What is Melanie’s Law?

The state of Massachusetts passed “Melanie’s Law” on October 28, 2005, which added a number of new, harsher penalties to the drunk driving laws in the state. The biggest changes are

  • An ignition interlock device requirement for license reinstatement after a 2nd or greater offense conviction. Even if a prior conviction is decades old!
  • Consecutive license suspension durations adding together the suspension time for any conviction and breath test refusal.
  • Harsher license suspensions for underage (under 21) drivers

Update May 2012: We have been getting a ton of calls asking about the supreme court decision Souza v. Registry of Motor Vehicles which changes how the Registry can treat suspension periods in 2nd or greater offense cases with a prior CWOF and breath test refusal. Read my fact sheet, and contact us if we can help. If you are a former client we can help, we plan to reach out to you, but don’t hesitate to call.

DUI Attorney Russell Matson on Fox25(For the full list of all Massachusetts OUI penalties, see my DUI laws page.) Some of the changes to Massachusetts Drunk Driving / OUI laws are as follows:

For First Offenders with Massachusetts OUI Charges

  • No 15 day temporary license, suspension is immediate
  • May impound your car for 12 hours

If You Refused the Breath Test:

  • License Suspension consecutive with any OUI conviction penalty if convicted
  • Under 21 Breath Test refusal 1st OUI offense – 3 year license suspension (also see my underage OUI penalties page)

The Breath Test refusal penalty is a 180 day license suspension (no change with Melanie’s Law, other than the consecutive license suspension) If you are Found Guilty:

  • Under 21 with BAC of over .20 must attend a 14-day second offender in-house program

For 2nd Offense DUI Charges:

If You Refused the Breath Test:

  • 3 Year License Suspension, consecutive with any OUI conviction penalty
  • Under 21 Breath Test refusal 2nd OUI offense – 5 year license suspension

If you are Found Guilty:

  • Not eligible for work/school hardship license for 1 year (+3 additional years of if you refused the breath test)
  • As of 1/1/06, Ignition Interlock device installed in your car at your own expense for 2 years as a condition of license reinstatement.

For Third Offense OUI Massachusetts Charges

If You Refused the Breath Test:

  • 5 year license suspension just for refusing, even if you are later acquitted
  • Under 21 Breath Test refusal 3rd OUI offense – Lifetime license suspension

If you are Found Guilty:

  • They can seize, keep, and sell your vehicle for a third or subsequent OUI offense..
  • Not eligible for work/school hardship license for 2 year (+5 additional years of if you refused the breath test)
  • The Registry may cancel your registration while your license is suspended for a third or subsequent OUI offense.

Child Endangerment by Operating Under the Influence

If you are convicted of an OUI while a child under 14 is in the car, there is a separate and additional criminal charge: OUI with Child Endangerment.

There is an additional penalty of a license loss of 1 year (consecutive with any other license loss period). Mandatory 6 months in jail for a 2nd offense, and a 3 year license loss (consecutive). You must be convicted of the initial OUI charge to also get this penalty.

Other New OUI Related Laws

  • If you live outside of Massachusetts, you may take an eligible treatment program in your state as part of your penalty.
  • Committing OUI-related offenses while having a license suspended or revoked for OUI-related reasons (OUI, vehicular homicide, OUI with serious injury,  OUI or homicide in a boat, or vehicular manslaughter)  Penalty for conviction – mandatory minimum sentence of 1 year, to be served consecutively to any other sentence.
  • Your vehicle may be forfeited for a 4th (fourth) offense OUI or subsequent offense.

Other Related New Laws Passed As Part of Melanie’s Law

  • Knowingly hiring an unlicensed person to operate a motor vehicle – Penalty for conviction, license suspension for 1 year
  • Knowingly providing a motor vehicle to an unlicensed person – Penalty for conviction, license suspension for 1 year
  • Lifetime license revocation for vehicular homicide involving OUI, felony vehicular homicide after a prior OUI offense, or OUI with serious injury, or vehicular manslaughter.
  • Increase mandatory minimum sentence for manslaughter by motor vehicle to 5 years in jail.
  • First Offense Vehicular Homicide license suspension increases from 10 to 15 years.

Also see my full OUI Laws & penalties page for the full details on all DUI laws in Mass.

Has Melanie’s Law made a difference in drunk driving  prevention or deterrence in Massachusetts?

Is the new law working to reduce the number of drunk drivers on Massachusetts roads? This is an interesting question, which no one can really answer so far.  I’d like to see statistics from 2006 on to really judge that claim. Drunk driving arrests and fatalities have been dropping for years, well before the passage of Melanie’s Law. Some of the many gaps that Melanie’s law did not address include:

  • No increased alcohol treatment programs for chronic drunk drivers, particularly those in jail,
  • No additional cops on the street for deterrence value or additional patrols and arrests

We may find out that one of the factors from the law is simply PR value, and increased public awareness of the consequences of drunk driving. Publicity has been huge. Politicians get significant mileage out of being “tough on drunk drivers”. News stories are very popular with the public. The major local newspapers run them frequently.  The Patriot Ledger notes drunk driving arrests every week,  prominently. The public attention may ultimately be a far bigger factor that any direct value from the law in deterrence or attempts to  keep multiple drunk driving offenders behind bars.

For more information about the changes to Massachusetts DUI Laws and Registry of Motor Vehicle license suspension rules, or additional comments on Melanie’s Law, contact Russell Matson at (781)380-7730. If you’ve been arrested, please contact me for a free legal consultation.


Call me for a free consultation at – 781.380.7730

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44 Adams St, Suite 5
Braintree, MA 02184

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