In my previous blog, I described how the Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed “Melanie’s Law” in order to enhance the penalties and sanctions for Massachusetts offenders who Operate Under the Influence (OUI). An OUI is often referred to as a DUI or Driving Under the Influence in other states. Melanie’s Law was named for 13-year-old Melanie Powell, who was killed in 2003 by a drunk driver while walking with her friends to a birthday party.

The driver who killed Melanie was a repeat OUI or DUI offender. Following Melanie’s tragic death, her grandfather, Ron Bersani, spearheaded a campaign to have Melanie’s law passed. Ten years after Melanie’s death, Ron Bersani is once again calling for tougher laws after the arrest of 62-year-old Guy Patierno from Billerica, who was arrested for his 12th OUI or DUI offense. Patierno’s license was revoked for life after his 10th OUI or DUI. However, he continued to drive.

In addition to the penalties and sanctions described in my last post, Melanie’s Law also brings into effect a new crime of Child Endangerment While Operating a Motor Vehicle Under Influence of Alcohol with a child 14 years of age or younger in the vehicle. The driver of the vehicle can be charged with two crimes at one time – an OUI or DUI and child endangerment while OUI or DUI. A first offense carries a sentence of between 90 days to 2½ years imprisonment in a County House of Correction, and a $1,000 – $5,000 fine. A second offense carries a sentence of six months to 2 ½ years in a House of Correction and a fine of $5,000 – $10,000, or 3-5 years in a state prison. In addition, the driver will receive a suspended license for one year for the first offense and a three-year suspension for a second offense.

There are several further sanctions that are provided for under Melanie’s Law, and these are:

  • Cancellation of the registration plates of anyone convicted of a 3rd or subsequent alcohol-related driving offense for the duration of the suspension period.
  • Elimination of the allowance of a 15-day temporary license.
  • The District Attorney may seek forfeiture of a motor vehicle for any defendant convicted of a 4th or subsequent alcohol-related driving offense.
  • An increase in the license suspension period for refusing a chemical test. (This suspension can be a lifetime ban where the operator has three or more OUI or DUI convictions. In addition, if the driver is between 18 and 21-years-old when the offense occurs, he/she can also be given an additional 180-day suspension, during which time he/she is required to attend an alcohol education course. It is possible that the additional 180-day suspension may be waived for first offenders provided that they attend a Department of Public Health approved alcohol education program.)

The moral of this story is don’t drink and drive!

Should you find yourself in a situation where your OUI or DUI causes the death or serious injury to another person, you will have to live with the consequences for the rest of your life, which is far worse than losing your license. Make sure, if you party, you have a designated driver, who has not drunk alcohol or taken any legal or illegal prescription drugs that may impair his/her ability to drive. Alternatively, get a cab, a bus or train or sleep on the sofa at your friend’s house. Of course, you could get your mother or father out-of-bed at 2AM or 3AM to pick you up. They might not be very happy, but I am sure they would rather do that than see you end up in jail.