OUI in Massachusetts

What is an OUI in Massachusetts?

While many jurisdictions in the United States refer to a drunk or drugged driving offense as a DUI (driving while intoxicated) or DWI (driving while intoxicated), Massachusetts refers to it as OUI (operating under the influence). State law describes it as operating a vehicle on a public highway while under the influence of impaired substances such as alcohol, drugs, stimulants, etc.

Generally, being "under the influence" means a condition of intoxication where a person is impaired to the point of stupor. However, it could also mean having a blood alcohol concentration that exceeds Massachusetts' legal limits. An individual may also be charged with OUI if their awareness and reflexes have deteriorated to the point where they cannot safely operate a vehicle due to the consumption of intoxicants.

OUI convictions are penalized strictly by the Massachusetts court system and the Registry of Motor Vehicles. As a result, convicted offenders face harsh legal and administrative sanctions. In most cases, the punishments include incarceration, probation, significant fines, and the loss of driving privileges, and having a permanent Massachusetts criminal record.

What is the Difference Between a DUI and an OUI in Massachusetts?

DUI stands for driving under the influence. It is a charge of drunk driving that can be brought against an individual. However, in Massachusetts, this criminal accusation is known as OUI (operating under the influence).

The two terms apply to driving after ingesting, smoking, or otherwise consuming an intoxicating substance, whether the substance is legal or illegal. The most significant distinction between these terms is the state's intentional use of the term "operating" rather than "driving". As such, driving a vehicle is not the only requirement for an OUI conviction. For example, suppose an individual is sitting in a vehicle at the roadside with the key in the ignition. In that case, this can be considered as operating a vehicle in Massachusetts. If the individual is intoxicated, they may be charged with an OUI.

Massachusetts OUI Laws

Operating under the influence (OUI) is prohibited in Massachusetts under M.G.L. c. 90, § 24. According to these statutes, a driver is "under the influence" if their ability to operate a vehicle has been compromised by consuming intoxicants (e.g., marijuana, opioids) or alcohol.

The following people are considered legally intoxicated in Massachusetts:

  • An adult non-commercial driver with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 percent or higher.
  • A commercial driver with a blood alcohol content of .04 percent or more.
  • A driver under the age of 21 with a blood-alcohol level of .02 or above.

While OUI is the general term used when a person is apprehended for drunk driving, the actual charge will be operating under the influence of alcohol (OUI-alcohol) or drugs (OUI- drugs). Most people are charged with OUI-alcohol in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Implied Consent Law

According to Massachusetts' implied consent law, all drivers apprehended for driving under the influence must agree to a blood or breath test to check for intoxicating substances. The Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) will suspend the driver's license if the individual refuses to take a breath test or fails it. While drivers have the freedom to refuse a breath or blood alcohol test, the arresting officer has the authority to take their license away on the spot if they do.

OUI Penalties in Massachusetts

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 90, Section 24 outlines the penalties for drunk or drugged driving. The state assesses these penalties based on whether the individual is charged as a first-time or repeat offender and the facts surrounding the accusation. For OUI convictions, the state courts and DMV typically impose incarceration, license revocation, mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device (IID), fines, insurance surcharges, and other penalties on offenders.

In addition, on October 28, 2005, Massachusetts passed Melanie's bill to make OUI offenders face harsher criminal and administrative penalties, particularly in cases of child endangerment. One provision established by Melanie's law was the use of ignition interlock devices for certain OUI offenders. Others include:

  • The law creates a new OUI offense of driving while one's license has been suspended for driving under the influence. Such offenders could face two charges, including OUI and OUI-with a suspended license. This additional violation carries a mandatory one-year prison sentence as well as a one-year license suspension.
  • The law makes it illegal to employ an unlicensed driver to operate a vehicle and establishes consequences for those who do so.
  • The law gives the RMV the authority to cancel the registration plates of anyone convicted of a third or subsequent OUI crime until the offender's license suspension period is over.
  • A District Attorney may pursue vehicle confiscation for any defendant found guilty of a fourth or subsequent OUI conviction.
  • The law increased the license suspension period for homicide by motor vehicle from 10 years to a minimum of 15 years.

