The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles determines the length of driver’s license suspensions based on the customer’s RMV record and the law. If, for example, an individual has 3 DUI offenses and the prosecutor was only able to prove one prior offense, the court would treat that person as a second offender while the Registry would treat the person as a third offender and impose an eight-year OUI third offense revocation. The standard of proof at the Registry is the preponderance of the evidence and information contained in driving records is considered prima facie evidence for Registry actions such as suspensions.
In a DUI trial, the Commonwealth is required to prove prior offenses “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means that the prosecution must prove that the criminal defendant was previously convicted or assigned to a drug or alcohol education program and that the person named in the prior conviction records and the defendant currently on trial are the same person. If the prosecution is unable to prove these facts, the prior offense cannot be counted against the defendant by the court. However, if the prior convictions or program assignments appear on the defendant’s Registry record, the Mass. RMV is legally required to count them when calculating the length of an operating under the influence suspension and when determining hardship license eligibility.
Some people say that the “Registry can do whatever it wants.” This is absolutely not true in this case. Instead, the Registry is guided by the law and the contents of a person’s driving record. The RMV simply applies the law to the convictions and alcohol program assignments appearing on a person’s Registry record; this determines the suspension length. A more accurate statement would be that the Registry is not bound by the sentence imposed by the trial court when it is contrary to the official records maintained by the Registrar.
In Massachusetts, drunk driving cases are often “plea bargained” so that the court treats and sentences a third offender as a second offender. This outcome might allow the defendant to avoid incarceration and other serious consequences and penalties. However, it will not prevent the Registry from imposing an 8-year third offense OUI license revocation and a five (5) year breathalyzer refusal suspension if the defendant refused the breath test when he or she was arrested.
In some cases, for example, the customer’s driving record might list out of state DUI offenses which do not appear in Massachusetts court or probation records. It is completely permissible for the Registry to count these offenses when determining the length of a DWI suspension or when determining if a driver is a habitual traffic offender.
I continue to be amazed by the number of lawyers who do not understand how the Registry calculates license suspensions in Massachusetts, which are determined by the law and the contents of the defendant’s Registry of Motor Vehicles record. This formula is also used to determine whether or not a person is ignition interlock required.