Operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol (OUI, equivalent to driving under the influence, or DUI, in other states) in Massachusetts has serious penalties. If convicted, a defendant may face jail time and fines. The first conviction of an OUI is a misdemeanor that can result in up to 2 ½ years in prison and a fine between $500 and $5,000, as well as a suspended license from 45 to 90 days. For repeated convictions, there are additional penalties that can include a revoked driver’s license, canceled vehicle registration, and an ignition interlock device installed on the defendant’s car for an extended period of time, making it extremely important to consult an OUI lawyer with an expert criminal defense team.

What is an OUI in Massachusetts?

Although Massachusetts law shares many characteristics with DUI laws in other states, It is important to understand the definition of OUI in the state as it is not as straightforward as drunk driving. The O in OUI stands for operating, which can include the following scenarios:

  • A driver is sitting in their car in a parking lot, and in order to listen to the radio, has their key in the ignition
  • Because they are feeling tired, the driver decides to sleep in their car for a few hours, but it’s cold outside and they decide to turn on the engine to run the heater
  • The key is out of the ignition, but the driver is able to move the car into neutral
  • Any intentional manipulation of the vehicle that could cause it to start or move

There are several ways a police officer can determine a driver is operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If they notice erratic, reckless or dangerous driving and pull over the driver, or come to the scene of an accident involving the driver, they can administer a breathalyzer test. If the driver is over the legal limit of an .08% blood alcohol level, they can be charged with OUI. It is important to remember, however, that even if a driver appears to be driving normally and they are pulled over for another reason – such as a broken taillight – and the officer determines they are drunk or under the influence of drugs, they can be charged with OUI in addition to any other traffic violations.

Since a driver cannot be tested for marijuana, opiates or the influence of other drugs by a breathalyzer, the police officer may use evidence from the driver’s behavior to charge them with OUI. These are called a field sobriety test, and as they depend mainly on the police officer’s judgment alone, they can be called into question by the defense. The police officer may order a urine test or blood test to be administered after the driver is brought into police custody.

It is also against the law in Massachusetts to have an open container of alcohol in the “passenger area” of a motor vehicle – that is, an area that can be easily accessed by the driver, including the glove compartment. An open container can be a can or bottle that is open or has a broken seal, with some of the contents removed. However if a container is stored in the trunk, it does not violate the law. An open container violation incurs a fine of $100 – $500.

Serious Bodily Injury in Massachusetts

If a driver under the influence causes an accident, and as a result others are seriously hurt, the driver may be charged with OUI Causing Serious Bodily Injury. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a serious bodily injury is defined as:

  • permanent disfigurement
  • loss or impairment of a bodily function, limb or organ
  • results in total disability for the victim
  • a substantial risk of death

Under Massachusetts law, an impairment of a limb or organ occurs when the damage to its structure is severe enough to significantly compromise its normal operation within the body. Similarly, impairment of a bodily function refers to damage to systems like breathing or digestion caused by the injury. 

If convicted of OUI Causing Serious Bodily Injury under Massachusetts General Law c. 90 s. 24L, there is a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 6 months. However, the defendant may be sentenced up to 10 years in house of correction, fined $5,000, and lose their driver’s license for two years.

A conviction of an OUI Causing Serious Bodily Injury felony charge in Massachusetts depends on the prosecution proving that the defendant operated a motor vehicle

  • In public (look up some more and expand)
  • Under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • In a negligent, reckless or dangerous way
  • In a way that caused serious bodily injury

A defendant can also be convicted of OUI Causing Serious Bodily Injury as a misdemeanor, if the prosecution cannot prove that the defendant operated the motor vehicle in a negligent, reckless or dangerous way. This carries a lesser sentence of up to 2 ½ years in a house of correction or state prison, a $3,000 fine, and a suspension of driver’s license for a mandatory 2 years.

Other Charges When Charged with OUI Causing Serious Bodily Injury in Massachusetts

Depending on the circumstances of the accident when charged with OUI Causing Serious Bodily Injury, there may be other charges laid under Massachusetts law. For example:

  • If the defendant committed the OUI while driving with an suspended license they may have to serve up to an additional year in prison.
  • If the OUI is a repeat offense, the potential jail time and fine increase with each time the driver is convicted. At the third offense, the Registry of Motor Vehicles has the right to cancel the driver’s vehicle registration and license plates if they drive on a suspended license. At a fifth offense or higher, the Massachusetts District Attorney may forfeit the defendant’s vehicle.
  • In the case a child under the age of 14 was in the vehicle, the defendant can be charged with child endangerment. 
  • A friend, family member or acquaintance can be charged if they knowingly allow a person to operate a vehicle who has lost their license due to an OUI/DUI conviction.

If you are charged with an OUI/DUI in Massachusetts, it is important to take it extremely seriously and consult an OUI lawyer. If another party is injured in an accident you caused by drunk driving, or driving under the influence of drugs, the extent of their injuries may not be known immediately. You should be prepared for the possibility that you may face an OUI Causing Serious Bodily Injury, and that means consulting a law firm with an expert criminal defense team. Our law offices in Attleboro and Quincy are here to help. Contact us today for a free consultation.