Operating Under the Influence (OUI) refers to driving, operating, or being in control of a motor vehicle while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. In Suffolk County, an OUI classifies as a misdemeanor on the first and second offenses. On the third offense, it becomes a felony. In order for a person to be found guilty of an OUI, the prosecution must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
- That the accused was operating a motor vehicle
- They were operating the motor vehicle in a public area
- They were operating the vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
DUI vs DWI in Suffolk County
The significant difference between a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) and a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) is a regional one. Different states in the US use these acronyms to refer to drunk driving offenses. In Suffolk County, the law refers to drunk driving violations as OUI or operating under the influence. Similarly, some states use the term OWI (Operating While Intoxicated).
What Happens When You Get an OUI in Suffolk County?
Generally, a person may get caught for drunk driving in Suffolk County if a police officer has reasonable suspicion that the driver is operating under the influence. This suspicion may arise because the driver was speeding, weaving, or driving erratically. Using improper signals, reacting late to police lights, and getting involved in an accident may also give rise to a suspicion of Operating Under the Influence.
After pulling a driver over, a police officer may use different methods to determine if the person is intoxicated. Some of these methods include field sobriety tests, blood tests, and breathalyzer tests to determine blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The different field sobriety tests (FSTs) that the police may use include
- The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test: The officer instructs the driver to follow an object with only their eyes. The officer looks to see if the driver's eyes jerk when the moving target is at a 45-degree angle or less and how smooth the eye pursuit of the object was.
- The Alphabet Test: The police officer asks the driver to recite the entire alphabet or only a sequence of certain letters.
- One-Legged Stand: The officer asks the driver to raise one foot six inches off the ground for a specified period while counting aloud. The accused must not sway, use their arms for balance, or put their foot down.
- Nine-step Walk and Turn Test: The officer asks the suspect to walk nine steps heel-to-toe in a straight line, turn 180 degrees, and walk nine steps back heel-to-toe. The suspect must do this without stopping, swaying, stumbling, using their arms for balance, or walking other than a straight line.
- The Finger to Nose Test: The police officer asks the suspect to close their eyes, tilt their head back slightly and touch their nose with the index finger. The driver repeats this three times on each hand, for a total of six attempts. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has invalidated this test.
According to the Massachusetts State Police OUI Training Manual, not everyone is a good candidate for certain FSTs. The police are not to carry out the FSTs on the following people:
- People aged 65 years and over
- Individuals that are more than 50 pounds overweight
- People with medical conditions that affect balance, coordination, or dexterity
Another method that a police officer may use to determine inebriation in Suffolk County is the breathalyzer test. Massachusetts law requires police officers to use only breath testing devices that the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration certifies. According to Section 24 of the Massachusetts General Laws, the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration while driving is .08% for adult drivers and .02% for drivers between the ages of 18 and 21. However, anyone who is 16 ½ to 18 years old may be guilty of an OUI if they fail a breathalyzer at .02% or above.
A police officer may arrest anyone caught driving with a blood-alcohol level that is above the legal limit. Note, the law permits Suffolk County drivers to refuse to take the breathalyzer test. However, refusing to take the test may result in the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) suspending the accused’s driver’s license for 180 days.
What is the OUI Process in Suffolk County?
An OUI charge in Suffolk County is a misdemeanor offense that is under the jurisdiction of the Suffolk County Superior Court. After an OUI arrest in Suffolk County, the court process ensues as follows:
- Arraignment. When the accused is charged with an OUI, the District Attorney gives them a court date for arraignment. During the arraignment, the court formally informs the accused of the charges against them and determines whether to release them on their promise to appear in court on the pretrial date or impose conditions of release like cash bail. At this stage, the accused may enter a guilty or not guilty plea.
- Pretrial Conferences. Within four to six weeks after the arraignment, the Superior Court conducts a pretrial conference. During the pretrial conference, the accused obtains additional information about the case and discusses the possible resolution of the case with the prosecutor.
- Motion Hearings. The aim of this court hearing is to limit the extent of the evidence that the prosecutor intends to use against the defendant. There are two possible motions that the defense may use to suppress the evidence. One is a motion to quash the evidence on the basis of the stop being in violation of the accused’s Constitutional rights. Employing this motion, the accused asserts that the officer did not have a legal basis to stop their vehicle. The court may dismiss the case if convinced of this assertion. The second type is the motion to suppress any statement that the accused gave in violation of their Miranda Rights.
- Trial. If the court does not dismiss the case, it goes to trial. A trial date is set, and the trial process is initiated. There are two types of trials in Suffolk County. The jury trial and the bench trial. In a jury trial, a jury decides if the accused is guilty or not, while in a bench trial, the judge makes the decision.
How to Beat an OUI in Suffolk County
Beating an OUI charge in Suffolk County is not an impossible task. Before pleading guilty to an OUI charge, consider hiring an experienced OUI attorney in Suffolk County to begin building a defense. Blood and urine tests, as well as breathalyzer results, are not infallible and do not equal a guilty verdict. Some of the questions the attorney can raise to beat the OUI charge include:
Was the accused actually operating a vehicle?
In Suffolk County, operating a vehicle does not expressly mean driving. For instance, a police officer may arrest a person for OUI even if they were not driving the vehicle but were on the side of the road with the key in the ignition. However, if the key was not in the ignition, the accused can argue that they were not operating a vehicle.
Why was the accused pulled over?
