CWOF in Massachusetts
What is a Continuance Without a Finding (CWOF)? in Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, first-time criminal offenders and individuals with minimal criminal records may be afforded an opportunity to avoid a guilty finding on their criminal case upon successful completion of a probation term by making an admission to sufficient facts for a finding of guilty, commonly referred to as a Continuance Without a Finding (CWOF), prior to trial. So long as the defendant complies with the conditions of their probation, the charge(s) ultimately get dismissed and the probationer avoids a criminal conviction.
Although a CWOF may be a successful resolution, especially in cases where the evidence is strong or the defendant cannot afford a guilty finding, it is not without risk as the dismissal of charges is contingent on the successful completion of probation. If a defendant is found in violation of their probation, the CWOF may be revoked and a guilty finding imposed with the potential for further punishment.
Violating the Terms of a CWOF
If a defendant is found in violation of their probation, the court may revoke the CWOF, impose a guilty finding, and issue additional punishment, including a jail / prison sentence or lengthier term of probation. While there are a number of potential grounds for a violation, being arrested and/or charged with a new criminal offense is one of the most serious violations of probation and may result in the revocation of a Continuance Without a Finding / CWOF.
Other possible violations of probation include:
- Failure to remain drug or alcohol-free / failed drug screens / failed alcohol screens
- Violation of No Contact / Stay Away Order
- Failure to complete alcohol education classes (24D Program) or other court-ordered programs
- Failure to pay restitution or probation fees
- Failure to report to probation
While minor violations and what are often referred to as technical violations generally do not result in jail time or a CWOF being revoked, the probationer’s criminal history, as well as the nature and severity of the violation(s) generally dictates the level of punishment imposed for a violation of probation.
Receiving a CWOF on OUI/DUI Charges
In Massachusetts, individuals charged with 1st offense OUI are eligible to receive a Continuance Without a Finding (CWOF) pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 90 Section 24D. Per the terms of the plea agreement, the defendant is placed on supervised probation for one year and must complete alcohol education classes commonly referred to as the 24D Program. The defendant’s drivers license or driving privileges in the Commonwealth will also be suspended for 45-90 days.
Additionally, the defendant is required to pay a number of fines and fees, including a monthly probation fee ranging from $50-$65. In addition to fines and fees imposed by the court, the defendant must pay attendance costs for the 24D Program and a license reinstatement fee to the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV).
In many cases, a travel restriction is imposed and residents of Massachusetts may not be allowed to leave the state without prior approval from the probation department. Nonetheless, as long as the defendant successfully completes probation the charges will be dismissed after one year. However, if the defendant is ever charged with OUI again in Massachusetts it would be charged as a 2nd offense OUI.
While the penalties for 2nd offense OUI/DUI are more severe and a plea deal usually involves a guilty finding, if the defendant’s first offense was more than 10 years before the second offense he/she is eligible for a first offense punishment, also known as a Cahill Disposition, arising from Commonwealth v. Cahill, 442 Mass. 127 (2004).
How Does a CWOF Impact Your Driver’s License?
Generally, an individual’s license or driving privileges in Massachusetts will be suspended between 45-90 days (usually 45 days) after receiving a CWOF for first offense OUI/DUI. However, the defendant is eligible for a hardship license during the suspension period upon proof of enrollment in the 24D Program.
Once the license suspension / revocation ends, the defendant is eligible to have his/her driver’s license or driving privileges reinstated but it is not automatic. After the expiration of the license suspension/revocation, the defendant needs to appear at a Massachusetts RMV, provide proof of eligibility for reinstatement, and pay a driver’s license reinstatement fee.
Will a CWOF show up on your Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) report?
In 2010, Massachusetts enacted a law to limit access to individual’s Criminal Offender Record Information. It was a deliberate effort to help convicted criminals from unfair discrimination in employment, education, and renting a home. In Massachusetts, the general public does not have access to non-convictions through a standard CORI check, including CWOFs, that are no longer open and pending cases. However, your offense will likely show up on an L2 (Level 2) check often used by military, education systems, and organizations that do programs for children under the age of 18 (e.g., Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts).
Probation Over. Charges Dismissed. What now?
While a CWOF results in a dismissal of the charges, all criminal cases remain on a defendant’s Court Activity Record Information (CARI), an internal file maintained by the probation department and generally accessible to the courts. Additionally, a CWOF may lead to further consequences outside of the court, including:
- revocation or suspension of gun license / license to carry (LTC)
- immigration issues (for non-citizens)
- increase on auto insurance rates resulting from CWOF on OUI/DUI
- travel restrictions
Should you fight the charges or accept a CWOF?
In many cases, a CWOF is an ideal resolution to criminal charges as it minimizes the potential for a guilty finding / conviction and allows an individual to avoid the stresses associated with proceeding to trial. However, in a number of OUI/DUI cases, particularly where there is no breath test evidence, it makes sense to forego the option of accepting a CWOF and going to trial because the penalties are similar before and after trial in first offense OUI cases.
While a CWOF is often available for first-time offenders, the prosecution may offer a continuance without a finding when there are issues with the government’s case. Thus, it is wise to hire a Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer before agreeing to a CWOF or any plea deal on your criminal case. Riccio Law has an experienced criminal defense department with extensive trial experience, including a nearly 85% success rate at trial involving OUI/DUI charges and a number of other misdemeanor and felony offenses. Contact our offices today to schedule a free consultation.