In the recent case of Paul J. Souza v. Registrar of Motor Vehicles, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rejected the Registrar of Motor Vehicle’s definition of “conviction” and ruled that a conviction means only dispositions of criminal charges where a determination of guilt was made.
The plaintiff in this case was previously arrested in 1997 for Operating Under the Influence of Alcohol and eventually ‘admitted to sufficient facts’ for a finding of guilty. His case was “Continued Without a Finding” and later dismissed after a period of probation.
Then, in 2010, the plaintiff was again arrested for OUI / DUI. At the time of his arrest, the plaintiff refused to submit to a Breathalyzer Test. Upon his refusal, the Registrar of Motor Vehicles suspended his driver’s license for a period of 3 years by statute. The statute as currently enacted mandates that the arrestee’s license is to be suspended for 3 years for refusing to submit to a breathalyzer if he has previously been “convicted” of an OUI / DUI offense (if the person has not been previously convicted, the driver’s license suspension of refusal is 180 days).
The plaintiff appealed the 3 year driver’s license suspension, arguing that he should only have had his license suspended for 180 days because he had never previously been “convicted” or found guilty. Rather, in his prior case, he only had ‘admitted to sufficient facts” for a finding of guilty, which is not the equivalent of a conviction.
In its ruling, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court focused on the language and statutory intent of the legislature, holding that “If the Legislature, in enacting Melanie’s Law, had wanted to include an admission to sufficient facts in the definition of ‘convicted’, it could have done so explicitly.” Alternatively, the legislature could have included admissions to sufficient facts for a finding of guilty for the increased penalty in refusal of breathalyzer tests.
So what does this ruling mean for persons who have already had their licenses suspended for increased periods where their prior OUI’s were not a result of “guilty” pleas or convictions? Inevitably, as a result of this case, hundreds of other Massachusetts drivers could have their driver’s licenses restored whose licenses were suspended under similar circumstances.
For those that do find themselves in similar positions, I would strongly advise them to quickly seek reinstatement of their driver’s licenses, as I expect the district attorney’s office to consult with the legislature to amend the statute in the next year, if not several months to include a Continuance Without a Finding as a “conviction”.
It should also be noted that this plaintiff in this case went to trial and was ACQUITTED.
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