Penalties for Prior Convictions (Misdemeanor and Felony OUI)

Misdemeanors in Massachusetts are offenses that do not result in incarceration in state prison. However, they may result in jail time and probation. In contrast, felonies are crimes that are punishable by incarceration in state prison. The first and second OUI are misdemeanors in Massachusetts, while the third or subsequent OUIs are felonies.

However, if the following factors are present, first and second offense OUIs can become felony offenses as well:

  • Serious physical harm: If an intoxicated driver causes a third party severe harm, they will be charged with "OUI Serious Bodily Injury". This charge is a felony regardless of whether it is a first or second DUI offense. According to state laws, the term "serious bodily injury" is defined as follows:
    • Amputation of a limb or a significant disability for an extended period
    • Complete disability
    • The possibility and risk of death

This crime is punishable by a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 6 months. It also carries a 10-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $5,000.

  • Death: Any OUI that results in the demise of a person is a felony. It is often regarded as OUI-Manslaughter and one of Massachusetts' most serious felony OUI convictions. This offense has a required minimum punishment of 5 years in prison and a 15-year license suspension. However, the charge could carry a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, a $25,000 fine, and the loss of one's driver's license forever.

Penalties for OUI with a Child Under 14 (Melanie's Law)

Under Melanie's law, a motorist can be charged with both an OUI and child endangerment if a person aged fourteen or younger was in the vehicle at the time of the offense.

The state mandates enhanced penalties for such offenders. This includes a fine of $1,000 to $5,000 and a prison sentence of ninety days to two and a half years. For a repeat offense, an offender may face $5,000 to $10,000 in fines and six months to two and a half years in a correctional facility.

Penalties for Commercial Drivers

In addition to the penalties imposed by Massachusetts' OUI laws, a commercial driver convicted of an OUI will be banned from driving a commercial vehicle for at least one year. If the offender was operating the commercial vehicle and transporting harmful materials at the time of the arrest, the suspension period is three years. If a commercial driver commits another OUI offense, they will be barred from operating commercial vehicles forever. (However, this sentence may be reduced to a ten-year suspension.)

Penalties for Drivers Under 21

A driver under the age of 21 who is convicted of an OUI for the first time faces a 180-day driver's license suspension. This sentence is in addition to others that may apply. Suppose the motorist is between the ages of 18 and 21. In that case, instead of a suspension, they may be assigned to a program that educates and rehabilitates persons who drive under the influence. If the underage offender is between the ages of 17 and 21 and had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .20 or above, the individual would be sent to a treatment program called a "14-day second offender in-home program".

License suspension under implied consent laws

Massachusetts DUI laws, including Melanie's law, outline the length of time a person's driver's license may be suspended for rejecting a chemical test to check intoxication levels:

  • A 180-day suspension for a first-time offender.
  • A three-year suspension for a second-time offender.
  • A five-year suspension for a third-time offender.
  • If the offender has three previous OUI convictions or more, their license will be revoked for the rest of their life.
  • If the offender has a past OUI conviction that resulted in serious physical injury, a ten-year suspension will be imposed.
  • If a previous OUI conviction resulted in a fatality, the offender's license would be suspended for the rest of their life.

What Happens When You Get a DUI in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, all drunk driving allegations are referred to as OUIs, instead of the more common terms: DUIs (driving under the influence) or DWIs (driving while intoxicated). OUI offenders are penalized more harshly than other traffic violators in Massachusetts.

What Happens When You Get an OUI for the First Time in Massachusetts?

An OUI conviction in Massachusetts is considered a first offense if the motorist has never been convicted of an impaired driving crime. Fines, jail time, and a temporary license suspension await those convicted of a first-time OUI violation. In most cases, the offender will face $500 to $5,000 in fines, a maximum of two and a half years in prison, and suspension of their driver's license for one year. There will be no consideration for a hardship license until at least three months have passed from the start of the one-year license suspension period.

