According to the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles Merit Rating Board, the conviction rate for Operating Under the Influence from 2006- 2009 was 49%. To the average person who learns this statistic, and apparently to Northboro Police Chief Mark Leahy, this might suggest that the Commonwealth has been unsuccessful in prosecuting drunk driving cases. However, this number indicates that the vast majority of people who are arrested for drunk driving eventually face significant penalties, even for a first offense. The 49% conviction rate does not include thousands of defendants whose attorneys were able to work out a deal with the prosecution to avoid the uncertainty of a trial. For most first-offenders, experienced defense attorneys are able to negotiate a Continuance Without a Finding, where the defendant admits that if the case went to trial there would be enough evidence for him/her to be found guilty, and in exchange for such an an admission, the case will be dismissed without a “Guilty” finding after the period of one year, so long as the defendant successfully completes the terms of probation. While the defendant’s record is spared a criminal conviction, he/she is far from being let off the hook. The terms of probation generally include $600 in statutory court fines and fees, $65/month probation supervision fee ($780 for the year), a 16 class alcohol education program at the cost of $567.22, a 45-90 day license loss with $500 reinstatement fee, and travel restrictions which prohibit the defendant from leaving the state for the entire year of probation (although a skilled defense attorney may be able to limit this restriction). Additionally, the dismissal is a misnomer. While successful completion of probation might technically result in a “dismissal”, it still counts as the defendant’s first-offense in both the criminal justice system AND with the Registry of Motor Vehicles. In other words, if the person is ever arrested again for an OUI, they will be charged with a second offense, facing much more severe criminal penalties and license loss consequences. Finally, a Continuance Without a Finding for a first-offense operating under the influence charge will also add five points to the driver’s insurance rate, likely increasing the annual premium by thousands of dollars. A defendant who is found “Guilty” of a first-offense generally faces these exact same consequences and penalties. Practically speaking, the only difference between a “Guilty” verdict and dismissal after a successful plea negotiation is the wording, and the defendant’s ability to truthfully say on any job/school/financing or other application that he/she has never been “convicted” of a crime, although a Continuance Without a Finding will still show up on any full background check. So while people such as Mark Leahy may feel “frustrated” that most people arrested for operating under the influence avoid conviction, the truth is that most do face significant penalties and life-altering consequences that serve as a deterrent to drunk driving.
If you have been arrested or summonsed to court for Operating Under the Influence or any other criminal charge in Massachusetts, contact my office for your free initial consultation:
Law Offices of Benjamin P. Urbelis, P.C.
1211 Commonwealth Ave.
Boston, MA 02134
P: (617) 206- 4828
F: (617) 507- 8188