Massachusetts Appeals Court Rules on Suspension Appeal Procedures

appeals_court_massIn the case of Commonwealth v. Bougiokas, which was decided on May 19, 2014, the Massachusetts Appeals Court announced the procedure to be followed to challenge the length of a license suspension for operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In the Bougiokas case, a repeat DUI offender, who happens to be an attorney, sought to appeal the length of his DUI license suspension through the court system. The Appeals Court ruled as follows:

As a result of a new trial on an OUI charge, Bougiokas’ license was suspended for one year, in addition to the 45 day suspension that he already “served” after receiving a § 24D disposition. He argued, before the Appeals Court, with considerable force that since this was still a first offense, the total length of his license suspension should have been limited to one year. The Appeals Court held that “this argument is not properly before us. The trial judge did not actually impose any license suspension. Instead, the defendant’s license suspension resulted by operation of law and administrative practice once the RMV received notice of the conviction. To the extent the defendant believed his license suspension should have been shorter, his potential recourse would have been to seek administrative relief from the RMV.”

This means that the proper course of action to challenge a license suspension is through the Registry of Motor Vehicles Hearing Process and, if necessary, the Board of Appeal of the Division of Insurance of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. The Board of Appeal has broad powers to reverse, modify, or annul any decision of the Registrar of Motor Vehicles, including those decisions pertaining to license suspensions and revocations.  The Appeals Board can also order MassDOT to grant hardship licenses in cases where the Registry initially refuses to so.

Appealing a license suspension or revocation in Massachusetts requires you to follow certain steps, the first of which is to obtain and thoroughly review your driver history. You should contact a lawyer who is routinely practices before the Registry of Motor Vehicles and its Board of Appeal.  Challenging license suspensions has become a specialty due to the complexities of the applicable laws, regulations, and appeal procedures. Most Registry hearings can be held on a “walk-in” basis. However, winning these cases requires adequate case preparation. Having the required documentation and making the right legal argument is critical. Going before the Board of Appeal requires the filing of a written appeal and it takes approximately 2 months to get a hearing before the Appeals Board.

If you are interested in appealing a license suspension in Massachusetts, I invite you to contact me for a free consultation and review of your case.

Out of State Suspension Q&A

Situation: I moved here from the State of Hawaii for work and school. The job that I had lined up for me requires a valid Massachusetts Driver’s License. I have had a DUI in the past, but with no job it was hard to pay the fines. Here, I’ve found work. I just need the right documents and my life will be back on track. I have a child support issue that also put a stop to my license. I intend to pay everything off, but I need the job to do so. This would be perfect and could really use the help.

Answer: Unfortunately, any out of state suspensions will result in you being denied a driver’s license here in Massachusetts.  Whenever you apply for a license, the Registry will check the National Driver Register (NDR) and the Problem Driver Pointer System (PDPS). Any blocks or holds on your record based on out of state suspensions will prevent you from being issued a license here in Massachusetts. You must resolve the suspensions in the state where they have originated. There are absolutely no exceptions to this requirement and you cannot get a hardship license when you have a National Driver Register block in place or an out of state license suspension.

Immediate Threat Indefinite Revocations

If the Mass. Registry receives information indicating that your continued operation of a Motor Vehicle in Massachusetts would result in an immediate threat to public safety, the Registrar has the right to immediately revoke your driver’s license for an indefinite period of time. The purpose of this procedure is to promptly remove a driver from the roadway if he or she has been determined to represent an immediate threat to the safety of the public. MassDOT indefinitely revokes approximately 1,500 licenses each year under the immediate threat law.

Immediate threat suspensions are not confined to driver’s licenses. This means that the RMV can revoke your vehicle’s registration if a hearings officer determines that continued operation of the motor vehicle would pose an immediate threat to public safety.

