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Angiulo: Drunk Driving Charges and Commercial Driver’s License Suspensions

Monday, August 03, 2015


Sometimes the worst part about going on probation isn't the monthly fees or the classes, but rather the collateral consequences. This term refers to all those things that change in your life because of a plea to a criminal charge.  When it comes to the offense of Operation Under the Influence, known as an OUI, the number one collateral consequence is the loss of a drivers license.  

Sales people with customers to visit, or anyone whose commute is farther than a bike ride, will feel some pressure if they lose their license.  There may, however, be ways to make their situation manageable during their suspension.  For people who have commercial drivers licenses (“CDLs”) there is typically nothing except driving in their job description.

The Supreme Judicial Court's decision of Tirado v. Board of Appeal on Motor Vehicle Liability Policies and Bonds serves as reminder that CDL holders that make money by driving really need to avoid drunk driving charges.  The question presented by the Tirado case was whether, or not, a continuance without a finding on an OUI charge triggers the heightened license suspensions applicable to CDLs.  

A continuance without a finding, also known as a CWOF, is a common way to resolve a criminal case in Massachusetts.  In that situation, a defendant admits to facts sufficient to find them guilty, but the court places that person on probation without a conviction entering.  If the defendant successfully completes their probationary term, the charge will be dismissed.

When it comes to OUI cases, the legislature has chosen to carve a distinction between the avoidance of a conviction in the criminal realm from the impact of a CWOF on a drivers license.  The laws applicable to OUI make it clear that even if you get a continuance without a finding for a first offense you will still have a license loss.  When it comes to CDLs there is an even higher price to pay for this type of indiscretion.

The Tirado decision looked at the statutes applicable to CDLs and decided that a CWOF will trigger a one year loss for first offenses and a lifetime loss for subsequent offenses of OUI.  This interpretation will apply whether, or not, the defendant was driving a commercial vehicle at the time they were charged.  The issue focused more on the underlying safety concern rather than the facts of a particular OUI case.  

The court's decision was informed by the public safety concerns presented by commercial vehicles and operators who are under the influence. In addition, the justices looked at the various federal provisions dealing with CDLs in ruling that these laws were passed to achieve the goal of restricting access to this type of license because of those public safety concerns. While some people would see this as a plain language reading of a statute, not everyone may agree.  Instead, some might see this decision as letting purpose override a failure in the text of a law. For legal scholars this type of debate can incite some strong arguments.  For the average person it is more of a reality they must account for when they are out at summer barbeques.    

Leonardo Angiulo is an Attorney with the firm of Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouski in Worcester handling legal matters across the Commonwealth. He can be reached by email at [email protected]   


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