Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) released the following statement following the passage Wednesday night of an amendment he sponsored that would close a loophole identified by the Supreme Judicial Court in Souza v. Registrar of Motor Vehicles prohibiting the Registry of Motor Vehicles from increasing certain sanctions to those who drive while under the influence of alcohol:
“Tonight the Senate took an important step toward restoring one of the most important elements of Melanie’s Law. Treating incidents of drunk driving appropriately will insure that recidivists receive the appropriate sanctions, such as license suspensions, to protect the safety of those traveling on the roadways of the Commonwealth.”
Posted below is a summary of the amendment:
#72 Closing Drunk Driver Loophole
In a decision issued last week by our SJC (Souza v. RMV), the court reversed the license suspension of an individual based on a DUI case in 2010 in which the defendant refused to take a chemical breath test. The defendant had previously been arrested for a DUI offense in a 1997 case that was continued without a finding after the defendant had admitted to sufficient facts for a finding of guilty. Under Melanie’s Law, the 2010 refusal, because it is a second offense, would normally trigger a license suspension of 3 years, and the Registry took that action. In last Thursday’s decision, the SJC countermanded that decision because of the continuation of the first case without a “conviction,” as the word is defined in statute.
In the decision, the court expressly acknowledged it was likely construing the statute as written in frustration of the law’s purpose, but refused to cede to the legislative purpose in light of the actual language in the statute. This amendment would correct that technical mistake. It provides that a continuance without a finding after an admission of sufficient facts for a finding of guilty counts as a prior offense, restoring the intent of Melanie’s Law and reinstating an enhanced punishment when a driver who has previously been arrested for a DUI and admitted to sufficient facts for a finding of guilty again takes to the wheel under the influence.