Motor Vehicle Homicide | Operating after Suspension or Revocation of License | Operating an Uninsured Motor Vehicle | Operating Negligently as so to Endanger | Operating Recklessly | Operating Without Being Licensed | Road Racing | Use of Motor Vehicle Without Authority | Failure to Obey a Police Officer | Leaving the Scene of an Accident | Attaching Wrong Plates to Conceal Identity | Making a False Statement in License Application
Criminal Motor Vehicle Offense: Homicide
Motor Vehicle Homicide occurs when driver operates a motor vehicle negligently or recklessly in a public way that ultimately causes the death of another person. In Massachusetts, motor vehicle homicide can either be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor crime under Massachusetts General Law chapter 90 section 24G.
Felony motor vehicle homicide is defined as operating a motor vehicle in a public way negligently or recklessly as so to endanger the lives of others and causes the death of another person while under the influence of alcohol with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or higher or under the influence of other intoxicating substances such as drugs. The penalties for felony motor vehicle homicide include a mandatory minimum of one year in jail and a maximum of up to fifteen years in state prison, as well as a fine up to $5,000. A conviction would result in a license loss of at least 15 years.
Misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide is defined similarly except that the driver does not have to be driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A person can be charged with misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide if it can be proven that the driver was operating a motor vehicle and was either under the influence, operating the vehicle recklessly, or operating the vehicle negligently and it endangered the lives of others in a way that ultimately ended in the death of another person. The penalties for this crime include a jail term up to 2 ½ years and a fine between $300 and $3,000. A person found guilty would also lose their license for 15 years.
Years ago I successfully convinced a jury of twelve that the wet road on which my client was speeding was so inherently dangerous in its design that her failure to stay within the designated lane of travel, which resulted in a single car crash that killed her passenger, was not the result of careless driving. This victory required calling my own expert – a highway design engineer – and successfully cross-examining an engineer from the Department of Transportation about the inherent dangerousness in the highway’s design. I also successfully challenged the prosecution’s accident reconstruction expert for giving an opinion that my client was at fault that was not supported by the physical evidence from the collision.
Criminal Motor Vehicle Offense: Operating after Suspension or Revocation of License
Operating after Suspension or Revocation of License is criminalized by Massachusetts General Law chapter 90 section 23. In order to be convicted of this crime, a person who operated a motor vehicle must have their license suspended or revoked and have knowledge of that fact at the time he was behind the wheel. That knowledge is usually established by documents showing that the RMV sent notice of the suspension or revocation to the address on the individual’s driver’s license. Punishment for operating a motor vehicle after suspension or revocation of a driver’s license includes the following:
- First offense: fine between $500 to $1,000 and up to ten days in jail
- Second or subsequent offense: fine between $500 to $1,000 and sixty days to one year in jail
If you were previously convicted for drunk driving and your license was suspended as a result of that conviction, operating on that suspended license will result in enhanced punishment. Operating on a suspended or revoked license for OUI is a crime punishable by a minimum mandatory 60 days in jail and a fine of $1,000-$10,000. A mandatory minimum sentence means you really need to serve that time. The sentence can be up to 2.5 years in jail.
Many people charged with this offense were unaware that their license was suspended or revoked. While lack of knowledge is not a defense to the crime, restoring your license promptly shows your willingness to follow the law. I have repeatedly resolved cases like these without a criminal conviction for clients who have promptly taken the necessary steps to renew their license. This may involve payment of fees or fines or taking a Driver’s Reeducation class. If you learn that your license is suspended or revoked, check with the RMV to find out why you are out of status and what you can do to restore your driving privileges. The criminal charge will be much easier to resolve if your license is restored.
Criminal Motor Vehicle Offense: Operating an Uninsured Motor Vehicle
Operating an Uninsured Motor Vehicle refers to driving a motor vehicle that does not have the minimum level of insurance required for cars in Massachusetts. The charging statute is Massachusetts General Law chapter 90 section 34J. This compulsory insurance requirement applies to cars and trucks registered in Massachusetts. Cars registered in other states are exempt from this requirement unless:
- the car is driven in Massachusetts more than thirty days per year (in aggregate)
- the owner owns a home in Massachusetts
- the owner owns a business in Massachusetts
The penalties for operating an uninsured motor vehicle include a fine between $500 and $5,000 as well as a jail term up to one year.
