Your first DUI conviction (or OUI conviction in Massachusetts) is most likely considered a misdemeanor. This is because both first and second offenses are categorized as misdemeanors in Massachusetts unless serious circumstances such as death and severe injuries are involved. Only conviction for a 3rd and subsequent OUI will always result in a felony on your criminal record.
Of course, certain factors can escalate a misdemeanor DUI to a felony DUI, even if it’s your first conviction. Let’s examine the most common reasons a first offender may end up facing a felony—a first OUI conviction Massachusetts residents should always seek to defend in court.
When Does a First DUI Conviction Become Felony?
- Repeat Child Endangerment: A first DUI conviction becomes more serious when a passenger under age 14 was present in the vehicle. However, this OUI charge is still typically a misdemeanor in Massachusetts unless you have been previously convicted of a similar offense. A conviction for OUI Child Endangerment may only become a felony if you have a prior conviction for child endangerment—even if it was in another state.
- Serious Bodily Injury: Most first DUI convictions involving serious bodily injury are felonies. Technically, Mass Gen. Law Section 24L also allows for OUI Serious Bodily Injury to be prosecuted as a misdemeanor. Still, these lesser charges are only chosen in cases where the prosecution does not believe they’ll be able to prove you were driving “negligently, recklessly, or dangerously” — a legal situation that is highly uncommon. For example, it’s possible to be found Guilty of OUI but not of recklessness or to be found guilty of reckless driving but not OUI. Your legal representation will be able to elaborate on the circumstances that may impact your case.
- OUI Causing Death: Operating Under the Influence in a way that causes death is the most severe OUI offense in Massachusetts. A conviction for OUI Causing Death is a version of felony DUI that’s punishable by up to 25 years in prison and 15 years to a lifetime loss of your license—even if you are a first offender. It’s imperative that you seek the advice and expertise of a Massachusetts OUI attorney immediately. No case is hopeless, and the state must still provide lawful, admissible evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict.
- Multiple Out-of-State Offenses: Your first DUI conviction might be your first in Massachusetts, but what if you have prior out-of-state DUI convictions? Since Massachusetts uses a “lifetime look-back,” all convictions for OUI / DUI are considered prior offenses, even if they happened decades ago or in other states. Massachusetts courts will examine your record to determine your total number of prior drunk driving convictions, any time, anywhere. If you had two convictions for DUI in Ohio, then moved to Massachusetts, and forty years later were convicted for OUI here, it would still be considered your third OUI offense (and a felony).
With that being said, it’s possible that a prior offense from more than 10 years ago could make you eligible for a 24D second chance disposition, also called a “Cahill” disposition. This would involve reduced penalties reserved for 24D first offense programs. However, a third OUI conviction would still be a third offense and a felony, even if you earned a Cahill disposition for your second offense.
One area where a first DUI conviction does NOT become a felony-level OUI in Massachusetts is “operating without a suspended license.” Most first DUI convictions involve a loss of license. If you are found driving during a period of license suspension, you will be subject to a second and additional charge of Operating on a Suspended License. While this is considered a misdemeanor, it does involve a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 60 days, which makes it more serious than most first DUI convictions.
Seek Legal Help to Fight Your First DUI Conviction
An experienced Massachusetts OUI attorney is your best bet for fighting your charges and returning to your life without a misdemeanor or a felony on your permanent record. Consult with Attorney Jay Milligan on the facts of your case today to start building an effective defense.