Fatal Accident Preliminary Revocations

FAPWhenever a person is involved in a fatal motor car accident, the investigating police department is required to promptly notify the Driver Control Unit of the Registry of Motor Vehicles. When the Registry receives this “fatal accident preliminary” notification, after a review of the facts and circumstances, pursuant to G.L. c. 90 § 29, the RMV has the right to summarily and indefinitely revoke your Mass. Driver’s license. This revocation occurs immediately without any advance notice. In these cases, MassDOT usually faxes the revocation letter to your hometown police department and requests that a police officer hand-deliver the letter to you at your home address. A copy of the indefinite revocation letter is also mailed to current address on file with the Registry.

Under the law, unless an initial investigation shows that the driver may not have caused the accident, the Registry is required to indefinitely revoke the driver’s license. Anyone who has his or her license revoked under the fatal accident preliminary law, has the legal right to a hearing before a Registry Hearings Officer on the question of whether or not the driver who lost his license was at fault in the accident. The driver must be afforded an adequate opportunity to demonstrate that the accident occurred “without serious fault” on his part. However, this opportunity is provided after the revocation notice is issued and the driver’s license is indefinitely revoked. The best location for a Fatal Accident Preliminary hearing is the Driver Control Unit of the Registry of Motor Vehicles at 136 Blackstone Street, 3rd Floor, in Boston, Massachusetts.

Because a fatality occurred, the Registry is often hesitant to reinstate the driver’s license of someone involved in this type of accident. Often, the Registry will wait for completion of the accident reconstruction and investigation. This could take many months, a year, or even longer. Absolutely no hardship or Cinderella license is available for this type of suspension. However, if you are unsatisfied with the outcome of the RMV hearing, you have the right to appeal the decision to the Division of Insurance, Board of Appeal.

An experienced lawyer who specializes in these matters may be able to help you get your driver’s license reinstated, without having to wait for the conclusion of the accident reconstruction, investigation, and a decision from the District Attorney’s Office regarding criminal prosecution.

No Hardship Available for Immediate Threat Revocation

Lately, my office has received numerous hardship license inquiries from people who have had their licenses indefinitely taken away due to Immediate Threat Medical and Complaint Medical revocations. Unfortunately, under these circumstances, no hardship or Cinderella license is available. The rationale for denying hardship relief on immediate threat and medical suspensions is that if a particular driver represents a danger or threat to public safety, he or she should not be driving at all. Therefore, the only way to regain your right to drive is to obtain a full license reinstatement.

In many cases, as soon as a driver is notified that the Registry of Motor Vehicles has indefinitely revoked his or her right to operate due to an immediate threat medical complaint, the driver asks his or her physician to write a letter to the Registry stating that the person is medically fit to safely operate a motor vehicle. This is the wrong approach. The Registry has specific forms that address medical problems, psychological and mental health issues, vision, and loss of consciousness. Instead of writing a generic letter, the driver’s treating physician, psychiatrist, optometrist, or psychiatric nurse practitioner should complete the appropriate forms. Additionally, the medical professional should only complete the forms after he or she has carefully read the immediate threat complaint. A letter written or form completed by a treatment provider who is unfamiliar with the facts and circumstances alleged in the complaint will carry little to no weight at a reinstatement hearing.

Dealing with immediate threat and complaint medical suspensions can be frustrating and confusing. Hiring a lawyer can simplify the process and increase your chances of getting your Massachusetts Driver’s License fully reinstated. The first step in these situations is to obtain a copy of the report which was filed with the Registry. In most cases, these reports are filed by police officers who witness dangerous driving, accidents, or other incidents which give rise to a safety concern. Although these indefinite license suspensions are not supposed to be punitive, getting them resolved can often be difficult and time consuming. The Registry errs on the side of caution and hearings officers are largely unsympathetic regarding the difficulties associated with the unexpected loss of a driver’s license.

RMV Drug Suspension Removal Procedures

Procedures to be followed by RMV Hearings Officers

94C offenders seeking relief will join the hearings queue as any other customer.

Hearing Officer will correct off (TRE) any 94C suspensions, trafficking not included.  The correction (TRE) will automatically eliminate the reinstatement fee associated with the 94C violation.

