Tewksbury Resident Spurs Finegold To Co-Sponsor Melanie's Law Amendment
Adopted budget amendment addresses issue brought up at Tewksbury Listening Forum
Editor's note: The following information was submitted by the office of State Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover.)
During Senator Barry Finegold’s (D—Andover) Second Annual Listening Forum at the Tewksbury Library this month, constituents peppered Finegold with questions on a range of topics, one of which was addressed in the Senate’s fiscal year 2013 budget last week.
Diane Poynton, a Tewksbury resident from Apache Way, asked about the loophole in Melanie’s Law that is allowing repeat drunk drivers to avoid penalties.
Senator Bruce Tarr (R—Gloucester) filed a budget amendment, which was adopted, to address the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling that “continuance without a finding” resolutions in cases against certain defendants accused of operating under the influence are not considered convictions under the law and therefore would not trigger increased license revocation penalties for repeat drunk drivers that were passed as part of Melanie’s Law.
“This loophole is allowing drunk drivers to get away with repeat offenses without increased penalties,” Finegold said. “As a co-sponsor of the amendment, I am proud to have played a part in correcting this flaw in the original legislation and ensuring deserved penalties for drunk drivers. Ms. Poynton brought this issue to my attention and I’m glad I could do something to address it right away. That’s the great thing about these listening forums—we can work together to solve problems.”
Ms. Poynton was referring to the ruling in the case of Souza v. Registrar of Motor Vehicles this month. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed the license suspension of an individual based on a 2010 OUI incident in which the defendant refused to take a chemical breath test. The defendant had previously been arrested for an OUI offense in 1997, but the case was continued without a finding after the defendant had admitted to sufficient facts for a finding of guilty. “Continued without a finding” (CWOF) is a disposition that allows a defendant to take responsibility for his or her actions without a conviction entering on his or her criminal history. In OUI cases, a CWOF is most often imposed if the defendant had no previous OUIs on his or her record. The case is continued for a period of probation, sometimes with conditions, and is ultimately dismissed if all the conditions are successfully completed; however, if the defendant violates probation, a guilty finding may be entered and a sentence imposed.
Under Melanie’s Law, Mr. Souza’s 2010 breath test refusal constituted a second offense and led the Registry of Motor Vehicles to suspend his license for three years. In the ruling, the SJC overturned that suspension because of the continuation of the 1997 case without a “conviction,” as the word is defined in statute.
In its decision, the court expressly acknowledged it was likely that this outcome is not what the Legislature intended, but refused to cede to the legislative intent in light of the actual language in the statute. This amendment would clarify, in statute, the intent of the Legislature by providing that a continuance without a finding counts as a prior offense.
The amendment was unanimously approved on May 23. The final version of the Senate budget was approved last Friday morning. The budget now moves into a conference committee where the differences in the House and Senate versions are discussed. The Melanie’s Law loophole amendment is expected to be included in the compromised version of the budget that will be sent to the Governor’s desk.