The Massachusetts criminal justice system also creates alternative dispositions for OUI defendants. For a first-OUI offense, the alternatives include:

  • Continuance Without A Finding (CWOF) or Plea Bargaining. Negotiating a CWOF entails the offender acknowledging that the prosecution has sufficient evidence to convict them. Hence, rather than face a jury, the perpetrator agrees to be placed on probation.
  • Probation for one year. (The judge will evaluate the offender's compliance and improvement after one year on probation. If the judge is satisfied, the probation will be terminated, and the criminal charges will be dismissed.)
  • Mandatory participation in a Driver's Alcohol Education Program, which is usually scheduled for an hour, once a week for 16 weeks, and costs about $567.22.
  • Pay between $600-$2500 in state fines and court expenses.
  • The Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) will suspend a non-commercial driver's license for 45 to 90 days.
  • Drivers under the age of 21 will have their licenses suspended for 210 days.
  • Immediate consideration for a hardship license.

What is the Penalty for a Second OUI in Massachusetts?

For a second OUI offense, the following punishment will be imposed:

  • $600 to $10,000 in fines.
  • Suspension of the offender's driver's license for two years.
  • Installation of an IID at the offender's expense for two years when they apply for a hardship license or license reinstatement.

By utilizing alternative disposition, a second OUI offender may also be eligible for probation. Among the alternatives are:

  • Probation for two years.
  • The defendant must pay for and participate in a fourteen-day confinement inpatient treatment.
  • A two-year license suspension, with no consideration for a hardship license until at least one year into the suspension period.
  • Installation of an IID for two years at the defendant's expense.

If an offender's previous conviction was more than ten years ago, the offender might be eligible for a Section 24D disposition (probation).

What Happens After a Third OUI in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, a third or subsequent OUI crime is a felony that carries the following penalties:

  • A minimum of one hundred and eighty days and a maximum of five years in prison. (one hundred and fifty days are mandatory). The sentence may be served in a prison treatment program.
  • A fine ranging from $1,000 to $15,000.
  • An eight-year suspension of the offender's driver's license. The individual may be considered for work or education-related hardship after two years. But generally, hardship consideration comes after four years.
  • An additional five-year suspension will apply if the individual refused a breath test.
  • For the period of the license suspension, the offender's vehicle registration plates will be canceled.

Fourth Offense OUI penalties:

  • A minimum imprisonment period of two years and a maximum of five years.
  • $1,000 to $25,000 in fines.
  • The offender's driver's license will be suspended for ten years.
  • If the offender refused a breath test, it would result in a lifetime license suspension.
  • For the period of the license suspension, the offender's vehicle registration plates will be canceled.
  • The District Attorney's office may confiscate the offender's vehicle.

Fifth or Subsequent Offense OUI Penalties

  • Incarceration for a minimum of two years and a half and a maximum of five years (twenty-four months are mandatory).
  • A fine ranging from $2,000 to $50,000.
  • Lifetime driver's license suspension without a hardship license.
  • For the period of the license suspension, the offender's vehicle registration plates will be canceled.
  • The District Attorney's office may confiscate the offender's vehicle.

How Long Does an OUI Stay on Your Record in Massachusetts?

An OUI conviction in Massachusetts will stay on an offender's driving record for ten years. Also, because the state utilizes a demerit point system, an OUI conviction will put 5 points on an offender's driving record. These points will remain on the offender's record for six years.

OUI Expungement in Massachusetts

An OUI expungement in Massachusetts is a court order to destroy any records connected to an OUI case. In Massachusetts, getting an OUI expunged is nearly impossible. The courts only approve it for two reasons:

  • The first is if the offender uses another person's name, leading to that person's wrongful conviction. In this instance, the court may change the name on the paperwork to Jane or John Doe and dismiss the lawsuit.
  • The second instance is in OUI cases involving adolescents.

The only option for people who do not fall under the above categories is to have the record sealed.

