Does a DUI/DWI Stay as a Criminal Record and Can it Count as a Prior Conviction in Massachusetts?
OUI/DWI/DUI: What’s the difference?
If you drink too much or take certain drugs which affect your ability to drive, it could be dangerous to drive and you could hurt or even kill anyone in your vehicle or another vehicle. In every state in the country, there are clear limits to what you can drink and what sort of drugs you can take without being a danger to yourself and others. If you are found to be drunk while operating a vehicle in Massachusetts, or you are under the influence of certain drugs, you could face the possibility of arrest and conviction on a criminal charge.
In many states, the offense is called “driving under the influence” (DUI) or “driving while intoxicated” (DWI), but in this state it is called “operating under the influence” (OUI). There is a subtle difference in these terms, because in Massachusetts, an OUI charge doesn’t just mean that you have been accused of driving while drunk or having taken drugs. You could be charged with OUI even when sitting in your car stationary if police think you may intend using it.
What is meant by OUI?
Police could arrest you if they think that your behavior indicates you are likely to operate your vehicle in an impaired way. Typically this means they think that you have drunk too much alcohol or have taken drugs which negatively affect the way you drive. The blood alcohol limit for non commercial adults is 0.08%. For commercial drivers, this drops to 0.04%, while those under 21 are technically not supposed to have drunk any alcohol at all. In practice this means no more than 0.02%. Note that even if a blood alcohol test comes up with less than these maximum amounts, police may still decide to go ahead with charging you with OUI because of other evidence they have, e.g. a failed field sobriety test.
OUI is a serious criminal offense
Don’t think that a single OUI conviction is minor. It isn’t. Even a first offense, if you are convicted, could land you in jail. You would almost definitely have to pay a fine and lose the use of your driver license for a time. If convicted, you would also find the cost of insuring your vehicle going up significantly. Second, third, fourth or fifth convictions would substantially increase all those penalties to the point where you could spend several years in prison and lose your license forever.
Basically, even hardened OUI attorneys who have defended many clients against an OUI charge offer this advice: the best way of not getting arrested for OUI is not to drink and drive or take mind altering drugs and drive. It is far cheaper to take a cab or Uber home after a drink at the office, workplace, bar or friend’s place than paying an attorney to defend you or facing serious penalties which can affect your family, career or education.
If you are arrested for OUI, whatever the circumstances, you are advised to seek legal help from an experienced OUI attorney. It could make the difference between having your charge thrown out because of lack of evidence, having your conviction quashed because you were eligible for probation, having a reduced sentence or experiencing the full force of the law.
Will an OUI conviction stay on your record?
In certain circumstances, you could, with the help of your attorney, negotiate a plea bargain with prosecution in which you agree to conditions of probation. First and second OUI offenses are considered misdemeanors in Massachusetts, which explains why probation may be offered as an alternative to conviction. For example, if it is your first OUI offense, you could be given the chance of a year’s probation. The conditions may include attending a driver alcohol education course, possibly some community service, and drug or alcohol treatment. Your license will still be suspended for anything between 45 and 90 days (or more if you were under 21), but the good news is that your conviction may be removed at the end of a successful probation period and you will not have a criminal record. The not so good news is that despite a conviction being quashed, the probation is still considered a prior offense if you are arrested for OUI again.
This probation option is also even possible after a second OUI conviction, but the probation period is longer and you would have to consent to inpatient, then outpatient treatment of varying length decided by the court.
Does an arrest for OUI automatically mean a conviction?
Definitely not. Good OUI attorneys can help you avoid a conviction for OUI which could seriously affect the rest of your life. There are many reasons why an OUI charge could be dismissed. For a start, you may have been incorrectly arrested. Police may have been acting under dodgy information or had no valid reason to pull you over while driving. You may not have been drinking at all or had not taken any drugs but police still arrested you based on a sobriety test made under unfair conditions. Responding to police directions can be intimidating and stressful enough to fail a test which puts emphasis on physical and mental coordination. Blood alcohol tests such as breathalyzers are notoriously prone to inaccuracy, especially if the correct procedures haven’t been followed. You may not have been read your Miranda rights or allowed to talk to an attorney.
Any one of these factors could weigh in your favor if picked up by a skilful OUI attorney. You cannot be convicted in the U.S. unless prosecutors have evidence beyond reasonable doubt that you were guilty. It is the job of an effective attorney to do all he or she can to ensure you are treated fairly. In the event that it is a first or second OUI offense, your attorney may advise you to accept probation which could prevent your conviction being recorded.