Many people charged with this offense were unaware that their insurance had lapsed at the time that they pulled over. While lack of knowledge is not a defense to the crime, quickly resuming your insurance coverage with your provider shows the prosecution that you did not intend to skirt this requirement and can lead to a favorable disposition on your case. I have repeatedly resolved cases like these without a criminal conviction for clients who have promptly renewed their insurance coverage.
Criminal Motor Vehicle Offense: Operating Negligently as so to Endanger
Operating Negligently as so to Endanger refers to the crime of operating a motor vehicle in a public place in a negligent manner that would endanger the lives and safety of the public. In order to prove this crime found in Massachusetts General Law chapter 90 section 24, the government must show that the person operated a motor vehicle on a public way in a manner that was negligent and put others at risk of injury. A person acts negligently when he does acts in a way that a “reasonable person” would not.” Examples of driving practices that could result in charges under this statute include serious speeding and failing to stop for a red light at a crowded intersection. If a driver’s actions or inactions creates an unnecessary danger to others, they can be found guilty. There does not have to be a collision or injury for a conviction. Penalties for operating negligently as so to endanger include a jail sentence up to two years.
Sometimes this charge leads to a clerk-magistrate hearing and not an arraignment. I have been able to convince clerk magistrates not to issue charges for negligent operation when the criminal charge really is nothing more than an exaggerated speeding ticket. Of course my client pays the ticket!
Criminal Motor Vehicle Offense: Operating Recklessly
Operating Recklessly refers to the crime of operating a motor vehicle in a public place in a manner that is found to be reckless. Operating a motor vehicle recklessly means that it is driven in a way with little to no regard for the safety or lives of others and will most likely cause death or serious injury to another person. Operating a motor vehicle recklessly goes beyond operating a motor vehicle negligently because recklessness implies that the driver knew or should have known their actions behind the wheel would likely cause injury or death. The punishment for operating a motor vehicle recklessly include a fine between $20 and $200 in addition to a minimum jail term of two weeks and up to two years. This offense is charged pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws chapter 90 section 24.
Criminal Motor Vehicle Offense: Operating Without Being Licensed
Operating Without Being Licensed refers to the operation a motor vehicle by a driver who is under the age of sixteen years old, or does not have a driver’s license or valid learner’s permit. Exceptions to this crime include being licensed in a reciprocal state or country, being a member of the armed forces and licensed in your resident state, licensed in another state or country and awaiting the driver’s test with a temporary permit, licensed in another state and are the spouse of a member of the armed forces, a member of the armed forces returned from duty in the last 45 days, or a nonresident licensed in the state where the vehicle is registered.
The punishments for operating a motor vehicle without being licensed in violation of Massachusetts General Law chapter 90 section 10 are the same as operating a motor vehicle with a suspended or revoked driver’s license::
- First offense: fine between $500 to $1,000 and up to ten days in jail
- Second or subsequent offense: fine between $500 to $1,000 and sixty days to one year in jail
This is a fairly common charge especially among young people but keep in mind that not all motorized vehicles require driver’s license. It never fails to amaze me how many people I have represented for unlicensed driving who were driving vehicles, such as mopeds, that do not legally require a driver’s license.
Criminal Motor Vehicle Offense: Road Racing
Road Racing is the operation of a motor vehicle in a public roadway in a race or speeding with the intention of setting a record. Even if you initially only receive a citation for road racing, it is a criminal charge and you need a criminal defense attorney to assist in your representation. It is also a crime to place bets on any road race happening in a public space. Racing in the statute is defined as a competition between drivers accelerating in speed in respect to the other vehicles. A road race does not have to be an express agreement, which means that impromptu races between vehicles can be charged under this law. The penalties for road racing include a fine up to $1,000 and a jail term up to two and a half years. Additionally, their driver’s license is suspended for thirty days for the first conviction and six months for each subsequent conviction.
Criminal Motor Vehicle Offense: Use of Motor Vehicle Without Authority
Use of Motor Vehicle Without Authority refers to using a motor vehicle that the person does not own without authorization by the owner or another person who has permission to give authorization to use the vehicle. In order to be convicted of this crime the person using the vehicle must have knowledge that they did not have authorization to use it. Simply being present in the vehicle is not enough to constitute use. This is one of many motor vehicle crimes charged under Massachusetts General Law chapter 90 section 24.
Punishment for the use of a motor vehicle without authority includes the following:
- First offense: fine between $50 and $500 and/or a jail term between thirty days and two years.
