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SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT OVERRULES REGISTRAR OF MOTOR VEHICLES ON DUI LICENSE SUSPENSION

Joseph Coupal - Friday, May 18, 2012
On May 17, 2012, the Supreme Judicial Court issued its decision in Paul J. Souza v. Registrar of Motor Vehicles.  In this case, the Court overruled the Registrar of Motor Vehicles’s interpretation of a law that increases the length of suspensions for multiple offenders who refuse chemical tests.  Pursuant to G. L. c. 90, § 24 (1) (f) (1), if a person has no prior operating under the influence convictions, the suspension for refusing a chemical test is 180 days.  If, however, the person has one prior DUI conviction, the suspension is for three years (and this three-year suspension is simply for refusing to take the test; it is not after a conviction for any crime). The Registrar had interpreted this provision in Melanie’s Law to mean that, if a person had previously admitted guilt but received a continuance without a finding on a prior DUI, this counted as a “conviction” for purposes of the statute, even if the person was not found guilty of the offense.  The Registrar’s position was, since the the purpose of Melanie’s Law was to increase penalties for drunk drivers in the Commonwealth, its practice of treating CWOF’s as convictions was proper.  But the Court disagreed, stating that if the legislature used the word “conviction” in the statute, and that the Registrar was not free to substitute its own definition for the one in the statute.  The Court found that the Registrar should have only suspended Mr. Souza’s license for 180 days, not three years. 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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