Don’t Drive on a Suspended License!

One of my clients recently contacted me looking for a referral to a criminal defense lawyer. The client had an 8 year OUI 3rd offense revocation and I was working with the client to put together a package of documents for a hardship license hearing. We were preparing to go before the Board of Appeal once the client had the required documentation and had saved enough money for legal representation at the Board of Appeal, installation of the ignition interlock, and the $1,200.00 reinstatement fee which the Registry charges.

The client made the mistake of driving while her license was revoked for DUI and she got caught. This will disqualify her from being considered for any type of hardship relief for at least a year. Also, if she is convicted, the RMV will take her license for an additional year and she faces minimum mandatory jail time. Both Massachusetts courts and the Registry treat operating after suspension as a serious offense, especially when the person’s license was suspended for OUI. A case of this nature cannot be continued without a finding or filed. Furthermore, no sentence and be reduced or suspended until the defendant serves at least 60 days in jail.

The Board of Appeal sometimes interprets driving on a suspended license as evidence of a lack of respect for the law and recent convictions for OAS will make it very difficult to obtain a hardship license. In this particular case, the client’s actions have delayed her hardship license eligibility for at least a year, during which time there must be no evidence of operation. Even after having served an additional year, there are no guarantees that she will receive approval for a hardship license.

In a DUI case where the defendant is on probation, driving a motor vehicle may also result in a probation violation. This is because repeat DUI offenders are usually prohibited from driving as a special condition of probation. Any operation of a motor vehicle would violate this probation condition. Furthermore, getting arrested or charged with a new crime may also trigger a probation violation, for which there may be serious consequences.

As you can see, operating after suspension can be a serious issue, especially where the license was suspended for OUI. It may result in your arrest, violation of probation, disqualification for a hardship license, and the imposition of a mandatory jail sentence.

Your Mass. Driving Record Controls DUI Suspension Length

I recently received this inquiry:

I had a driving while under the influence of alcohol (DWI) in 2005. I pled out and received a CWOF (continuance without a finding). I recently had a DWI Drug offense and I was given a CWOF and the 24D alternative disposition. I was given 1 year of probation and the judge said license loss of 45 days. The court documents show a 45 day license suspension. I just received a letter from the Massachusetts RMV stating that my license was suspended for 2 years. Does the judge’s decision override the RMV decision? Am I able to appeal this suspension? Also, am I able to get a hardship license?

The answer is that the 2 year suspension is valid. In Massachusetts, DUI suspensions are based on the number of offenses appearing in the official records of the Registrar of Motor Vehicles. Here, the record shows that there was a DUI drugs case from 2005 which resulted in an admission to sufficient facts, CWOF, and substance abuse program assignment. For OUI suspension calculation purposes, this counts as a conviction.

With the prior program assignment on the defendant’s record, the judge’s order of a 45 day license suspension was invalid and unenforceable as a matter of law. The judge decided to treat the defendant as a first offender. However, the Registry is not bound by this. Instead, the Registry looks at the defendant’s driving record and counts the number, timing, and disposition of the prior operating under the influence offenses. All priors count, whether they are for OUI drugs or liquor.

Here, the law says that when someone is assigned to a drug or alcohol education program after an admission to sufficient facts in a DUI case, and they have a prior assignment to a program, the proper length of the suspension is 2 years, regardless of whatever the judge might order or if the court overlooked the prior offense and treated the defendant as a first offender. All that matters is the person’s DUI history.

Also, all second offenders are ignition interlock required and will have a “Z” restriction on their driver’s license. This restriction will be in place during any hardship license period and for a minimum of 2 years after the person’s license is full reinstated and the Registry removes the “H” restriction.

Of course, for your driving record to control the length of your new suspension, it must be accurate. Sometimes the Registry’s records are inaccurate and they can be refuted with court and probation records.  This is especially true when the Registry relies on old microfilmed records, many of which are illegible.

With a 2 year license revocation in place, the defendant is supposed to wait one (1) year prior to being considered for a hardship license. In cases where the need to drive is dire, it may be possible to get a hardship license without  waiting a full year. However, 6-9 months must be served as a minimum.

Finally, because this defendant is a second offender with only a first offender G.L. c. 90 § 24D substance abuse education program, he cannot receive a hardship license from MassDOT and he will have to appear before the 3 member Division of Insurance Board of Appeal for a hardship license. The Registry’s appeals board has the statutory authority to order the Registry to grant hardship licenses even where the appellant might not meet the Registry’s requirements. These orders are issued only after a formal evidentiary Board of Appeal hearing and representation by competent legal counsel is recommended.

Hardship License Hours

clockThe Massachusetts Registry and its Appeals Board grant hardship licenses to qualified individuals who have had their licenses revoked or suspended. These limited licenses are only valid for the twelve (12) hours specified thereon. The hours of a hardship license are established based on the applicant’s need to drive for verified school, medical, or work reasons. Hardship licenses are valid 7 days per week, for 12 hours per day. Once issued a hardship license, you can drive for any purpose, regardless of the reason for issuance. However, you cannot drive outside of your 12 hour period.

Driving in violation of an “H” restriction constitutes the criminal offense of driving without a valid license, in violation of G.L. c. 90 § 10, for which you can be arrested. Furthermore, evidence of operation outside of the 12 hour hardship license period may cause MassDOT or the Division of Insurance Board of Appeal to revoke your hardship license and impose the balance of your license suspension. If you have an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle, the Registry will easily be able to see operation outside of the 12 hour period. Also, police cruisers equipped with automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) may also be able to detect driving outside of the hardship license hours.

If you have a legitimate need to change the hours of your hardship license, you can do so by contacting the Suspension Department of the Registry of Motor Vehicles or the Board of Appeal, depending on how your hardship license was issued. You will need to provide third party documentation of your change in hours.  It is strongly recommended that you change your hardship hours, if your circumstances change, rather than risk being arrested for driving outside of the terms of your limited license.