“Drunk Driving.” It sounds awful. In Massachusetts the courts call it “Operating Under the Influence.” Its traumatic to be pulled over, humiliated on the side of the road, and arrested. Its embarrassing. You wonder who saw you. You worry about who will find out, how the arrest will affect your work, what your family and friends will think. If it will cost you your job. If you will get suspended or kicked out of school.
Most of the people charged with Operating Under the Influence in Massachusetts have never been arrested before, never even set foot in a police station or courtroom before. And most never will again.
The whole experience is foreign and can be frightening. Even the language used by the police, lawyers, judges and others you have to interact with is strange. “Operating Under the Influence.” “Arraignment.” “Probable Cause.” “Reasonable Suspicion.” “CWOF.” “Admission to Sufficient Facts.” “Colloquy.” “BAT.” “FST.” “HGN.”
It is easy for those of us who defend these cases all the time to forget how absolutely NOT ROUTINE the experience is for you. And how scared, angry, and frustrated you can feel.
This is the most important thing for you to remember about your OUI case, and the most important advice to start out with:
Important thing: You are a unique individual who is different from every other person in the world. Your priorities, needs, fears, wishes, and responsibilities are uniquely yours. Your case is different from every other OUI case. No other case has had the combination of facts, people, circumstances, and impact that yours has. It doesn’t matter what happened in someone else’s case, or what someone else told you about your case.
Important advice: Get a lawyer who knows what they are doing, and who will listen to your story and get to know who you are. Don’t try to figure this out yourself.
The basic information about OUI cases is easy to find.
There is a lot of information on the internet about OUI cases. Lots of lawyers have information about the charge on their websites. If you have been charged with OUI, you are now a “defendant” in a criminal case, and it makes sense to educate yourself.
– You can see the potential penalties for operating under the influence in Massachusetts here.
– The instruction that jurors are given, about what the government has to prove to find you guilty, is here. (Don’t read this and decide you can be your own lawyer. You can’t. But you can get an idea about how an OUI charge has to be proven.) Basically, the prosecutor has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- You operated a motor vehicle;
- On a public way;
- While you were under the influence of intoxicating liquor.
These three elements of the offense seem simple, but can actually be pretty complicated. The particular details of your case are important.
“Operation” includes any act that engages the mechanical or electrical system of your car or truck. So if you are sitting with the key in the ignition, listening to the radio, with the engine off, you are “operating.”
A “public way” can include the parking lot of a business, or another place the public “has access to”.
It is important to know, also, that “under the influence” doesn’t necessarily mean drunk. If your ability to safely operate the car was affected in any way by alcohol, you cold be found to have been under the influence.
If it is your first time being charged with OUI, like most folks, there are a few things you should know right off the bat:
- You most likely aren’t going to jail, unless you are already on probation for something else, have a prior criminal record, or there was an accident and someone else was seriously hurt or killed.
- Very few people will know or find out about this. Its not big news for the rest of the world.
- Yes, your driver’s license is in jeopardy, and already may be suspended for a period of time if you refused or failed a breath test. But if getting your license back is the most important thing to you, it is possible to get it back very quickly, much sooner than the end of the suspension you may have right now.
- The case against you is probably not nearly as hopeless, or as good, as you think. Even a failed breath test is not the end of the world. But things you said to the police may come back to haunt you. Because of the stress, frustration and fear you were experiencing at the side of the road and when you were arrested, you are probably the least qualified person to assess your case.
- The police report is not evidence. A jury doesn’t see it. What is written in the police report may not sound to you like it has much to do with what really happened. That isn’t unusual, to be honest. But the police officer will have to testify live, in person, at a trial. He can’t just read his report. He will get cross-examined by your lawyer. There may be other sources of information that will show inaccuracies in the officer’s report, and his memory. Don’t read the report and give up. Lawyers look at police reports very differently than you do.
- There can be a lot of unexpected consequences of an OUI charge, depending upon how it is resolved. If you are found not guilty at trial or the case is dismissed by a judge, of course, you have nothing to worry about. But if you are found guilty, or if you plead guilty, or if the case is Continued Without A Finding, there may be what we call “collateral consequences” of the disposition. Simply, the OUI case can affect other, unexpected, areas of your life, from your right to own firearms, to your ability to participate in children’s school events, even your ability to travel outside the United States. And some of these consequences can be forever. There are lots of potential consequences that may or may not apply to you. You need to know before you make any decisions about how to proceed with your case.
- OUI cases are not simple. And they aren’t inexpensive. Even if you just want to resolve it as soon as possible and accept the consequences, you need to be represented by someone who knows what he or she is doing. (See the last paragraph above. . . ) If you want to assert your right to a trial and fight the charge, you will want a lawyer who has experience and training in OUI cases. A lawyer who can answer all your questions, and who can advise you about the things you don’t even know to ask about. Someone will always be willing to take your case for less money. Always. But you wouldn’t choose your doctor that way. Don’t choose your lawyer that way, either. The reality is, you get what you pay for.
So, if you’ve been charged with OUI in Massachusetts, here’s what you should do:
- Don’t jump to conclusions about how good or bad your case is.
- Educate yourself.
- Get help, right away. Hire a good criminal defense lawyer with experience in OUI cases.