The drunk driving laws in Massachusetts are strict. That is especially true for people under 21 because a drunk driving charge can seriously impact your driver’s license. Before getting into license issues, you should understand on a basic level the nature of an operating under the influence of intoxicating liquor (“OUI”) charge. For all people charged with OUI (regardless of your age), there are two ways that the Commonwealth may prove that a driver is “under the influence of alcohol.” The first way is through what is called the “diminished capacity” or the “impaired ability” theory. Under this theory, the Commonwealth tries to prove guilt by showing that the alcohol the driver ingested impaired his or her ability to operate a motor vehicle safely. The second way the Commonwealth can prove that the driver was operating a motor vehicle under the influence is through what’s known as the “per se” law. When people talk about the “legal limit,” this is what they’re referring to. In Massachusetts, the legal limit is a blood-alcohol level of .08% or greater. In other words, if the breathalyzer results come back .08 or higher, you’ve “failed” the breath test and you are presumed to be “under the influence.” The legal limit is .08 for drivers under 21 and for those over 21.
What happens when you get pulled over for driving under the influence when you are under 21?
If the officer that pulls you over suspects you may be under the influence of alcohol, you will be asked to perform a breathalyzer. A breathalyzer is an instrument that is said to measure the amount of alcohol in a subject’s breath. Based on that figure, a computation is then made to translate that figure into a blood alcohol concentration (a “BAC”). For those under 21, any BAC .02% or above will trigger a license suspension.
What if you refuse to take the breathalyzer test?
All drivers on Massachusetts roads have the right to refuse to submit to a breathalyzer. That’s because driving on the roads in Massachusetts is a privilege, not a right. So, if drivers refuse to submit to a breath test, there will be consequences to their license. Drivers under 21 will face serious license penalties if they refuse. If you are under 21 and refuse the breathalyzer test, your license will be suspended for 3 years, plus an additional 180 days if you are between the ages of 18 and 20 or 360 days if you are under 18. This is what’s known as the Youth Alcohol Program (“YAP) suspension.
If this is your first time getting arrested or charged for driving under the influence, then it is possible to have the additional 180 day YAP suspension waived if the driver enrolls in a juvenile alcohol program. If the driver is less than 18 and it is their first drunk driving offense, the 360-day suspension can be reduced to 180 days if they enroll in a juvenile alcohol program.
What happens if you fail the breathalyzer test and are found guilty of an underage DUI?
If you’re under 21, take the breathalyzer, and the result is greater than .02 but under 0.6, the police must release you. But you must understand that the Registry of Motor Vehicles will still suspend your license. If you are over 18 but under 21, the license loss is 180 days. If you are under 18, the license loss is one year. If you receive a .08% or higher, your license will be automatically suspended for 30 days and plus the additional 180 to 360 days loss under the YAP suspension.
First DUI Offense
It is possible to avoid a conviction (guilty), and in the alternative, your lawyer may be able to negotiate probation and court fees. You will need to agree to participate in a juvenile alcohol program. This is called the 24D program. It is however not guaranteed that participating in the program will shorten the license suspension time. However, participating in the 24D program may help make you eligible for a hardship license. A hardship license is a license that allows you to drive between the hours of 7 am to 7 pm. In order you qualify, you need to attend a hearing with the RMV. Having a lawyer present could be helpful to your case.
Second DUI Offense
If this is your second time getting arrested for driving under the influence, and the court finds that you are guilty, you could have your license suspended for two years. You will also be sentenced to a rehabilitation program called the “14-day second offender in-home program”. If found guilty, you would also have to repass a learner’s permit exam as well as a road test, as well as have an ignition interlock put on your car. An ignition interlock is a breathalyzer that is installed to your car to prevent it from starting if you have any alcohol on your breath. In order for your car to start, you need to register less than a .02%.
Third DUI Offense
If you receive a third DUI, your license could be suspended for up to eight (8) years, you would have to repass a learner’s permit exam and a road test, and you would have an ignition interlock installed on your vehicle.
Fourth DUI Offense
If you receive a fourth DUI, your license could be suspended for 10 years, you would have to repass a learner’s permit exam and a road test, and you would have an ignition interlock installed on your vehicle
Fifth DUI Offence
If you receive a fifth DUI, your license could be permanently suspended.
Why do you need an attorney for an underage DUI?
Driving under the influence is a serious offense and can have serious consequences. It can lead to having your license suspended, or even fines and jail time. However, getting the right lawyer can open up other options such as receiving a “Not Guilty” or having the case dismissed. Receiving a “Not Guilty” means that the Court decides that you were not driving under the influence and that you will not have a conviction on your record. The right attorney can also help you motion the court to get your license reinstated and greatly lessen, if not eliminate, the license suspension.