Hearing officer will enter uniform file note:

94C legislation – suspension cleared

Hearing officer will advise customer of their individual next steps. Example of next steps:

  • Order duplicate driver’s license
  • Take permit test, road test
  • Advise hardship customers they may receive a 24/7 license by paying duplicate fee
  • Advise customer the 94C reinstatement fee is waived, but they owe $___ for any other expired suspensions
  • Advise customer they have additional active suspensions preventing reinstatement at this time

As is done today, the Hearing Officer will provide print-outs to customer for branch staff on related fees owed and transactions the customer is now eligible to/required to perform

Hearing Officer will direct customers to Green Line if eligible for additional transactions today.

Anyone seeking a shielded driving record– will not be available until October. The legislation requires shielding of all drug offenses (except trafficking), all expired warrants and all expired child support obligations. The law gives the Registry 6 months to implement.

Procedures to be followed by RMV Customer Service Reps.

94C offenders seeking relief will join the hearings queue as any other customer

Customer will have hearing

Customer will return to Green Line and join established queue

Customer will present to CSR with information on any fee owed and their desired transaction

Branch will process according to policy. The only change is that you will NOT collect a 94C reinstatement fee

To allow for uniform data collection and tracking, please enter the following into override log:

94C legislation-suspension fee waived

Quick reminders:

The customer is required to pay a duplicate license fee or renewal fee

The customer is required to pay the permit fee and road test fee

Customers who previously paid a 94C reinstatement fee are NOT eligible for a refund. The legislation does not provide for this.

Customers needing a road test will schedule using the established procedure.

License Reinstatements for MA Drug Offenders

On March 30, 2016, Governor Baker signed into law “An Act Relative to Motor Vehicle License Suspension” making operators with certain prior drug convictions eligible for immediate license reinstatement. For more information on how impacted customers may begin the license reinstatement process, please see the suspensions section of MassRMV.com.  Customers seeking reinstatement must visit a branch and see a hearings officer. In addition, the RMV is preparing to mail individualized letters to certain impacted customers on their specific reinstatement steps and requirements.  All persons who believe they are eligible for relief under this new law should update their address with the RMV immediately.

An Act Relative to Motor Vehicle License Suspensionwas signed by Governor Baker on Wednesday, March 30, 2016. The law allows for the immediate license reinstatement for operators with certain prior drug convictions. Since the late 1980s, the law called for the RMV to impose an automatic license suspension for convictions under Mass General Law Chapter 94C. The new legislation eliminates suspensions for all drug offenses except for trafficking in a controlled substance (except for Marijuana Trafficking). In order to serve the customers who may now be eligible for reinstatement, the RMV intends to mail letters to provide certain impacted individuals with personalized actions steps toward license reinstatement. The steps for license reinstatement will vary depending upon each individual’s record. An individual with any active, non-drug related suspensions may not be eligible for reinstatement. In order to be reinstated, customers must visit an RMV Branch offering suspension hearings and meet with a hearings officer. Hearings are held on a walk-in, first come serve basis in the following locations, please note that service hours vary by location. Locations/Service hours are below.

The legislation waives reinstatement fees only. Customers seeking reinstatement will be required to pay permit and road test fees, if the customer has been suspended for more than two-years. As a matter of public safety, and accordance with existing Registry policy, all operators who have been suspended for more than two-years or have had an expired licenses for more than four-years, are required to take the written permit test at a branch location as well as a road test. License duplicate or license renewal fees also apply to all customers seeking reinstatement.

The following forms of payment are accepted for all the transactions listed below: Cash, check (payable to MassDOT), money order, or credit/debit card.

  • Permit/Written Test $30
  • Road Test $35
  • Class D/Passenger Duplicate License $25
  • Class D/Passenger License Renewal $50 (customers may renew up to one year in advance of expiration)

The legislation does not provide for reimbursement, or a refund, of reinstatement fees previously paid on 94C offenses.

The legislation requires the RMV to shield from public release any drug offenses, expect for those convicted of trafficking in a controlled substance, as well as any expired warrants or expired child support obligations. The legislation provides the RMV with 6 months to complete this technical phase of the project. Shielded records will not be available until October of 2016. Any driving record ordered prior to October 2016 will contain drug offenses and both historical and current warrant and child support obligation information.

