An Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform

On April 13, 2018, Governor Charlie Baker signed An Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform into law, signaling a major shift in the Massachusetts criminal justice system. One of the goals of this law was to update our criminal justice system. In doing so, several statutes were amended and others were created. Because many of our clients will be affected by these changes, I have decided to post a few articles describing some of the changes that we will see in the courts.

For the first part of this series, I will discuss how the law has changed Operating Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs (also referred to OUI or DUI).

The most glaring change that has now come into effect is the creation of new statutes that can be used to charge repeat offenders of the drunk driving laws. Prior to the implementation of this law, a person could be charged as a first offender, second offender, third offender, fourth offender, or a fifth and subsequent offender. As the charges progressed the penalties became more severe, and someone who was convicted as a fifth or subsequent offender would find themselves facing a minimum mandatory sentence of 2 ½ years in the house of correction. However, there are now charges specifically for up to a ninth offense, and the minimum mandatory jail sentences have been increased for these new crimes. Now, if a person is convicted of a seventh or eighth offense they must be sentenced to at least 3 ½ years in state prison. For a ninth offense, the penalty is even more severe, as it increases the minimum mandatory sentence to 4 ½ years in state prison.

Another major change in the OUI laws was the amendment to G.L. c. 276 § 58A, which had been used by prosecutors to hold people accused of a fourth or fifth offense OUI in jail for a period of at least 120 days prior to trial if they can show that the accused release would pose a danger to the community. Now, the door is open to use the statute against people who are accused of a third offense OUI, but only if both prior convictions occurred within the last ten years.

It is likely that the changes detailed above likely to be widely used by prosecutors throughout the Commonwealth. One of the main reasons for this is that these changes will likely have a great affect in that they will pressure the accused into a plea. Because of this, it is now more important than ever to have an attorney with you as soon as you go to court if you are charged with an OUI.