If the accused believes that they were driving within the speed limit and were not swerving or breaking any laws, they may raise the question of why they were pulled over in the first place. The presence of traffic cameras in the area where the police officer pulled them over may serve as evidence to corroborate the accused's testimony. The court may be inclined to dismiss the case if the accused shows that there was no legal basis for the officer to pull them over.
Did the officer on the scene follow due process?
There are certain protocols that police officers must follow when they stop a vehicle or make an arrest. These protocols ensure that the rights of the drivers are upheld. For instance, when a police officer demands that a driver take a field sobriety test, there are rules the officer must follow. They must take certain matters such as the weather conditions and the driver’s physical disabilities into consideration. If the officer failed to follow the due process, the entire arrest is flawed and would make a guilty finding impossible.
Similarly, if the accused took the breathalyzer test, they can question the methods used to determine their BAC. A breathalyzer is a machine and nobody can assume it to be 100 percent accurate. The accused can question if the machines were used and calibrated properly. Previous cases show that breathalyzers are not entirely reliable. It is also possible that the accused rinsed their mouths with mouthwash or used toothpaste and the machine detected the alcohol content in it.
Were there witnesses?
If there were passengers in the car with the accused at the time of the arrest, they could testify on their behalf. Other people who were with the accused before they got into their car can also testify as to whether or not they had been drinking.
What are Defenses for an OUI in Suffolk County?
OUIs are common offenses in Suffolk County and there are several defenses that an experienced attorney can raise in court. Every case is unique and has its own distinct set of facts. Therefore, each case requires its own plan of attack. The following are some ways to fight an OUI charge in Suffolk County:
- No Miranda warnings: If the police took the accused into custody but did not read the Miranda warnings prior to questioning, any statement the accused made cannot be used against them.
- No probable cause: If police stopped the accused’s vehicle and arrested them for OUI without a specific and legitimate reason, any evidence may be inadmissible in court. However, there are some exceptions to this such as roadblocks and checkpoints.
- Failure of the officer to warn the accused that refusing a breathalyzer test would result in an automatic license suspension: If the police officer did not warn the accused of this consequence, the breathalyzer test results may be inadmissible in court.
- The officer did not administer the breath test correctly: If the police officer did not comply with the legal requirements on how to maintain and calibrate the breath test, the court may throw out the test results.
- Inaccurate test results: An incompetent technician, a faulty machine, and other circumstances can lead to the inaccuracy of the test results. Breathalyzers can also give incorrect readings due to certain medications or foods. In such instances, the test results may be inadmissible.
What are the Penalties for an OUI in Suffolk County?
Getting an OUI in Suffolk County can result in severe penalties. The enactment of Melanie’s Law makes these sanctions even harsher. The penalties for OUI in Suffolk County may vary depending on several factors. However, the major factor that the law considers is the number of previous OUI convictions.
First Offense OUI in Suffolk County
Under the law, a first offense OUI in Suffolk County can lead to the following:
- Prison time for up to two and a half years
- Fines from $500 to $5,000
- Driver’s license suspension for up to one year
- A waiting period of three months before being able to apply for a hardship license during the suspension period.
The Alternative to First Offense OUI (24D disposition)
Under Section 24D of the General Laws of Massachusetts, first-time offenders in Suffolk County may qualify for an alternative resolution to a first offense OUI. This alternative allows first offenders to avoid many of the harsher penalties. The penalties for a 24D Disposition include:
- Driver’s license suspension for 45 to 90 days
- Completion of an alcohol education program paid for by the defendant
- A waiting period of three days before applying for a hardship license
- Two years of probation
Second Offense OUI in Suffolk County
- Mandatory prison time for 30 days and up to two and a half years
- Fines from $600 to $10,000
- Driver’s license suspension for up to two years
- A waiting period of one year before being able to apply for a hardship license during the suspension period.
The Alternative to Second Offense OUI (24D disposition)
A previous OUI conviction of more than 10 years prior to a second OUI offense may be grounds for eligibility for a 24D Disposition. The penalties for a 24D Disposition include:
- Driver’s license suspension for two years
- Completion of a 14-day inpatient alcohol/drug education program paid for by the defendant
- A waiting period of one year before applying for a hardship license
- Two years of probation
- A requirement to install an Interlock Ignition Device in the defendant’s car, at their own expense
Third Offense OUI in Suffolk County
- Mandatory prison time for 150 days and up to five years
- Fines from $1000 to $15,000
- Driver’s license suspension for up to eight years
- A waiting period of two years before being able to apply for a hardship license during the suspension period.
Fourth Offense OUI in Suffolk County
- Mandatory prison time for 1 year and up to five years
- Fines from $1500 to $25,000
- Driver’s license suspension for up to ten years
- A waiting period of five years before being able to apply for a hardship license during the suspension period.
Fifth Offense OUI in Suffolk County
- Mandatory prison time for 2 years and up to five years
- Fines from $2000 to $50,000
- Driver’s license suspension for life
- Hardship license not available.
Apart from the jail time and fines that the law stipulates, a person convicted of an OUI may face other punishments. Some of these include:
- Auto Insurance Rates: Following an OUI conviction, the offender’s automobile insurance rates increase significantly. This is because insurance companies consider drivers who have been convicted of OUI “high-risk” drivers. Some insurance companies may go as far as terminating their coverage.
- Obtaining a driving-related job: Most employers carry out background checks before hiring anyone. OUI convictions appear on background checks and may limit a person’s chances of securing a driving-related job.