Customers also must address any outstanding financial obligations such as any state or excise taxes, child support payments, parking tickets, or E-ZPass violations.

Branches with Hearing Hours:

  • Boston, Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm
  • Braintree, Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Friday from 9am to 5pm, Thursdays 10am to 5pm
  • Fall River, Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Friday from 9am to 5pm, Thursdays 10am to 5pm
  • Lawrence, Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Friday from 9am to 5pm, Thursdays 10am to 5pm
  • Pittsfield, Wednesdays, 9am to 4pm
  • South Yarmouth, Monday & Tuesday, 9am to 5pm
  • Springfield, Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Friday from 9am to 5pm, Thursdays 10am to 5pm
  • Wilmington, Monday & Tuesday, 9am to 5pm
  • Worcester, Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Friday from 9am to 5pm, Thursdays 10am to 5pm

If you are denied reinstatement under this law, you have the right to be represented by a lawyer and to appeal the denial to the Board of Appeal.

New Ignition Interlock Bill Proposed

statehouseThere is currently a bill pending at the Massachusetts Statehouse which would replace the current hardship licensing program with ignition interlock licenses. If enacted, this bill would require first offenders to have ignition interlock restricted licenses and it would also allow all repeat DUI offenders, regardless of the number of prior drunk driving convictions appearing on the person’s record, to apply for an “ignition interlock license.”

Senator James Timility of Walpole sponsored the bill and it is currently under consideration by the Joint Committee on Transportation. A hearing on the proposed legislation was conducted in November of last year and it has received some media attention.

The proposed law has no waiting periods for these licenses so that DUI offenders could apply to MassDOT immediately after conviction. The proposed legislation also allows for the issuance of IID restricted licenses during chemical test refusal suspensions. Currently, repeat offenders who refused  breath tests are not able to get hardship licenses while the breathalyzer refusal suspension is in effect. The proposed law would, if passed, would allow someone who is arrested for DUI to seek a driver’s license while the DUI case is being litigated. Refusal suspensions range in length from 6 months up to lifetime.

The basis for the proposed law change is statistics which show that many convicted drunk drivers who have had their driver’s licenses suspended or revoked continue to drive anyway. The theory behind the bill is that the public will be protected because these drivers will be able to lawfully drive, so long as they are only operating ignition interlock device equipped motor vehicles. The IID  would prevent the person’s vehicle from starting if his blood alcohol level registered at or above .02. Evidence of circumvention, disconnection, and/or failed rolling retests result in the driver being called in for a hearing.

The bill basically terminates drunk driving license suspensions generated by convictions, alcohol education program assignments, pleas, and breath test refusals with the issuance of ignition interlock restricted licenses. Unlike Massachusetts hardship licenses, which are valid only for 12 hours each day, these restricted driver’s licenses would be valid for 24 hours a day. It basically replaces hardship licenses with interlock licenses and allows offenders to apply for these licenses immediately, with no waiting period. Offenders would have a choice – agree to enroll in the IID program or give up the right to drive. These devices cost approximately $100.00 per month and they must be monitored, calibrated, and downloaded on a monthly basis.

Ignition Interlocks are not new to Massachusetts. We have been using them here since Melanie’s Law was enacted on January 1, 2006. Currently, all repeat OUI offenders must use the IID for the entire term of any hardship license and for a minimum of 2 full years after getting the hours removed and obtaining a fulltime right to operate.

Surchargeable Events License Suspensions

If you receive a letter indicating that the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles intends to suspend your Driver’s License and/or right to operate a motor vehicle, I invite you to contact my office for a free review of your situation. Depending on your driving record, you may be able to avoid the loss of your license or right to drive.

If you receive a notice of intent to suspend for thee surchargeable incidents, you can prevent the indefinite license suspension from going into effect if you take and pass an approved Driver Retraining Program within 90 days of issuance of the notice of intent to suspend. If the suspension is valid, and you fail to complete the required course in time, G.L. c. 175 § 113B authorizes the RMV to indefinitely suspend your license and right to drive in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The suspension will remain in place until you successfully complete the National Safety Council (NSC) driver re-training program. If you are required to complete the class to avoid the loss of your license, within 10 days of receipt of the Registry’s suspension notice, the NSC will send a registration packet to the mailing address which is on file with the Registry. If you have multiple surchargeable event suspensions, the Registry may require you to take the class several times. You may be able to take the course on-line, after completing it in person.

