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Understanding Melanie’s Law in Massachusetts

Posted on December 31, 2021 in

The law in Massachusetts is clear when it comes to drunk and drugged driving – operating under the influence (OUI) is illegal and punishable with serious penalties, including jail time. After the passing of Melanie’s Law in 2005, the penalties for operating under the influence in the Commonwealth increased. Find out how Melanie’s Law might impact your case if you are arrested for OUI in Massachusetts.

What Is Melanie’s Law? What New Rules Did it Create?

Melanie’s Law was passed on October 28, 2005. It is named after 13-year-old Melanie Powell, who was killed by a repeat-offender drunk driver. The purpose of Melanie’s Law is to allow the District Attorney to seek stricter penalties against someone facing charges for a second or subsequent OUI. Melanie’s Law significantly increased the penalties for repeat offenders. The changes that it made are summarized as follows:

  • It created the new crime of operating under the influence of alcohol while on a license suspended for drunk driving. Being found guilty of this crime can mean a conviction for two crimes at once, OUI and OUI on a suspended license, along with a compound sentence. The mandatory minimum sentence for this offense is one year in jail and one year of driver’s license suspension.
  • It created the offense of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol with a child 14 years of age or younger in the vehicle. Being arrested for this offense can mean being charged with two crimes: OUI and child endangerment while OUI.
  • The third crime that it created is manslaughter by motor vehicle, or taking someone’s life while operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It also increased the length of a driver’s license suspension from 10 to 15 years for a conviction for motor vehicle homicide. 
  • A driver who is found guilty of a second, third or subsequent operating under the influence offense and who is eligible for driver’s license reinstatement or a hardship license must have an ignition interlock device installed in all vehicles he or she owns or operates, at the driver’s expense.
  • If a driver legally must use an ignition interlock device with a hardship license, he or she must continue using the device for the duration of this license, as well as for an additional two years after his or her license is reinstated.
  • It is illegal for an acquaintance, friend or family member to knowingly allow a driver who has lost his or her license because of an OUI conviction to operate a motor vehicle. It is also against the law to employ this person as a motor vehicle operator.
  • The Registry of Motor Vehicles has the power to cancel the vehicle registration and license plates of anyone who is convicted of a third or subsequent alcohol-related driving offense during a suspension period.
  • The District Attorney has the right to seek the forfeiture of a driver’s motor vehicle for a fourth or subsequent alcohol-related driving conviction.
  • The period of license suspension for refusing a breathalyzer test has significantly increased under Melanie’s Law. The administrative penalty is now 180 days for a first offense, 3 years for a second offense and 5 years for a third offense, as well as vehicle impoundment for 12 hours.

An ignition interlock device makes it mandatory for a driver to blow alcohol-free breath (less than 0.2 percent alcohol content) into the device before the vehicle will start. Every 30 days, the driver must return to the manufacturer of the device to upload data from the device and send it to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Failing to comply with the ignition interlock device requirements under Melanie’s Law can result in the revocation of the driver’s license for 10 years to life.

If you have been arrested for operating under the influence in Massachusetts, contact a Middlesex County OUI defense lawyer right away.