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Court protecting those charged but not convicted of drunk driving

Recently the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that motorists who admit to there being enough evidence for a drunk driving conviction but are not technically charged will not face harsher penalties under a law designed to place harsher punishment on repeat offenders.

According to the state's highest court, the legal definition of a 'conviction' has not changed since the passing of Melanie's Law in 2005. The court says convicted means individuals who plead guilty or no contest or individuals who are proven guilty of drunk driving. The definition does not include individuals who admit that there is sufficient facts and evidence for a conviction, but permit a judge to dismiss the charges after a probationary period.

The court ruled unanimously that courts cannot construe the statute in a way that will advance the purpose of the statute but goes against the language used by the legislature. This ruling came after a man was arrested on drunk driving charges in 1997, admitted that the facts and evidence were sufficient for conviction, but the charge was later dismissed from his record. In 2010, the man was arrested again, this time refusing the breathalyzer test, which prompted the Registry of Motor Vehicles, citing his previous arrest, to suspend his driver's license for three years. As a first time offender, the man's driver's license would only have suspended for six months. The man subsequently appealed.

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that the man's first arrest did not fit the needed definition of 'convicted' based on Melanie's Law. The man was acquitted in April 2012 of the charges in 2010, which restored his driver's license with only about six months of the three year sentence remaining. So what will this mean for Massachusetts drivers facing drunk driving charges?

Massachusetts drivers facing drunk driving charges may benefit from the knowledge that the further definition of this recent court ruling can offer them. First time offenders who are charged but not 'convicted' under the law may find that their records are more intact. Further, should they find themselves facing drunk driving charges again in the future, individuals may have a better chance of avoiding jail time and the harsh sentences that multiple offenses carry.

Source: Boston.com, "Mass. court rules on drunken driving law language," Denise Lavoie, May 17, 2012

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