For Immediate Release - May 24, 2012

AG Coakley, Rep. O’Flaherty File Bill to Address Drunk Driving Loophole

Responding to SJC Decision Last Week, Proposed Changes Stiffen License Revocation Penalties for Individuals Refusing to Submit to a Breath Test after an OUI Arrest; More Than 30 Co-Sponsors Already Supporting Bill

BOSTON – Responding to a Supreme Judicial Court decision issued last Thursday, Attorney General Martha Coakley and House Judiciary Chairman Eugene L. O’Flaherty (D-Charlestown) announced today that they filed a bill last night to close a dangerous loophole in an effort to toughen the laws against repeat drunk drivers.

The SJC decision ruled that a “continuance without a finding” (CWOF) resolution in cases against certain defendants accused of operating under the influence were not considered convictions under the law. These instances do not trigger increased license revocation penalties for repeat drunk drivers that were passed as part of Melanie’s Law.

“This a fundamental issue of public safety,” AG Coakley said. “It is crucial that we close this loophole immediately so that repeat drunk drivers are not only held accountable for their actions but are taken off the road so that others are not put at risk. We are proud to partner with Chairman O’Flaherty on this important public safety bill.”

“Since this issue has surfaced, the support for changing the law to promote public safety has been growing,” Chairman O’Flaherty said. “I look forward to working with the Attorney General and my legislative colleagues in swiftly rectifying the loophole exposed by the Supreme Judicial Court in the recent ruling. Several legislative colleagues are supporting this effort and I am confident this can be addressed before the close of the formal session.”

Chairman O’Flaherty’s bill, filed yesterday, was co-sponsored by 32 other bi-partisan representatives from across the Commonwealth.

On May 17, the SJC decided the case of Souza v. Registrar of Motor Vehicles. In the decision, it ruled that a “continuance without a finding” was not considered a “conviction” under the law governing license suspension for individuals who refuse to submit to a so-called “breath test” after being arrested for operating under the influence. 

This distinction is significant as the length of suspension depends on the individual’s prior convictions for operating under the influence:

  • No previous convictions: 180 day suspension.
  • One previous conviction: 3 year suspension.
  • Two previous convictions: 5 year suspension.
  • Three or more previous convictions: lifetime suspension.

To close this loophole, AG Coakley and Chairman O’Flaherty have proposed two changes to the law. First, the proposal amends the definition of “conviction” to include individuals who admit to sufficient facts for a finding of guilty, directly addressing the problem in Souza where a similar admission was not considered to be a conviction. 

Additionally, the proposal considers as a first offense, for purposes of the breath test refusal, those situations where an individual has been referred to an alcohol or substance abuse treatment program as a result of a previous OUI prosecution.

The representatives co-sponsoring the bill are:

Ashe (D-Longmeadow)

Atkins (D-Concord)

Bradley (D-Brockton)

Brodeur (D-Melrose)

Cantwell (D-Marshfield)

Cariddi (D-North Adams)

Chan (D-Quincy)

Coakley-Rivera (D-Springfield)

Coppinger (D-Boston)

Donato (D-Medford)

Ehrlich (D-Marblehead)

Fallon (D-Malden)

Fernandes (D-Milford)

Ferrante (D-Gloucester)

Garry (D-Dracut)

Haddad (D-Somerset)

Hill (R-Ipswich)

Holmes (D-Boston)

Jones (R-North Reading)

Kafka (D-Sharon)

Keenan (D-Salem)

Kulik (D-Worthington)

Lewis (D-Winchester)

Linsky (D-Natick)

Markey (D-Dartmouth)

O’Connell (R-Taunton)

Peake (D-Provincetown)

Peisch (D-Wellesley)

Torrisi (D-North Andover)

Vieira (R-Falmouth)

Chris Walsh (D-Framingham)

Martin Walsh (D-Boston)

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