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.