When your license or right to operate is suspended under the immediate threat law, the Registry will review your entire driving record and a history of poor driving is a factor that may count against you at a reinstatement hearing. A history showing surchargeable accidents and responsible findings for civil motor vehicle law infractions can be used to justify the revocation of your license.  These revocations can also be based on a serious single event, even where the driver has an otherwise clean record.

Immediate threat suspensions result from car accidents, police pursuits, dangerous driving, erratic operation, medical conditions, seizures, and loss of consciousness while operating a vehicle. These suspensions are initiated by law enforcement officials or healthcare providers.  Often an immediate threat suspension is tied to a criminal case. In these situations, you must generally resolve the criminal case prior to trying to reinstate your license from the indefinite immediate threat revocation.

Getting the criminal charges dismissed or a not guilty verdict does not mean that the immediate threat license suspension will go away. The standard of proof in criminal court is “beyond a reasonable doubt” and the standard of proof at the Registry is the preponderance of the evidence, which means “more likely than not.” Also, RMV hearings are administrative in nature and the technicalities associated with criminal court proceedings do not apply. Finally, these suspensions are not designed as punishment. Instead, they are supposed to protect the public from an allegedly dangerous driver. Thus, even if the criminal case was resolved in your favor, you will still have to fight to get your license back.

Unfortunately, no hardship licenses are available for these suspensions. You will either get a full reinstatement or the indefinite revocation will remain in effect. The rationale for the hardship license prohibition is that if a driver is a danger, he or she should not be allowed to drive at all, not even for a 12 hour period.

National Driver Register (NDR) Suspensions

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999 (MCSIA) requires all state Motor Vehicle Departments to verify a license holder or license applicant’s driving record through checks of both the National Driver Register (NDR) and Commercial Driver’s License Information System (CDLIS), prior to issuing or renewing a driver’s license or CDL. This means that you cannot have your license suspended in one state and apply for a license in another state to avoid the suspension or revocation.

Every state has to check the National Driver Register and it does not matter whether a particular state is a member of any driver’s license compact or non-resident violator compact. The National Driver Register (NDR) is a central computerized database which contains information regarding drivers whose license or right to operate a motor vehicle has been denied, revoked suspended, or canceled, for a valid reason, or those individuals who have been convicted of enumerated serious traffic-related violations, such as operating under the influence (OUI).

When a Motor Vehicle Department in any state, including the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, discovers that an individual has a status of “ineligible” or “blocked” in the NDR, the DMV cannot issue or renew the person’s driver’s license. This requires the driver to contact the state which placed the block on his or her NDR record to have it removed. Under this system, Motor Vehicle Departments can avoid granting driver’s licenses to those individuals whose records contain serious violations such as DUI or those who have lost their right to drive in other states.

If you have an NDR block on your record, you are entitled to be provided with the reference number and contact information for the agency which has placed the NDR block on your record. Sometimes these blocks are the product of identity theft, inaccurate information, or another disqualified individual having the same name and date of birth as you. Unfortunately, the Registry does not work on the honor system and it will be up to you to prove that the block is invalid.

If the NDR block is valid, you must work with the state where the block has originated to satisfy whatever outstanding obligations that you have in that state so that you can reinstate your right to operate there. There is nothing that the Massachusetts RMV can do for you until your record is clear in the NDR and the hold is removed by the motor vehicle agency that initiated it. You can usually remove an NDR block by completing the required alcohol or drug education programs, paying any outstanding fines and/or fees, producing an SR-22 insurance certificate, or simply serving the suspension time required.

Having the NDR hold removed does not mean that your license or right to operate in Massachusetts will be automatically reinstated. If you committed an out of state motor vehicle violation, such as DUI, while you were a Mass. resident or held a Mass. License, the RMV will impose a new suspension in addition to whatever suspension was imposed in the state where the violation occurred. This is because the RMV is required to treat out of state violations as if they had happened here in Massachusetts, for license suspension purposes. If this happens to you, it may be possible to get the suspension reduced or get a hardship license. However, this can only be done after the National Driver Register Indefinite Suspension has been cleared. Contact a lawyer for more information.