In my previous post on this subject, I discussed how the Massachusetts Legislature is debating on whether to change the current OUI/DUI law in Massachusetts – known As “Melanie’s Law” for the young girl who was killed by a repeat drunk driver. The change now being vigorously argued over would require Ignition Interlock Devices (IID’s) to be mandatory for anyone convicted or pleading guilty to a first offense OUI. Currently, Massachusetts law requires IID’s to be installed for persons convicted of Operating Under the Influence for a second offense and higher.
As a Massachusetts DUI attorney, even though on a professional level I fight zealously in representing my clients as their legal counsel, on personal level I abhor the idea of driving while intoxicated. Who doesn’t? I don’t want myself or the people I love injured or killed by a drunk driver. But I’m a criminal defense attorney, and I know the dangers of trying to solve a public policy problem by wiping out important legal rights that our Constitution guarantees us all.
There are good, solid arguments on both sides of this proposal. Many who argue against the change worry that mandating IID’s for defendants convicted of a first offense OUI would encourage those defendants to elect a jury trial instead of pleading guilty. This would result in many more trials within the court system, and statistically would result in more than a small number of defendants being found not guilty by a jury or through a bench trial before a judge. In many ways, that would frustrate the proposal’s objective of minimizing the number of people on the road who would be inclined to drink and drive.
Another point opponents make is that many motorists may lose their jobs if they are required to install an ignition interlock device, since they drive company vehicles and those employers won’t want to install IID’s on their company vehicles.
In favor of the reasonableness of the change, it can be pointed out that over 25 states have enacted Ignition Interlock Device requirements for first offense OUI/DUI convictions, and the statistics indicate that the devices have successfully prevented first offenders from driving again while intoxicated. Further, it is widely expected that the number of states making this change will soon increase rapidly.
So should Massachusetts join the growing list of half the states in this country requiring IID’s for convictions of OUI first offenders?
For me, the answer lies in judicial discretion: If the law is enacted, I believe that it should vest judicial discretion in the judge hearing the case, to waive the requirement under select circumstances. Some of those circumstances could include when a blood alcohol or Breathalyzer test registers just slightly above the present legal limit of .08 – perhaps .081 to .085 or similarly low, and no injuries were involved. Or a circumstance where a person was home consuming just one drink as many people do after a long day at work – and a family emergency call came in suddenly, requiring the defendant to get in their car to race to a doctor’s office or hospital emergency room. If it were found that the defendant panicked and bolted into their car to get to their loved one, but had only one drink, registered just a fraction over the .08 limit, and there were no injuries involved when stopped by police, I believe a judge should have the discretion to waive the IID requirement.
Obviously, several “exigent” or emergent circumstances could be crafted within the legislation, allowing for such judicial discretion. Such a legislative compromise would, in my view as a Norfolk County criminal defense attorney, strike the dual goals of further reducing drunk driving in Massachusetts, while not ruining many first offenders lives under very benign circumstances surrounding their arrest.