For Immediate Release - June 28, 2012

AG Coakley Commends Legislature for Strengthening Drunk Driving Laws

Proposed Changes Stiffen License Revocation Penalties for Individuals Refusing to Submit to a Breath Test after an OUI Arrest

BOSTON – Today, Attorney General Martha Coakley commended the Legislature for strengthening drunk driving laws by closing a dangerous loophole that allowed for less serious license revocation penalties for repeat drunk driving offenders. The loophole was revealed in the recent Supreme Judicial Court decision of Souza v. Registrar of Motor Vehicles. The Legislature closed this loophole in Outside Sections 98-100 in the FY’13 Budget that was released by the Conference Committee yesterday and is scheduled to be voted on by the House and Senate today. If approved, it will go to the Governor’s desk for final passage.  

“I want to commend the Legislature, particularly Senator Katherine Clark, who filed this bill as an amendment to the Senate budget, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Eugene L. O’Flaherty, who filed the bill in the House, for swiftly closing this dangerous loophole in our drunk driving laws,” said AG Coakley. “Repeat drunk drivers pose a dangerous threat to public safety, and we should vigorously enforce our laws to keep them off the roads. This important change will make our roads safer and increase accountability for drunk drivers.”

On May 17, the SJC decided the Souza case, ruling that a continuance without a finding (“CWOF”) resolution in cases against defendants accused of operating under the influence were not considered convictions under the law with respect to license suspensions for breath test refusals.

Under the law, if an individual is stopped on suspicion of operating under the influence, and that individual refuses to submit to a breath test, that individual’s license will be suspended automatically. The distinction the SJC made in the Souza case is important as the length of suspension depends on the individual’s prior convictions for operating under the influence. 

Consequently, as a result of the SJC’s decision in Souza, a CWOF would not trigger increased license revocation penalties for repeat drunk drivers who refuse to take breath tests, because they would not be considered convictions. The proposed change would close this loophole, so that an individual’s prior CWOF is treated as a conviction for purposes of the length of license suspension after a breath test refusal.  

The change to the law that is part of the fiscal year 2013 budget does not alter existing license suspension periods for refusing a breath test. Those periods remain the same:

  • No previous convictions: 180-day suspension.
  • One previous conviction: three year suspension.
  • Two previous convictions: five year suspension.
  • Three or more previous convictions: lifetime suspension.

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