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

Second Offenders Guide To Life After The Second Offense: It Takes Two to Make A Thing Go Right.

ALL ARE FREE THE SECOND TIME AROUND

For any second-time drunk driving offender in Massachusetts, there are three distinct and separate parts to the entire ordeal. There is the event itself, the court proceedings, and the aftermath.  All of these three separate parts effect the defendant differently.  The defendant will be better prepared to deal with each of these events if he is  fully aware of what  each part consists of and how to better cope with each phase.

First, there is the entirety of the events up and until the first court appearance.  This includes the months, days and nights that lead up to the second offense itself.  Of course, this also includes the second offense itself.  The memories from that night might be very vivid for most, and for others, well, there may be no memory of the event at all.  Blackout, anyone? Anyone?

Second, is the entirety of the court process itself, from your first court appearance (the arraignment), through to the verdict or plea deal.  This process, at least for the majority of clients, is the most difficult.  The criminal justice system is complicated.  There is language used that is dense and hard to understand (even for some attorneys, hopefully not yours).  There are numerous delays, continuances, and the entire process seems unfair and skewed.  This perception is not incorrect and is not uncommon.

Further, during the entire court process the client has anger and resentment.  This anger and resentment is aimed at numerous targets:  the police; the judge; the prosecutor; the client’s own attorney; and inevitably,  the client himself.  Each of these separate targets becomes a part of the process, for better or worse.  It is common for a defendant to blame external factors, especially in the beginning of any court proceeding.  However, once the process has taken its course, and the defendant has come to terms with the events that brought him before the court, the defendant usually and correctly, takes responsibility for the events of that fateful day that brought him fully and completely into the criminal justice system.

Third, after the court process is complete and the OUI Second Offender has been found guilty or has plead guilty to OUI 2nd, the “rehabilitative” phase of the Second Offenders process begins.  There are three distinct and separate parts of the “rehabilitative” process:  (1) Probation; (2) Aftercare; and (3) the 2-week In-patient Rehab Program, better known as the DUIL Program, or as “hell” by some more disgruntle former clients.

PROBATION STATION (First and Last Stop) 

Every defendant’s case is different.  Some defendant’s have simple facts.  There was no car accident.  There were no injuries.  No one was hurt, there was no breathalyzer tests, and there were no witnesses, besides the police officer, to the alleged “dangerous” driving.  Other cases have more egregious facts, and these cases may be treated quite differently.  However, for the sake of brevity,  we will discuss only the most simple of cases.

Under Massachusetts Law, almost every defendant will receive the following set of terms for probation:  (1) Monthly check-ins with probation, either through writing, or by the defendant’s actual appearance; (2) Monthly probation fees of approximately $90.00 per month; (3) participation in an accredited “After-Care” Program within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; and (4) 2 Week In-Patient Rehabilitation Program, better known as DUIL.  The length of the probation term for a Second Offender is 2 years from the date of the disposition of your case.  In other words, if you were found guilty of OUI Second and sentenced on July 14, 2012, your probation term would end on July 14, 2014.

AFTER-CARE BEWARE

The “After-Care” Program varies from each separate organization allowed to have an “After-Care” Program within the Commonwealth.  The defendant should pick a program that is close and convenient for the defendant.  On average, the “After-Care” programs generally last approximately 20-weeks.  The defendant is required to attend weekly group meetings that last for approximately one-hour and-a-half.  These meetings substantively discuss issues relating to alcohol, alcohol-education, and issues dealing with living a sober and healthy lifestyle.  Upon completion of the initial 20-week, week-to-week meetings, the defendant is required to do an exit interview with the “After-Care” Program, as well as attend once-a-month meetings for 6 months subsequent to the completion of the initial weekly group meetings and exit interview.

Finally, in regards to the “After-Care” Program, the defendant is also required to attend and complete 40 Alcoholic or Narcotic Anonymous classes before the completion of the initial 20-week “After-Care” Classes.  Once all of this is complete, the defendant is no longer required to attend any further “After-Care” Classes or AA/NA meetings, and is complete with this portion of his probation.

