Converting Criminal Offenses to Civil Infractions

In some cases involving operating after suspension in violation of G.L. c. 90 § 23 or operating an uninsured motor vehicle in violation of G.L. c. 90 § 34J, prosecutors and defense lawyers might agree to treat these criminal offenses as civil infractions pursuant to G. L. c. 277, § 70C. This law allows certain criminal misdemeanor motor vehicle offenses to be treated as non-criminal driving infractions. This disposition is not available in Massachusetts operating under the influence (OUI) cases .

Having the court treat a criminal charge as a civil infraction, may have some benefits such as not having a criminal conviction on your record. However, unbeknownst to many, including some criminal defense lawyers, when a case is resolved with a responsible finding, the Registry of Motor Vehicles will treat the disposition as a conviction and automatically impose the corresponding license suspension, even though the offense was decriminalized.

The unsuspecting defendant is usually quick to agree to converting a criminal charge to a civil violation to avoid having a criminal conviction. A few days later, he or she receives a suspension notice in the mail stating that the Registry will be suspending his or her driver’s license due to the civil infraction. Once this happens, it’s too late to change the outcome of the case and the driver is faced with an unexpected mandatory license suspension. Therefore, defendants faced with the option of having a criminal motor vehicle violation converted to a civil infraction should carefully weigh the benefits against the registry sanctions which a responsible finding will trigger.