Responsive government demands accountable, informed action. This is particularly true when the safety and well-being of Massachusetts residents is at stake.
On July 25, 2003, Melanie Powell, a 13 year old girl who had just earned a key position on her cheerleading team, was killed crossing the street with friends by a repeat drunk driver. Spurred by the tireless of advocacy of Melanie’s grandfather Ron Bersani, the legislature passed Melanie’s Law in 2005 and increased the penalties and sentences for repeat drunk drivers.
In May, a Supreme Judicial Court decision – Souza v. RMV (2012) – made clear that a dangerous loophole exists within the Commonwealth’s drunk driving laws. The SJC decision allows drunk drivers who admit their guilt and whose cases end in what is known as a CWOF — continued without a finding — to avoid long license suspensions if they are arrested again and refuse to take the breathalyzer test.
In Souza the defendant had received a CWOF in a prior drunk driving case. When he was arrested again Souza refused to take a breathalyzer and the RMV suspended his license for 3 years as a repeat offender. The SJC held that Souza had to be treated as a first time offender because his CWOF was not the equivalent of a conviction and therefore his license should have been suspended for only 180 days. As a result of the Souza decision, hundreds of repeat drunk drivers could be back on the road this summer.
I believe this was an oversight in how the original legislation was written and that the legislature meant to increase penalties for all repeat drunk drivers. During the budget process I filed an amendment in response to the Souza decision to close this loophole and protect public safety. I worked closely with Attorney General Martha Coakley and my colleagues in the state senate to get the necessary change in Melanie’s Law in the budget. The senate adopted the change unanimously.
The amendments now must be considered by the conference committee who will rectify the House and Senate versions of the budget. Repeat drunk drivers should not be allowed to share the road with our families and friends, and I look forward to closing this dangerous loophole in the final budget this month.