case was unable to be resolved at the Pre-Trial Conference, your attorney and the Assigned Assistant District Attorney, will be required to share certain documents with one another before the next court date.  This sharing is generally referred to as discovery, as each side may now “discover” what the other-side has in their possession.  For example, your attorney will seek the training-manual that the arresting officer received when he/she was in the police academy.  This will be used to cross-examine the police officer with respect to the way he/she conducted the field sobriety tests – if any were conducted, and also to inquire the police officer in regards to what he/she witnessed about you, or your driving, that made him/her determine that there was a probability that you were driving while impaired.  The next court hearing will most likely be the “Compliance and Election” hearing, and this hearing will be to determine if discovery has been shared with each other, if there are any other non-discovery, or other discovery issues remaining, and to determine if and when the matter will be scheduled for trial.

THE FINISH LINE: TRIAL

In Massachusetts, if, after all the discovery issues have been concluded, and each side cannot agree as to a resolution in lieu of trial, the matter will be set for a trial in the district court.  The trial itself can be presented to a judge, commonly referred to as a “bench-trial”, or to a jury.  The burden of proof will fall upon the District Attorney’s office to show that you were driving under the influence of alcohol to the point that you were impaired.  Massachusetts law does not require that the Commonwealth prove that you were drunk, rather, the Commonwealth must only show that your ability to drive was impaired by alcohol.

There are numerous possibilities and factors to consider before taking a Massachusetts drunk-driving case to trial, including the fact that the expense for such an endeavor may be costly.  However, with your liberty, your ability to provide for your family, and your reputation at stake, it is imperative that you understand – from the very beginning – the roadmap of Massachusetts drunk-driving case.

Attorney Anthony Rao has been practicing law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts since 2006.  HIs practice focuses exclusively on Criminal and Domestic Relations matters, and can be reached 24/7 at 617-953-0836.  Attorney Rao provides payment plans, and flat-fee representation for those individuals that may need great legal services, without the necessity of great legal bills.  www.lawrao.com

First Offense OUI: The First Cut is the Deepest

Massachusetts Drunk Driving Laws:  The $10,000.00 Drink

There is a misconception that one must be drunk to be arrested and convicted of drunk driving in Massachusetts.  Unfortunately, this could not be further from the sobering truth.  One drink may be enough to not only have the driver arrested, but also convicted of drunk driving.  So then, what exactly is the standard police officers, judges, and juries use when determining when an individual has been “drunk driving” under Massachusetts law?

.08: The Commonwealth’s 8 Ball

In Massachusetts, the prosecution is allowed to choose between two different “roads” when proving an individual was driving under the influence of alcohol.  The first, and often time, the easiest path for a finding of guilt, is the .08 approach.  This is used when a defendant has submitted to a breathalyzer test, and has blown a .08 or higher.  In this instance, the Commonwealth need only prove that the defendant took the breath-test, and the defendant blew a .08 or higher.  That is all.  Of course, there are numerous factors that may make the results of the breath-test questionable, even inadmissible at trial; however, if the test is allowed to be used as evidence against the defendant, the defendant will have a long and arduous road ahead of him to prove his innocence.

Impairment: Look Back on the Days When My Life Was a Haze

If an alleged drunk driver does not take the breathalyzer test in Massachusetts, the Commonwealth is left to approach the case with the “Impairment” theory.  Meaning, the Commonwealth will be forced to prove – with circumstantial evidence -  that the defendant’s ability to drive was impaired by the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.  In this instance, the Commonwealth’s case is immediately more difficult, and it is because of this reason that Massachusetts will harshly punish any alleged drunk driver for refusing to take the breath-test.  For a first offender, the minute she refuses the breath-test, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles will automatically suspend her driver’s license for 180 days.  There is no exception to this rule.

Although the thought of losing one’s license for 180 days is a daunting one, the defendant has set himself up for a higher chance of success if and when the matter is brought to trial.  Indeed, without the breath-test, the Commonwealth is forced to rely on witnesses that may not exist (and may not be very good), and police officers that may have seriously fumbled the investigation.  As a Massachusetts Criminal Defense attorney, I would advise any client to never submit to the breath-test unless you are 100% confident you will blow below the .08.

It is important to understand that the Commonwealth is never put in a position where they must show that the driver was actually drunk.  Rather, the Commonwealth need only show that the driver was impaired due to alcohol, and this impairment affected the driver’s driving.  That is all.  There are many instances where the driver can be alert, not slurring his words, and for all intents and purposes acting in a manner that does not necessarily evince that the driver was under the influence of copious amounts of alcohol.  Nevertheless, this flimsy evidence may still be enough for a judge or jury to find that the driver was impaired by alcohol, and therefore guilty of operating under the influence in Massachusetts.

Plea or Fight: He’s Throwing Several Punches and He’s Blocking Most of Mine

At arraignment for a first-offense drunk-driving charge in Massachusetts, a defendant must make a decision.  After looking at the entirety of the evidence against him, does the defendant believe he has a fighter’s chance of obtaining a not guilty verdict.  If so, the defendant can plea not guilty at the arraignment, put his gloves on, and get ready for a fight.

If, however, the defendant decides to plea no contest to the charges, then the defendant will be entitled to what is called a “24D Disposition.”  In this instance, the defendant will be on track to obtain a hardship license within a few weeks, be enrolled in alcohol classes, and be placed on probation for 1 year, which includes a substantial amount of fines.

While most first-time alleged offenders are eager to put this matter behind them, and take a plea, if the case is a “winnable” one, then the defendant must take a long, hard look at the totality of the circumstances – including the potential of obtaining a second-offense at any point in his lifetime – before making such a decision.