Massachusetts residents and license holders sometimes get arrested for drunk driving in other states. Because of Massachusetts DUI laws, those dealing with an out of state DUI should be aware of the license suspension consequences which the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles will impose.
In New York, for example, getting a drunk driving charge reduced to Driving While Ability may seem to be an attractive option, because of the shorter license suspension and several other reasons. For example, a first offense New York DUI carries a minimum 180 day revocation while a DWAI carries only a 90 day suspension. However, defendants considering this option should be aware that the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) and the Massachusetts Division of Insurance Board of Appeal consider a DWAI the same as a Massachusetts Operating Under the Influence (OUI) conviction, for license suspension and ignition interlock purposes.
The Registry will impose the same license suspension penalties because The New York crime of driving while impaired is very similar to the Massachusetts crime of OUl outlawed by G.L. c. 90, § 24(1)(a)(1), in that impairment of the ability to drive by alcohol to any extent is the operative element of both crimes. This interpretation was upheld by Judge Lauriat of the Suffolk County, Massachusetts Superior Court in the case of Bellino v. Board of Appeals, Docket No.: 97-2020. In that case, Joseph Bellino’s Massachusetts driver’s license was suspended in 1992 pursuant to G.L. c. 90, § 24D for operating while under the influence of alcohol. In 1996, Mr. Bellino was convicted in New York of driving while ability impaired (DWAI). At issue in the Superior Court appeal of the license suspension was whether the Massachusetts Registrar was entitled to treat Bellino as a 2nd offender and suspend license for two years under the Massachusetts 2nd offender DUI law, by counting the New York DWAI conviction as a second OUI offense.
In upholding the OUI 2nd offense license suspension, the Court observed that the crime of operating under the influence, has been defined by the Massachusetts Legislature as requiring a diminished ability drive safely which is caused by the consumption of alcohol. Bellino also quoted an earlier Superior Court decision equating the two states’ offenses. In Boyce v. Board of Appeal on Motor Vehicle Liability Policies and Bonds, Suffolk Superior Court Docket No.: 96-147 (1996), in which Judge Cratsley wrote: “This ‘diminished ability to operate’ standard is a broad concept, which defines all levels of alcohol related offenses in Massachusetts.” Therefore, “OUI in Massachusetts appears to incorporate all· levels of alcohol related driving impairment, including that which constitutes DWAI in New York, notwithstanding any arguably minor differences between the two statutory schemes.” Thus, Bellino held, “both statutes address the same level of impairment in imposing liability” and, consequently, a New York conviction may be treated as another Massachusetts OUI conviction under G.1. c. 90, § 24. Anyone facing a New York DUI or DWAI charge should be aware of this important ruling.