Melanie’s Law: Stricter Penalties for Repeat OUI Offenders

Originally enacted in 2005 as a response to the death of a 13-year-old girl by a repeat OUI (Operating Under the Influence) offender, Melanie's Law significantly increases penalties for OUI repeat offenders in a number of ways.[1] Outraged by the girl's death, the Massachusetts legislature not only increased penalties for repeat OUI offenders, but created a series of new crimes with the purpose of changing defendants with two crimes at once in order to increase penalties even further.[2] Melanie's Law mimics a nationwide concern that has grown in the past few decades over the growing number of deaths caused by intoxicated drivers.[3] In more recent years, the legislature has not only enacted a number of new provisions in the law, but also has closed loopholes identified by the courts.[4]

The first major way Melanie's Law has changed the landscape of OUI offenses is through increased mandatory sentences for repeat offenders. If a defendant is caught operating a vehicle under the influence while still on suspension for a previous OUI offense, the legislature mandates that the defendant receive a one to two and a half year prison sentence, along with a fine of up to $10,000.[5]

Further, sentencing requirements other than fines and jail time can be imposed on repeat offenders. Most often, repeat offenders are required to install an interlock device in their car.[6] An interlock device is essentially a device installed in the car of the offender that prevents the car from starting if the driver's blood alcohol content (BAC) is higher than .02. The device works by testing the breath of the defendant and is completely paid for by the defendant.[7] For those convicted of their third OUI offense, the registry can automatically cancel the registration of plates.[8] For those convicted of their fourth offense, the prosecutor can request that the defendant be forced to forfeit his vehicle.[9]

In addition to harsher sentencing, Melanie's Law includes a number of provisions that allow for the creation of a second crime that can be charged in addition to basic OUI offenses.[10] First, operating under the influence of alcohol while already suspended for OUI is now a second offense that gets charged in addition to OUI.[11] In addition, the legislature created a provision that catches those defendants that not only haven't been convicted of an OUI offense, but also those who didn't drive under the influence at all.[12] Employing or allowing an unlicensed operator to operate a motor vehicle, as the name of the provision suggests, is a crime that occurs when a defendant allows a person that he knows to be on suspension for a previous OUI to borrow his car.[13] This law includes defendants that are not only employers of the repeat offender, but also those that are just friends or even mere acquaintances of the OUI offender.[14] Finally, the legislature created a clause in the law allowing a defendant to be charged for child endangerment while operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.[15] This, as well as the previous two offenses, is charged in addition to simple OUI and carries a hefty penalty.[16] Each of these add-on crimes carries with it the possibility of thousands of dollars in fines and, at worst, five years in prison.[17]

Since the law was passed, the number of people arrested for driving under the influence has increased at a steady rate.[18] Before the law was passed, about 13,000 people were arrested for OUI offenses, but in the year following the passage of the law, more than 15,000 people were arrested for the same offense.[19] In the third year after the passage of Melanie's Law, over 16,000 people were arrested.[20]

While these statistics might tend to show that the law is effective, opponents have raised arguments against the law. Most notably, some provisions of the law could be considered unconstitutional. Certain provisions introduce a due process concern as they allow for the revocation of a defendant's license without a hearing. Despite these concerns, the law has continued to be modified in recent years including more provisions and more penalties.[21] Further, the courts have not been hesitant to enforce all provisions of the law, meaning repeat offenders face almost certainly severe consequences.[22]



[1] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 90, § 24 (West); Andrea R. Barter, The Practical Realities of Melanie's Law, Lawyer's Journal, http://www.massbar.org/publications/lawyers-journal/2006/january/the-practical-realities-of-melanies.

[2] Barter, supra note 1.

[3] Kelsey P. Black, Undue Protection Versus Undue Punishment: Examining the Drinking and Driving Problem Across the United States, 40 Suffolk U. L. Rev. 463 (2007)

[4] Martin Finucane, State Senate Passes Amendment to Close Loophole, Boston Globe, http://www.boston.com/metrodesk/2012/05/24/state-senate-passes-amendment-close-melanie-law-loophole/q9mt2G6RyjF2PWvAdZrUZM/story.html.

[5] Melanie's Law, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, http://www.massrmv.com/rmv/rmvnews/2006/melanies_law.pdf

[6] Barter, supra note 1.

[7] Barter, supra note 1.

[8] Melanie's Law, supra note 5.

[9] Melanie's Law, supra note 5.

[10] M.G.L.A. 90, § 24.

[11] Melanie's Law, supra note 5.

[12] Melanie's Law, supra note 5.

[13] Melanie's Law, supra note 5.

[14]Melanie's Law, supra note 5.

[15] Melanie's Law, supra note 5.

[16] Melanie's Law, supra note 5.

[17] Melanie's Law, supra note 5.

[18] OVERVIEW OF AN OUI CASE, MVO MA-CLE 2-1.

[19] Overview of an OUI case, supra note 18.

[20] Overview of an OUI case, supra note 18.

[21] Finucane supra note 4.

[22] Barter, supra note 1; Finucane supra note 4.

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