Common Misconceptions about OUIs
Jan. 22, 2022
You’re driving home from an after-work rendezvous with friends at a local pub, and the police pull you over. The police suspect that you are driving impaired and may run you through a roadside field sobriety test and eventually take you in to charge you with an OUI (operating under the influence, equivalent to a DUI).
There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about impaired driving laws and regulations in Massachusetts. If you’ve been charged with an OUI in Springfield, Massachusetts, or throughout Western and Central Massachusetts, Northampton, Westfield, Amherst, or Palmer, contact me immediately at the Law Office of Joseph M Pacella. I will help you exercise your full legal rights and can fight for the best possible outcome.
Massachusetts Laws on Drunk or Impaired Driving
Drivers are operating a vehicle “under the influence” if there is a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher in the blood, which would have to be determined by a breath or blood test. Drivers can also face OUI charges if the driver has consumed other intoxicating substances, including marijuana, narcotics, intoxicating vapors, or even prescription drugs.
A first-time OUI conviction carries a penalty of up to two-and-a-half years in jail, along with a fine between $500 and $5,000, associated with a $250 assessment fee and a $50 OUI victim fund fee. You will also face a driver’s license suspension of one year. If you’re transporting a child under 14 years of age, you can also be charged with child endangerment, which will increase the penalties.
A second offense starts with 60 days in jail, with a two-and-half-year limit. The second offense fine increases between $600 and $10,000, and your license suspension is for two years. A third offense starts with 180 days in jail and a fine of $1,000 to $15,000, with a suspension of driving privileges for eight years.
On top of this, your conviction will go on your criminal record for life, and your insurance premium will skyrocket. Some insurers will even cancel your insurance altogether.
Common Myths and Facts About an OUI Charge
An OUI Charge Isn’t Worth Fighting: Before you plead guilty to get everything over with, reckoning that you can live with the consequences, consider what can happen to you if you’re convicted. Not only can you face jail time, along with fines, but you will lose your driving privileges, have a lifetime criminal record, and face exorbitant auto insurance fees.
If you choose to hire an experienced attorney and fight the charges, you may end up with a plea bargain, probation, or even a dismissal of the charges. Keep in mind that your criminal record will make it hard for you to obtain employment, professional licensing, and public benefits.
You Have to Be Driving to Be Charged with an OUI: In Massachusetts, you do not have to be driving your car to be charged with an OUI. Say you pull over to sleep it off, and the police discover you. If you have possession of the keys to the car and access to driving it, you can be arrested and charged.
The law states that if a car is parked, stopped, or even idling on a public way, a place where the public has a right of access as invitees, or licensees, you are operating your vehicle.
When Stopped, I Am Obligated to Answer All Questions: Remember the words of the Miranda Rights warning: “Anything you say can and will be used against you.” Even if the officer hasn’t read you your Miranda Rights yet, you are still protected legally.
You will be expected to answer basic questions about your name, address, driver’s license, vehicle registration, proof of insurance, but after those basic questions, you can remain silent. Don’t let the badge and blaring police lights intimidate you into incriminating yourself. Be polite, but don’t answer or volunteer information that can come back to haunt you.
I Can Refuse to Take a Blood or Breath Test: First, it should be noted that in November 2021, a judge ordered a halt to the use of breath tests as evidence in Massachusetts because of inaccuracy and inconsistent oversight by the Office of Alcohol Testing (OAT). The ban is expected to be temporary.
Nonetheless, if you are arrested for suspicion of impaired driving, under Massachusetts’ implied consent law, you are required to submit to a blood or breath test under penalty of having your driver’s license suspended for 180 days. If you refuse, the police and prosecutors cannot use that as evidence against you in a criminal charge. Note that police cannot force you to take a test without getting a warrant from a judge.
You can legally refuse a field sobriety test – where the police make you walk toe-to-heel and undergo other physical challenges – and there is no consequence.
My Conviction Disappears After Seven Years: Wrong. Once your OUI conviction goes on your criminal record, it stays there for life. You can request to have the record sealed, but there is no guarantee that this will be granted.
OUI Attorney in Springfield, Massachusetts
Faced with the prospect of an OUI conviction, you need to seek legal advice immediately. Even if prosecutors have results of a blood or breath test showing you had a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher, it is possible to challenge the validity of the tests.
I can help you work for a plea bargain to a lesser charge or seek a probationary program that prevents you from getting a criminal record.
Contact me immediately at the Law Office of Joseph M Pacella, and let’s get started on your defense. I proudly serve clients in and around Springfield, Massachusetts, including the nearby communities of Northampton, Westfield, Amherst, and Palmer.