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Joseph Coupal - Saturday, July 03, 2010
Defendants in Massachusetts who are charged with subsequent offenses which carry enhanced penalties are entitled to a separate trial on the issue of whether the defendant is the same person named in the prior offense. A statute found in General Laws chapter 278, section 11A governs the procedure. It states, in relevant part: If a defendant pleads guilty or if there is a verdict or finding of guilty after trial, then before sentence is imposed, the defendant shall be further inquired of for a plea of guilty or not guilty to that portion of the complaint or indictment alleging that the crime charged is a second or subsequent offense. If he pleads guilty thereto, sentence shall be imposed; if he pleads not guilty thereto, he shall be entitled to a trial by jury of the issue of conviction of a prior offense, subject to all of the provisions of law governing criminal trials. A defendant may waive trial by jury. The court may, in its discretion, either hold the jury which returned the verdict of guilty of the crime, the trial of which was just completed, or it may order the impanelling of a new jury to try the issue of conviction of one or more prior offenses. Upon the return of a verdict, after the separate trial of the issue of conviction of one or more prior offenses, the court shall impose the sentence appropriate to said verdict. In some DUI cases, the issue to be decided is not whether a defendant is guilty of the new offense, it is whether the Commonwealth is able to prove the prior offenses beyond a reasonable doubt. Sometimes, defendants admit guilt on the new offenses and go to trial on the priors alone. Given the lifetime look-back that Melanie’s Law introduced, the Commonwealth may be forced to rely upon old court records to prove the priors at this trial. And, where the proof is questionable as to the identity, or otherwise insufficient, the court or jury will be warranted in finding the defendant not guilty. Although the Registry of Motor Vehicles will count all convictions when calculating its license suspension, an acquittal on the subsequent offense trial can save defendants from mandatory terms of imprisonment. Make sure that your DUI attorney knows how to protect your rights. Call Brooks & Crowley LLP today at 781-251-0555.

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