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

Massachusetts Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement Agency: They’re taking my license, now what?

As a former Child Support Enforcement Attorney for the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, I am all too familiar with the short-comings of an Agency empowered to insure that all the children of the Commonwealth are supported – to the largest extent possible – by their parents.  Indeed, custodial and non-custodial parents, on a daily basis, complain of the inefficiency and red-tape that seems to hamper the DOR in establishing, modifying, and enforcing child support orders in the Commonwealth.  However, with all of their short-comings, the DOR has an exceedingly undeserved poor reputation.  In this piece, we look to provide answers to the simplest of questions: What can the DOR do, and what is the best way to stop it!

The DOR has been given vast powers under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 119A.  The DOR can suspend an individuals driver’s license, levy their bank accounts, intercept tax refunds, garnish wages, suspend an individual’s passport, and put liens on a person’s real property.  I have been a personal witness to all such actions.  However, with each of these powers, comes internal regulations and policies.  Most attorneys and lay-persons do not understand how these enforcement powers work, and most importantly, how they can be stopped.  As a former DOR attorney, I know that each of these actions can be delayed, and in most instances, completely side-stepped by one simple method: being proactive!

To know the DOR is to love it! Well, maybe not.  But one must not be intimidated by the agency, or its vast powers.  When an individual, who has a child support order, is having difficulty in not paying their child support obligation – even for one week – that individual should immediately contact the DOR.  Most people will contact the 1-800 number that is provided by the DOR on its website.  This, however, is a horrible decision, that will most certainly cause more delay, more stress, and be almost completely unproductive.  So who should a person contact when they are facing the possibility of the falling behind on their child support, or even worse, losing their driver’s license?  The answer is short and sweet – your DOR case worker.

Every custodial and non-custodial parent has an assigned case worker at the DOR.  This case worker is assigned by the last the name of the non-custodial parent.  The case worker is the “manager” and direct-contact for your case.  They are in charge of all of the enforcement powers used on your case.  The DOR case worker has almost complete authority in determining whether or not your license will be suspended, if you may have your license reinstated, and their willingness to work with you is a critical part in solving the DOR puzzle.  How do I contact my DOR case worker?

The DOR case worker is located in a DOR Regional Office.  For example, if you have a child support order out of Essex County, your case worker would be located in the Northern Regional Office.  This office has a direct number.  Call the direct number and ask to speak to your case worker. The case worker will ALWAYS work with you – not against you.  They are not in the business of making money; they do not work on commissions; they do not get bonus points for taking away your license.  They are their to help, and they are their to assist in collecting child support on behalf of your child.  They do not find joy in ruining someone’s life, although you may certainly feel like they do.  Indeed, the vast majority of DOR workers and staff are reasonable individuals that are simply using their best efforts to make certain the children of the Commonwealth are supported by their parents.  They are not a debt collection agency – they are not nasty and mean.   Reach out to your case worker – and explain your situation – they will listen and do their best to help you – most of the time.

Retaining the services of an attorney with first-hand knowledge of the DOR – and an attorney who is advocating on your behalf – is very useful.  For example, if you do manage to contact your case worker at the DOR, the DOR case worker will record – from their own memory – notes from your conversation.  All of these notes are printed and placed into your file.  Subsequently, when your case is brought before the court for a contempt action (for failure to pay support, where you may face the possibility of jail time up to 179 days) the DOR attorney may very will use these notes to indicate to the judge what you have previously asserted to the DOR.  This is why having an attorney who understands the child support laws of Massachusetts, and what should and should not be admitted to the DOR,  is crucial in achieving a great outcome for all parties involved – including your children!

Finally, I have seen so many cases where the non-custodial parent did not have the financial means to pay a high child support order, and that individual simply ignored the order entirely.  And when I say ignore, I mean did not make any payments.  This, by far, is the worst thing to do, and will almost guarantee a jail sentence! If you cannot afford your Massachusetts Child Support Order, retain an experienced Child Support  Attorney to file for a modification to have your child support order lowered.  But even more importantly, pay something every week — even if it’s $20.00.  This will not only show your good faith effort to your DOR case worker, but will also be evidence in a future contempt case that you are making some sort of effort.  An individual who has paid something every week will certainly appear to be more credible and honorable than a person who has done nothing.  So do something!

I am here to help you navigate this maze, and to make certain your rights and your children’s rights are protected!