What is Melanie’s Law in Massachusetts?
In October 2005, the state legislature passed a number of amendments commonly referred to as “Melanie’s Law,” which resulted in harsher penalties for individuals convicted of second offense OUI/DUI and subsequent offense OUI in Massachusetts. Melanie’s Law was named after 13-year old Melanie Powell of Marshfield, Massachusetts, who was killed in 2003 by a drunk driver with previous OUI/DUI convictions. In addition to tougher penalties, Melanie’s Law included the creation of new criminal offenses in Massachusetts related to drunk driving.
Purpose of Melanie’s Law
Melanie’s Law came about in response to a perceived drunk driving problem in the state of Massachusetts. The law was designed to give the government greater power when prosecuting OUI/DUI cases by creating new criminal offenses related to drunk driving and imposing stricter penalties for individuals convicted of second offense OUI/DUI or subsequent offense OUI in Massachusetts.
How does Melanie’s Law affect me?
Installation of Ignition Interlock Device
Any person found guilty of 2nd offense OUI/DUI or higher in Massachusetts must have an ignition interlock device installed in all motor vehicles he or she owns prior to having their driving privileges reinstated in the Commonwealth. If required to have the ignition interlock device installed, you must provide a breath sample by blowing into the device every time before you are about to drive, and any sample over .02% will prevent the vehicle from starting.
Failing to comply with the requirements of the ignition interlock device can result in a license suspension / revocation anywhere from 10 years to life. Adding to the inconvenience associated with the ignition interlock device, there is a monthly fee imposed that the defendant is responsible for while the device is installed.
Lengthier License Suspensions
In response to Melanie’s Law, the penalties for refusing the breathalyzer in Massachusetts have greatly increased. Individuals 21 years of age or older who refuse the breathalyzer on 1st offense OUI/DUI in Massachusetts will have their license suspended for a period of 180 days, whereas the license suspension is 3 years for individuals under the age of 21. Additionally, the license suspension period increases for a breathalyzer refusal with each subsequent offense OUI charge.
NOTE: license suspensions for breath test refusals go into effect immediately upon arrest (not after a conviction / guilty finding).
New Criminal Offenses
The passing and enactment of Melanie’s Law meant the creation of new criminal offenses in Massachusetts involving or related to drunk driving. Below are a few of the criminal charges created in response:
- Child Endangerment while Operating under the Influence: Pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 90 Section 24V, any person convicted of operating under the influence with a child 14 years of age or younger in the vehicle shall be punished by a term of imprisonment not less than ninety days and not more than two and one-half years in the house of correction. A violation of this statute may also result in a fine ranging from $1,000 – $5,000.
- Homicide by Motor Vehicle while Operating Under the Influence (OUI): Under M.G.L. c. 90 s. 24G, individuals convicted of OUI-Manslaughter in Massachusetts will be sentenced to a term of imprisonment in state prison not less than 2 ½ years and not more than 15 years or not less than one year in the house of correction and not more than 2 ½ years.
A conviction may result in fines up to $5,000 and a license revocation / suspension by the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) for a minimum 15 years, up to a lifetime suspension.
- Operating under the Influence while License Suspended for OUI: In Massachusetts, individuals charged with operating under the influence while their license is already suspended for OUI face a mandatory minimum one year jail sentence upon conviction.
- Operating Motor Vehicle while License Suspended for OUI: Individuals found guilty of operating a motor vehicle while their license is suspended for OUI face a mandatory minimum jail sentence of sixty (60) days.
- Manslaughter While Operating a Motor Vehicle: Pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265 Section 13 ½, a person convicted of Manslaughter While Operating a Motor Vehicle shall be sentenced up to 20 years in state prison, including a minimum mandatory sentence of 5 years in state prison, and up to a $25,000 fine. Additionally, the defendant’s license will be suspended anywhere from 15 years to a lifetime suspension.
- Employing a Person with a Suspended License to Operate a Motor Vehicle: A conviction under M.G.L. Ch. 90 Section 12 is punishable by a fine only of up to $500. For a second or subsequent conviction, the maximum penalty is 1 year in jail and a fine up to $1,000.
- Knowingly Permitting an Unlicensed Person to Operate Your Motor Vehicle: Under M.G.L. Ch. 90 Sect. 12, the maximum penalty for a conviction is 1 year in jail and a fine of up to $500. For a second or subsequent conviction, the maximum penalty is 2 ½ years in jail and a fine up to $1,000.
- Allowing a Person With Ignition Interlock Device Requirement to Operate Your Motor Vehicle: Pursuant to M.G.L. c. 90 s. 12, this crime is punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $500 fine. For a second or subsequent conviction, the maximum penalty is 2 ½ years in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Additionally, persons convicted of offenses pursuant to M.G.L. c. 90 s. 12 may be ordered to surrender their Massachusetts Driver’s License for up to one year.
Twelve-Hour Hold and Additional Consequences
Melanie’s Law eliminated the allowance of the 15-day temporary license that previously existed in Massachusetts and requires the operator’s motor vehicle to be impounded at a tow lot for a minimum of 12 hours before it can be retrieved.
Additionally, Melanie’s Law established a motor vehicle forfeiture law that permits the Commonwealth to seize the vehicle of any individual convicted of OUI/DUI-4th offense or higher in Massachusetts. Furthermore, the RMV is allowed to cancel the vehicle registration plates of any individual convicted of a third or subsequent offense.
Contact Massachusetts OUI Attorney
Founder / Lead Attorney Anthony R. Riccio is a former Massachusetts prosecutor who has handled hundreds of drunk driving cases during his career. With a nearly 85% acquittal rate as lead defense counsel at trial on OUI/DUI cases, Attorney Riccio is an experienced Massachusetts DUI Lawyer with extensive trial experience and an understanding of how prosecutors approach OUI/DUI/DWI cases in the Commonwealth.