Sealing OUI Records

Sealing a record in Massachusetts is not the same as expunging it. A record will not be permanently destroyed by sealing it; however, it will no longer be accessible to the public. This means that future employers will be unable to view the sealed OUI record.

Typically, only cases that the court dismisses due to a lack of evidence or cases that result in a non-conviction judgment, such as a not guilty verdict, are eligible for sealing.

There is a mandatory waiting period before filing a motion to seal records of OUI convictions in Massachusetts. This period is five years for misdemeanor OUI convictions and ten years for felony OUIs. During the waiting time, the offenders interested in petitioning the court to seal their records cannot have any new charges.

It should be noted that, although hidden from public view, sealed records will still be accessible to government agencies and the courts. As a result, each sealed conviction can be used to sentence an offender in a subsequent case. Massachusetts has a "lifetime look back," which means that any DUI conviction, no matter how old, counts in subsequent OUI offenses. As a result, even if it happened decades ago, a first offense remains a first offense.

Additionally, even if a petitioner meets the qualifications above, there is no guarantee that their record will be sealed. An individual must show the court that the sealing of the record is justified for their request to be granted.

How Likely is Jail Time After a First OUI in Massachusetts?

Although mandatory incarceration is usually part of the court-imposed sentences for a first-time OUI conviction, first-time offenders are more likely to avoid jail time than repeat OUI offenders.

Suppose there are no extenuating circumstances in the first violation, such as a fatality or major physical harm. In that case, a first offender may be eligible for an alternative disposition consisting of fines, mandatory driver alcohol education program, and short-term loss of driving privileges rather than jail time.

What is the Average Cost of an OUI in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, an OUI conviction can cost thousands of dollars. The following are the most common charges:

  • Vehicle towing and impoundment costs
  • Fines and court expenses imposed by the state: $500-$5000
  • Fee for reinstatement of a suspended license: $500-$1000
  • Probation service fee: $65/month
  • Probation fee: $250
  • Driver Alcohol Education Program fee: $707 (could vary)
  • Driver's license reinstatement fee: $100-$1200
  • Bail
  • Insurance surcharges
  • Attorney fees (may be as high as $1,500 or more depending on the severity and intricacy of the case)

As a result, the average cost of a first violation is about $4,000 at the very least. Other fees that may apply include lost work time, higher transportation costs due to the loss of driving privileges, counseling costs, IID installation, and so on. It is worth noting that the financial consequences of an OUI conviction increase with each subsequent violation.

How Much is Bail for an OUI in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, a bail magistrate determines the bail amount payable following an OUI arrest. Bail ensures a defendant's appearance in court on a scheduled day. The magistrate will decide whether the accused can go home on their recognizance (by pledging to return on a court date) or how much the accused must pay to be released from detainment.

In most situations, bail for a first OUI charge can be as much as $250. The bail amount for subsequent charges with aggravating circumstances may be higher, or an offender may not be eligible for bail, depending on the circumstances.

How to Get My License Back After an OUI in Massachusetts?

Parties interested in reinstating their driver's license after an OUI arrest or conviction may follow these steps:

  • Contact an experienced OUI attorney because the reinstatement process may be long, arduous, and complicated, especially if the offender faces multiple license suspensions.
  • Apply for a hardship license by presenting specific documents demonstrating that the ability to work, go to school, or attend medical appointments would be jeopardized if one loses their driver's license. Because hardship licenses are issued at the discretion of the RMV, it is critical to take this step with legal assistance.
  • Serve the court-ordered or RMV-ordered license suspension.
  • Apply for license reinstatement and pay the required reinstatement fees. The individual can request reinstatement through the RMV after the suspension period is complete. An attorney can assist with the license reinstatement process, including helping with the proper documentation and, if necessary, accompanying the individual to hearings.

Members of the public have the right to appeal their license suspensions under state law. As such, they may request a limited license or reinstatement hearing with the RMV. Because the reinstatement process is not automatic, they must file an application with the court arguing for reinstatement if they obtain a favorable outcome at trial. After that, they must submit the relevant papers to the RMV and pay the applicable reinstatement fees. Reinstatement fees are determined by M.G.L. c. 90, § 33, and range from $100 to $1200.

