Being pulled over and arrested for OUI, or operating under the influence, in Massachusetts can be devastating. Very likely you’re unsure what to do or say and the experience can be quite intimidating. If an officer pulls you over and suspects that you are operating your vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, here’s what to expect in the first 24 hours:
The Initial Traffic Stop
When an officer pulls you over in Massachusetts he or she must have reasonable suspicion that you have committed a violation. Officers have wide latitude under the “reasonable suspicion” standard and an officer can pull you over for a variety of offenses including failure to stop at a stop sign, swerving over lanes, or even an expired tag. Once the officer pulls you over and begins to suspect that you have been drinking and driving, he or she may ask questions such as, “have you been drinking?” The officer is beginning to gather evidence, or proof, of OUI/DUI.
The Field Sobriety Tests
After suspecting drinking and driving, the officer will likely request you exit the vehicle and submit to field sobriety tests. The common tests include:
- Horizontal Gaze and Nystagmus
- Balance on One Leg
- Nine Step Walk-and-Turn
You are under no legal obligation to submit to these tests and there are no adverse consequences to refusing. Also, know that your “performance” on these tests can be used against you as proof of drunk driving.
After the police arrest you for suspicion of driving under the influence, you will be taken to the police station for booking. At this time, you will be fingerprinted, provide basic demographic information, and will be notified of your legal rights.
The Chemical Test
Massachusetts Implied Consent Law states that by virtue of having a Massachusetts driver’s license, you consent to a chemical test in the event an officer has probable cause to arrest you for drinking and driving. A chemical test can be either a blood, breath, or urine test but will most often be a breath test, or breathalyzer. If your blood alcohol content (BAC) is .08% (.04% for commercial drivers or .02% for those under 21 years old) or higher, your license will be administratively suspended for a period of 30 days.
You can refuse the breathalyzer in Massachusetts, however, there are consequences to a refusal. A refusal for a first OUI/DUI will result in an administrative suspension of your license for 180 days.
Bail is set in Massachusetts by a bail magistrate. The magistrate will determine whether you as the accused (defendant) will be able to go home on your personal recognizance (by promising to return for the court date) or, if not on personal recognizance, the amount of bail you must pay in order to be released to go home after arrest. The purpose of bail is to ensure a defendant returns to court on the date set.
The Arraignment and Beyond
At this point, you have a scheduled court date—most likely, on the following business day. This court date is known as the Arraignment and is the first time you will appear in court in front of the judge. During the arraignment, the judge will inform you formally of the charges against you and ask you how you’d like to plead. Seeking the advice of a qualified attorney before the Arraignment is highly recommended and will ensure you have time to discuss your case before you have your first appearance in court.
Penalties for OUI 1st Offense
An experienced OUI/DUI attorney can provide you with your options at this point in the process depending on the circumstances and the facts of your case. If you elect to proceed to trial to fight your case, ultimately, a guilty or not guilty verdict will be entered. If a not guilty verdict is entered then your license will be returned to you and your case will be over. If, however, a guilty verdict is returned (and you are not provided with the option of a 24D Disposition), the penalties for a 1st offense OUI are as follows:
- $500 – $5000 fine
- $250 head injury fee plus $50 victims fund fine
- Prison time up to 2 ½ years
- License suspension up to one year
- Wait period of three months before ability to apply for hardship license
What if I Refused the Breathalyzer?
Refusing the breathalyzer for a first offense OUI will result in a loss of your driver’s license for 180 days. Compare this to a “failed” breathalyzer test which will result in a 30 day loss of your license. Whether refusing the breathalyzer is in your best interest depends on the facts of the case and is not an easy question to answer. Regardless of whether you submitted to the breathalyzer or refused it, your attorney can advise you regarding your options going forward.
The Alternative – 24D Disposition
If you are given the option of entering a plea deal or if you decide to fight your case and a guilty verdict is returned, you may be able to reduce the penalties associated with a first offense OUI/DUI by agreeing to a 24D Disposition. Fortunately in many cases, first-time offenders are presumed to qualify for the 24D Disposition which carries the following penalties:
- Case may be closed as “Continued Without a Finding” instead of a criminal conviction (misdemeanor for first offense)
- License suspension up to 45-90 days
- Wait period of three days to apply for hardship license
- Mandatory completion of alcohol education program
- Up to two years probation
An Experienced OUI Attorney Can Help
Being charged with OUI/DUI is a serious charge against you. It is important to fully understand your rights and options when faced with the penalties associated with a first offense OUI/DUI. We network with a group of veteran OUI attorneys who can help you understand the process and your options and provide experienced legal advice based on the facts of your first offense OUI/DUI case.