Supreme Judicial Court, May 17, 2012

In G.L. c. 90, § 24 (1) (f) (1), the word, “convicted” references only dispositions of criminal charges that include a determination of guilt and not an admission to sufficient facts.

The defendant admitted to sufficient facts on a charge of operating under the influence (OUI).  The defendant was again arrested for OUI and refused to take a breath test, thus triggering a three year administrative license suspension under G.L. c. 90, § 24 (1) (f) (1).  The defendant/plaintiff appealed from the registrar’s decision to the board of appeal on motor vehicle liability policies and bonds (the board), arguing that his license should only have been suspended for 180 days because he had not previously been found guilty of or plead guilty to an OUI and therefore, he had not “previously been convicted of OUI.”

Section 24(1) (f ) (1) provides in relevant part:

"Whoever operates a motor vehicle upon any way or in any place to which the public has right to access ... shall be deemed to have consented to submit to a chemical test or analysis of his breath or blood in the event that he is arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor.... If the person arrested refuses to submit to such test or analysis ... no such test or analysis shall be made and he shall have his license or right to operate suspended in accordance with this paragraph for a period of 180 days; provided, however, that any person who is under the age of 21 years or who has been previously convicted of a violation under this section, …, or a like violation by a court of any other jurisdiction shall have his license or right to operate suspended forthwith for a period of 3 years for such refusal ...".

The  board argued that the plaintiff’s prior admission to sufficient facts should be considered the equivalent of a guilty plea and therefore the registrar properly treated the plaintiff as having been previously convicted of OUI.

Relying on the plain language of the statute, the Court disagreed with the board and reversed its judgment.  “We conclude that the Legislature did not intend an admission to sufficient facts to be treated as a conviction pursuant to G. L. c. 90, § 24 (1) (f) (1). Accordingly, the registrar was not authorized pursuant to that statute to suspend the plaintiff's driver's license for more than 180 days on account of his refusal to take a breathalyzer test, because the plaintiff had not previously been convicted of a violation of G. L. c. 90, § 24.”