If denied reinstatement, a person can take their case to the "Board of Appeal on Motor Vehicle Liability Policies and Bonds," often known as the Board of Appeals. This board has the power to uphold, alter, or reverse the RMV's license suspensions. Although hiring an attorney is not necessary, getting a license back after a DUI conviction via this means takes time, preparation, and lots of paperwork. Hiring an expert attorney to hasten the process and avoid costly blunders is thus safer.

How Does an OUI Affect Your Life in Massachusetts?

Aside from possible jail time, probation, and the monetary implications associated with a Massachusetts OUI conviction, there are other long-term and life-altering repercussions that an offender may sustain. These typically include the effects on the offender's career, reputation, means of sustenance, and personal relationships.

The loss of one's driver's license and driving privileges is one of the most common concerns of offenders. More than other penalties, the consequences of this restriction can have a disastrous impact on daily life and employment. Offenders who are serving license-related penalties may have limited mobility and have to pay additional transportation costs. There may also be a mandatory jail penalty for an OUI conviction, depending on whether the offender is a first or repeat offender. This could lead to social humiliation, loss of financial support, decreased ties to family, etc.

Can You Get Fired for an OUI in Massachusetts?

Yes. Depending on the terms of employment, an individual can be fired if convicted of an OUI in Massachusetts. In most circumstances, the likelihood of being fired for an OUI depends on the conviction, type of employment, and employment agreement between the offender and the employer. For example, if an offender has an explicit agreement with their employer that certain off-duty behaviors will result in termination from the organization, an OUI conviction could cause the offender to lose their job.

Moreover, if the offender's work requires them to operate a car, their license may be suspended, preventing them from performing their obligations. Melanie's law also makes it illegal to recruit anyone who has had their driver's license suspended. This means that an OUI conviction will be career-ending for commercial drivers (truck, bus, and delivery drivers) who rely on a vehicle to execute their duties.

An offender convicted of OUI may also be denied a Firearm Identification Card or a License to Carry a Firearm. As a result, if their profession requires them to carry a firearm, they will almost certainly lose their job. Regardless, state regulations stipulate that if an employee is fired unexpectedly, they must be paid in full on the last day of employment.

How Do I Find OUI Checkpoints in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, OUI checkpoints are legal and are used regularly by state law enforcement officials. These checkpoints are usually set up on roads or highways where impaired driving is a severe issue. However, there are several protocols that the police must follow before establishing these checkpoints. These include:

  • Ensuring that the OUI checkpoints are adequately illuminated and marked
  • Ensuring that the checkpoints are conducted in an area where OUI incidents frequently occur
  • Ensuring that the checkpoints do not cause unnecessary hold-ups
  • Providing an effective means of transporting or detaining intoxicated drivers
  • Having a law enforcement supervisor on site

More importantly, the police must notify the public of the day and general site (county) of the blockade, even though they do not reveal the specific location. As a result, it is the responsibility of the Massachusetts State Police and other participating agencies to make this information public via their official websites and press releases. Various private websites and social media channels further disseminate this information.

Which is Worse, DUI vs. OUI?

All counts of drunk driving in Massachusetts are classified as OUI offenses. The state has no DUI (driving under the influence) statutes. Instead, it identifies two types of OUI offenses:

  • OUI-alcohol
  • OUI-drugs

The OUI-alcohol charge applies when a person is intoxicated due to the intake of alcoholic beverages and is found operating a vehicle. On the other hand, the OUI-drugs charge can be brought against a person found operating a vehicle after ingesting controlled substances or narcotics.

In Massachusetts, all drunk or drugged offenses are treated the same and punished accordingly. The penalties for OUI arrests or convictions are not assessed based on the intoxicant that induced the impairment. However, OUI-alcohol is still the most frequently prosecuted impaired driving offense in the Commonwealth.