Taking the course will not prevent a 60 suspension for 7 surchargeable events or a 4 year Habitual Traffic Offender Revocation. If you are facing one of these, you should contact a lawyer for a free consultation and review of your situation. It is sometimes possible to completely avoid these license losses, shorten their duration, or get a limited hardship license which allows you to legally operate for 12 hours a day.

Once your license is suspended for revoked for surchargeable events, you will be required to pay a $100.00 reinstatement fee. If your license is revoked under the Massachusetts Habitual Traffic Offender Statute, G.L. c. 90 § 22F, you will be required to pay a $500.00 reinstatement fee.

Most importantly, if you have received a suspension notice, you do have the right to a hearing and you have the right to be represented by an attorney at that hearing. The Registry holds hearings on a walk-in basis at Customer Service Centers located in Braintree, Lawrence, Springfield, Worcester and 136 Blackstone Street, Boston, 3rd floor. If you have questions regarding a license loss, you can contact the Suspension Department of the Mass. RMV at 857-368-8200. The Registry’s general customer service number is 857-368-8000.

License Suspensions for JOL Speeding Violations

The Massachusetts Legislature has enacted harsh penalties for those under 18 years of age who are cited for speeding and hardship relief is not available from the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Massachusetts has adopted a graduated license system, pursuant to which a licensed operators under the age of 18 are deemed “junior operators.” Holders of this type of license face harsh penalties for speeding violations, unauthorized passengers, and driving during restricted hours.

For example, under Massachusetts law, the holder of a Junior Operator’s License who is found responsible for speeding with automatically have his or her driver’s license suspended for 90 days for a first speeding offense and 1 year for a second offense.

The RMV imposes stringent reinstatement requirements for these suspensions. Unless the Board of Appeal rules otherwise, to reinstate you must complete the “Attitude Retraining Program,” pay a $500.00 Driver’s License Reinstatement Fee, and re-take both written and road tests. You must also attend and successfully complete the State Courts Against Road Rage (SCARR) program.

Hearings at the Registry on these license suspensions are limited only to the accuracy of the customer’s driving record. All other issues must be appealed to the Division of Insurance, Board of Appeal, which has the legal authority to afford relief in the form of elimination of the reinstatement requirements, shortening the suspension, or granting a 12 hour hardship driver’s license.

In JOL speeding cases, the Board of Appeal uses its powers sparingly. In order to convince the Board to grant you relief, you must have a very compelling case. The Board members generally agree with the Registry’s position that young drivers should learn early on about the consequences of bad driving, so that they will be responsible drivers. Also, JOL holders may have difficulty establishing that they have a hardship which is sufficient enough to obtain relief from the Registry’s Appellate Board. A lawyer may be able to help convince the Board to render a favorable decision.


Admissions to Sufficient Facts

In accordance with G.L. c. 278 § 18, you may be able to avoid a DUI conviction by making an admission to sufficient facts instead of pleading guilty. If you are able to resolve your operating under the influence case in this manner, your case will be continued without a finding and eventually dismissed. This might sound like a great option. However, under Mass. law, the continuance without a finding (CWOF) and dismissal will be counted as a conviction if you are arrested for another OUI in the future. This is because the law treats drug or alcohol program assignments and admissions to sufficient facts just like convictions for license suspension and automobile insurance surcharge purposes.

Not all cases are eligible to be CWOF’ed. For example, Leaving the Scene of a Motor Vehicle Accident after causing Personal Injury, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and subsequent offense OUI, some 2nd offense OUI cases (where the 1st offense disposition is less than 10 year from the 1st offense), Motor Vehicle Homicide, and OUI causing Serious Bodily Injury. In order to get a continuance without a finding for DUI, the case must be resolved pursuant to G.L. c. 90 § 24D.

If you are not legally entitled to a G.L. c. 90 § 24D disposition, the Registry of Motor Vehicles will not honor the 45-90 day loss of license imposed by the court. Instead, the RMV will suspend your license based on your record of prior convictions, such as 2 years for a 2nd offense and 8 years for a 3rd offense.