I AM GOING TO HELL IN A BUCKET, BUT AT LEAST I AM ENJOYING THE RIDE (On Second thought, not so much):  DUIL 

Over the years of my practice, out of all of the questions and concerns that Second Offenders raise during the initial consultation, there is no subject that is brought up by prospective clients more than DUIL.  The 2-week In-Patient program located in Tewskbury, Massachusetts, strikes the most fear in the heart of two-time OUI offenders.  But what is DUIL, exactly?  And what should a Second Offender expect? Besides the flames of hell, let’s try to explain.  (I kid, I kid).

The Beginning. The DUIL program has strict restrictions as to what clients can and cannot bring.  I will not draft an exhaustive list as to what a client cannot bring, but I will list the most important.  This information has changed over the years, and it is important to make certain to review the packet that the DUIL program will send a client approximately 2 to 4 weeks before their assigned check-in date.

DUIL clients cannot take any sort of electronic device such as Ipods, Ipads, cell phones, radios, etc.  Further, there is no smoking on the premises, and clients cannot take cigarettes, lighters, matches, etc.  Clients are also precluded from taking any items with them that contain alcohol, such as certain hair products, and facial cleansers.

The substance of DUIL.  Check-in day is a difficult day for the client, and the client’s family.  The client will feel like a pseudo-prisoner, and for good reason.  For all intents and purposes, the client’s liberty and freedom has been taken from them.  They cannot go and do as they please.  They cannot watch tv when they want to.  They cannot use or have access to their cell phones.  They cannot sleep in their own beds.

Clients are required to have a family member or friend drive them to DUIL.  The driver must wait for the client to successfully check-in to the DUIL Program.  The check-in process itself can take up to 3 hours, and it is strongly advised that the client notify the driver of this before the driver accepts this responsibility.  The reason for this is simple.  There are approximately 55 to 60 DUIL clients that must be processed.  Clients must submit to breath tests, complete voluminous paperwork, make payment, meet with nurses, meet with staff, etc.  In fact, it is one of the longest and hardest days the client will have at DUIL.

An important note: it is not entirely uncommon for individuals to be refused entry to DUIL at check-in.  There are two types of reasons for someone not to succeed at check-in:  (1) Medical discharge; or (2) non-medical discharge.  An individual may be medically discharged if they are having issues with blood pressure, or other medical issues that are non-related to drug or alcohol use.  The second, and more serious discharge for individuals on probation, relates to individuals who may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or have been caught attempting to bring contraband into DUIL.  These clients may likely face substantial punitive measures from their probation officers, including but not limited to violation of probation and an imposition of a prison term. (At least at DUIL you can wear what you want!)

Clients are assigned to a room.  You may or may not have a roommate depending  upon the number of clients at DUIL during your 2-week term.  There is a daily schedule that is rigorous.  As part of the daily routine, clients are required to wake-up every morning at 6:30am.  Breakfast is served daily at 7:30am.  The remainder of the day is filled with classes, group therapy, recreational time, chore time, AA meetings, and bed time at approximately 10:30pm.  There is no reading, no talking, and no lights allowed after 10:30pm.  Lunch is served daily at 12:30pm, and dinner is served promptly everyday at 5:30pm.

Clients should understand that after the first week, DUIL becomes somewhat enjoyable.  Clients have reported that they connect with other clients.  Group therapy allows for bonding as clients share their stories, their struggles, and the issues that have brought them to DUIL.  While many clients have equated DUIL to hell, many other clients have come out of DUIL stronger, wiser, and “cleansed.”

CHRIST YOU KNOW IT AIN’T EASY

As a criminal defense attorney that has handled numerous OUI Second-Offense cases, I have personally seen the trauma, and intense stress that my clients have been under.  Many alleged offenders are innocent as a matter of law, and they may never have to face the issues that await them if found guilty of this crime.  However, I offer this information to those of you who may find yourself in a situation that while not enviable, is what it is.  One must focus on the future, and only the things they can change, and part of changing is understanding the rode that is in front of you.