- Second offense: fine up to $1,000 and/or jail term between thirty days and two and a half years or state’s prison up to 5 years.
- Third or subsequent offense committed within five years of the first offense: fine between $200 to $1,000 and/or House of Correction term between six months and two and a half years or state’s prison of 2.5 to 5 years.
- There is a mandatory license loss of one year for a conviction (even first offense) and the license loss can be up to three years.
I have represented many people charged with this crime who have taken their parents’ or significant other’s car which they regularly do but haven’t specifically told the car’s owner that they are taking it. The owner sees the car missing and calls the police and reports it stolen. We have always been able to clear it up but it took time, energy and court appearances to do so. Please don’t borrow someone’s car without telling them!
Criminal Motor Vehicle Offense: Failure to Obey a Police Officer
Failure to Obey a Police Officer refers to any person in use or operating a motor vehicle who does not comply with the request of a police officer who was either in uniform or conspicuously showed his badge outside of his clothing. Failure to obey a police officer includes refusal to give the officer your name and address, the name and address of the owner of the vehicle, giving the officer a false name, refusing to stop when signaled, refusing to produce a driver’s license and registration for the vehicle, and refusal to sign your name in the presence of the officer. Massachusetts General Laws chapter 90 section 25 defines the crime and imposes a penalty of a $100 fine. To be clear, this is a criminal charge and not a civil infraction even though only a fine can be imposed as punishement.
Criminal Motor Vehicle Offense: Leaving the Scene of an Accident
Leaving the Scene of an Accident is illegal if there has been property damage to another person’s property, personal injury to another person, or death. The operator of a vehicle can be charged pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws chapter 90 section 24 if they leave the scene of an accident where any of these three events have occurred. These crimes are commonly called “hit and run.”
Leaving the scene of an accident with property damage occurs when a driver leaves the scene of an accident knowing that there is some type of property damage without giving their name, address, and vehicle registration. The penalties for this misdemeanor crime include a fine between $20 and $200 and/or a jail term between two weeks and two years.
A typical defense to this charge is that the driver was unaware that they had caused property damage when they left the scene. These cases often start with clerk magistrate’s hearings and clerks have told me that they are concerned about this charge because they assume that the person left the scene because they were driving under the influence and did not want to get caught. At one such hearing the clerk agreed to dismiss the complaint application because the police had gone to my client’s house soon after the accident and made him take a breathalyzer which showed that he hadn’t been drinking. I was also able to show the clerk that the owner of the other car had made an insurance claim against my client’s policy that had been paid.
Leaving the scene of an accident with personal injury is when a driver leaves the scene of an accident where there was personal injury to someone else involved, the driver knows that personal injury occurred, and they do not give their name, address, and vehicle registration. Punishment for this misdemeanor includes a fine between $500 to $1,000 and/or a House of Correction sentence between six months and two years. A common defense is that the operator was unaware that personal injury had occurred.
Leaving the scene of an accident where a death of another person occurred is a felony and has enhanced penalties compared to leaving the scene of personal injury. To be convicted of this crime, a person must leave the scene of an accident where the death of another person occurred in an attempt to avoid prosecution or evade apprehension. The penalties for this crime include a House of Correction sentence with a mandatory minimum sentence of one year and maximum of 2.5 years or a state prison sentence with a mandatory minimum 2.5 years and up to 10 years. A fine between $1,000 to $5,000 can also be imposed.
Criminal Motor Vehicle Offense: Attaching Wrong Plates to Conceal Identity
Attaching Wrong Plates to Conceal Identity refers to personally attaching or allowing someone else to attach incorrect license plates to your motor vehicle with the intent to conceal the identity of that motor vehicle. The punishment for attaching the wrong plates to a motor vehicle with the intent to conceal identity is a $100 fine and/or up to ten days in jail. This is a misdemeanor crime defined in Massachusetts General Law chapter 90 section 23.
Criminal Motor Vehicle Offense: Making a False Statement in License Application
Making a False Statement in License Application refers to the crime of putting intentionally incorrect information on a learner’s permit or driver’s license application. The statement made on the application must be false and the person filling out the application must know it to be false at the time that it was written. The penalties for making a false statement on a learner’s permit or driver’s license application is a fine between $20 to $200 and/or imprisonment between two weeks and two years. This crime is defined in Massachusetts. General Law chapter 90 section 24.