For drunk driving offenses committed on or after July 1, 2012, a prior CWOF will count as a conviction when calculating the length of chemical test refusal (CTR) suspensions. This means that if you refuse to submit to a breathalyzer after having been previously arrested for DUI, your license will be suspended for 3 years for the refusal, if the prior case was resolved by a guilty finding, 24D disposition, or CWOF, even if the first offense was eventually dismissed after a alcohol education program assignment.

Although an admission to sufficient facts and CWOF will count as a conviction for license suspension purposes, it does not constitute a conviction for other purposes. For example, it will not automatically disqualify you from being issued a License to Carry Firearms in Massachusetts and it is not considered a DWI conviction for employment purposes.

The DUIL Discharge Summary

In Massachusetts, most repeat DUI offenders are ordered to attend and successfully complete the Middlesex DUIL Program, which is a 14 day residential alcohol treatment program located in Tewksbury, Massachusetts on the grounds of the old Tewksbury State Hospital. The DUIL Program is divided into 2 phases. The first phase is the in-patient phase and the second phase consists of out-patient aftercare. The DUlL Program is a 14-day residential program for individuals who are referred by their probation officer for intensive alcohol and drug education and treatment. Individuals attending the program receive a comprehensive substance abuse evaluation, individual and group counseling, alcohol and drug education, and self-help meetings.

Upon completion of Phase I of the program, you will receive a Discharge Summary and Aftercare Plan, as well as completion letter.  The discharge summary will rate your level of participation, attitude, motivation level, and risk of recidivism. Everyone gets a “high” risk of recidivism after completion of Phase I and both the Registry and Board of Appeal understand this. The goal is to get a low risk of recidivism when you are evaluated after completing Phase II, which is the aftercare component of the DUIL program.

The Phase I Discharge Summary and Aftercare Plan will discuss your “stage of change” and make recommendations regarding AA and other self-help meeting attendance. The initial DUIL Discharge Reports usually state as follows “Patient would benefit from continued addiction education and treatment, individual and or group counseling, and obtainment of a self-help support system. His prognosis should improve provided he remains sober and attends self-help meetings regularly. The recommendations above could help reduce his risk of recidivism if implemented and maintained. His license to operate a motor vehicle should be contingent on his sobriety and not based solely on this report.”

Because everyone initially gets a “high risk of recidivism,” you should not be discouraged by this and you should work hard to earn a low risk of recidivism on the final discharge summary. You can do this by fully participating in group and individual therapy sessions and by showing genuine insight into your alcohol issue and what caused your situation.

Denied a Hardship License by the Registry?

Just because the Registry of Motor Vehicles has denied you a hardship license, that doesn’t mean that you cannot get one. You have the legal right to appeal any license denial, suspension, or revocation to a 3 member appellate board known as the Board of Appeal. This Board has the power to overrule hardship license denials and it can order the Mass. RMV to issue you a hardship license even if you do not satisfy all of the Registry’s requirements for licensure.

The Board of Appeal hearing process is much more formal and involved, as compared to appearing before a Registry Hearings Officer at a walk in hearing. These hearings must be scheduled in advance and preparation is essential. You have the right to be represented by legal counsel and hiring the right lawyer often makes the difference between winning and losing.

The hearing process is somewhat “adversarial,” meaning that a representative from the Suspension Department of the Mass. Registry will attempt to convince the Board of Appeal that you should not be granted a hardship license or a reinstatement of your full license. The Registry’s representative will present your driving and criminal records to the Board. He or she may make legal arguments to support the Registry’s decision.

After the Registry completes its presentation of the case, you and your lawyer will have an opportunity to submit any documents which you want the Board to consider and you can make legal and factual arguments to support your appeal. In every hardship license appeal which I handle, I submit a detailed legal memorandum which explains why the Board should reinstate your right to operate and/or grant you a hardship driver’s license.

If the Registry has denied you a hardship license or refused to reinstate your license, I invite you to contact my office for a free consultation and review of your case. After speaking with a lawyer, you will know exactly where you stand and what can be done to get you back on the road.