If a driver in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or more, or is under the influence of drugs, it is illegal for them to operate a motor vehicle in a public place. Under the law, “operation” isn’t limited to driving, or even running the engine. In Massachusetts, drunk driving in general is referred to as OUI (operating under the influence). DUI (driving under the influence) sometimes refers to a felony charge, which can be made after multiple offenses.

Repeat drunk driving offenses in Massachusetts have strict penalties. In 2005, Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney signed a bill known as Melanie’s Law, named for a young woman killed by a repeat drunk driver. At the time, Romney said that Massachusetts had one of the worst rates of drunk driving in the country and that an average of 200 people per year were killed by drunk drivers.

As a result, a defendant with a fifth OUI/DUI offense or higher faces felony charges, prison time and fines amongst other penalties.

Penalties For a Fifth OUI/DUI Offense in Massachusetts

  • Two and half years to five years in a state prison
  • A fine of $2,000 – $50,000
  • Driver’s license revoked for life, no possibility of a hardship license
  • Possible requirement to complete an alcohol and drug treatment program
  • Possible cancellation of vehicle registration
  • Possible forfeiture of vehicle

For a seventh or eighth OUI offense in Massachusetts, the potential jail time increases to three and a half to eight years in a state prison, and for a ninth OUI offense, to four and half to ten years in state prison.

Dangerousness Hearing for a Fifth OUI/ DUI Offense or Higher

There is another possible outcome when charged with a fifth OUI or DUI offense or higher in Massachusetts. If the judge deems the defendant to be a physical risk to other people, they may hold a dangerousness hearing.  Massachusetts General Law Chapter 276, Section 58A states that the defendant may be held in detention before the trial. The defendant can be held without bail for up to 120 days.

If the defendant’s circumstances meet the criteria for a dangerousness hearing, the date will probably be within seven days after the arraignment. It is crucial to have a lawyer present at the hearing, as they can call witnesses and present testimony. During the hearing, the judge will determine if the defendant is considered a danger – likely, if the defendant is likely to drive again under the influence and put others at risk. If the judge concludes the defendant is not a danger, they will decide if the defendant will be held without bail, or released with certain conditions. The judge may consider the following when making their decision:

  • The extent of the danger posed by the defendant to an individual or group of people should they be released – in this case, what would happen if they operated a vehicle under the influence again
  • The details of the charge(s) against them
  • The penalties associated with the charge
  • The defendant’s family and job situation
  • Any mental conditions and general character
  • A risk assessment of the defendant’s potential to intimidate or threaten witnesses, or interfere with the investigation into their charge(s)
  • Any previous convictions

Other Charges When Facing an OUI Charge in Massachusetts

Melanie’s Law increased penalties and charges for drunk driving, and defined new circumstances where a drunk driving charge could result in additional charges for other crimes.

  • If the defendant was driving with a suspended license while driving under the influence of alcohol, they can be prosecuted for both crimes. The charge for OUI on a suspended license is subject to a minimum penalty of one year in jail and a suspended license for an additional year.
  • If a child under 14 was in the vehicle at the time of arrest, the defendant will be charged with child endangerment while OUI.
  • Should an accident caused by a driver OUI result in the death of another person, the driver will be charged with manslaughter by motor vehicle. The penalty includes an additional period of driver’s license suspension from 10 years to 15 years.
  • A friend, family member or acquaintance can face charges if they knowingly permit someone who has lost their license in an OUI conviction to drive, or to hire them as a driver. 

In addition to the penalties for a fifth OUI/DUI offense or higher in Massachusetts, there are other punishments for earlier offenses:

  • If convicted of a second OUI offense or higher, once their license is reinstated the driver must install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle. The driver must blow into the device and get an alcohol-free reading to start the vehicle, visit the manufacturer at least every 30 days for the device to be inspected for faults and tampering, and pay a $30 per month administrative fee. If these conditions are not complied with, the driver can lose their license from 10 years to permanently.
  • A driver with a previous OUI conviction who has employment or medical needs  may apply for a hardship license. If they are granted one, they  must use an ignition interlock device for the period for a full two years after their regular driver’s license is reinstated.
  • Any driver with a third OUI conviction or higher may have their vehicle registration and license plates canceled by The Registry of Motor Vehicles if they drive on a suspended license.
  • After a fourth OUI conviction or higher, the Massachusetts District Attorney may forfeit the defendant’s vehicle.
  • Refusing to take a breathalyzer test (breath test) also has strict penalties. After the first offense, the penalty is suspension of the defendant’s driver’s license for 180 days. The license will be suspended for three years after a second offense and five years after a third offense. The driver’s vehicle will also be impounded for 12 hours.

Facing a fifth OUI/DUI offense or higher charge in Massachusetts means there is a great deal at stake. If convicted, the possibility of prison time, heavy fines and permanent loss of your vehicle means you need the best possible legal team to fight aggressively for your defense. Contact us today for a free consultation.