If you’ve experienced DUI charges in the past, getting charged again probably feels like a nightmare come true. A lot of questions are running through your head. How could this be happening? Am I going to jail? How long will I lose my license? Can I go through this all over again?
A conviction for multiple DUIs in Massachusetts can lead to stiff penalties, but the right legal counsel can significantly improve your chances of making it out alright.
The good news when you’re charged with multiple DUIs is that as far as the court is concerned, every DUI charge stands alone—it will be judged on the merits and details only of this specific case. The bad news is that every prior offense on your record raises the stakes (and the consequences). This is true even if your first offense was dismissed with a CWOF, or “Continuance Without a Finding.”
It’s common for a first DUI case to conclude with a CWOF, a “24D” Disposition, and no conviction. However, a CWOF is always considered a prior DUI in Massachusetts if you’re ever charged again. Massachusetts is also one of only nine US states that uses a “lifetime lookback period” for drunk driving offenses. This has been true ever since the law changed in 2002 (from a 10-year lookback limit).
Being charged with multiple DUIs is a scary experience, but every case is unique. Here’s everything you need to know if you’re facing multiple DUIs in Massachusetts:
Table of Contents:
- Am I Going to Jail?
- How Long Will My License Be Suspended?
- Will I Be Eligible for a Hardship License?
- Will Multiple DUIs Show up on CORI Checks?
- Are Multiple DUI Charges Misdemeanors or Felonies?
- Can I Still Get a Job?
Massachusetts DUI law is very strict—especially in terms of jail time. Below are the standard penalties under the law for multiple DUIs in Massachusetts:
- Second DUI Offense: Misdemeanor. 60 days to 2.5 years in jail. Up to 2-year license suspension. $600-$10,000 fine.
- Third DUI Offense: Felony. 180 days in jail to 5 years in state prison. Up to 8-year license suspension. $1,000-$15,000 fine.
- Fourth DUI Offense: Felony. 1 year in jail to 5 years in state prison. Up to 10-year license suspension. $1,500-$25,000 fine.
- Fifth DUI Offense: Felony. 2 years in jail to 5 years in state prison. Lifetime license suspension. $2,000-$50,000 fine.
The actual outcome of a repeat DUI conviction will always depend on the unique circumstances of the case. While the consequences above are standard, they don’t consider other factors, such as:
- Alternative dispositions
- Open container violations
- Traffic violations discovered at a sobriety checkpoint
- Penalties for refusing a breath test
- Plea deals
- Child endangerment
- Accidents resulting in injury or death
As you can see, the legal landscape is often complicated by these sorts of details. The potentially harsh consequences mean it’s critical to defend yourself against a record with multiple DUIs in Massachusetts.
Every repeat DUI offense in Massachusetts includes minimum jail time. However, if you successfully fight your case in court, you won’t receive a jail sentence—no matter how many prior offenses are on your record. And in some cases, an alternative disposition without jail time is still a possibility.
If the repeat DUI charges are only a second offense, you may qualify for dispositions with probation and an alcohol treatment plan instead of a jail sentence. This is often possible as long as the second offense doesn’t involve serious injury, death, or child endangerment.
An experienced Massachusetts DUI lawyer will be able to tell you whether this is a realistic possibility for you. A conviction for a third DUI (or a subsequent conviction), however, will make you ineligible for this kind of disposition.
Alternative dispositions for second offenders come in two basic forms, and both include an alternative to jail time. Rather than jail, the first one would impose:
- 2 years of probation
- 14-days of incarceration at an inpatient residential alcohol treatment program
- Outpatient aftercare (a 30-week follow-up course and monthly classes thereafter for a total of approximately 50-52 weeks)
If your first conviction (or CWOF and dismissal) was over 10 years ago, you could potentially qualify for the second option, sometimes called the “Cahill” Disposition, or “24D Second Chance” Disposition. Rather than jail or a lengthy license suspension, it would impose similar penalties to those offered to first offenders under Massachusetts General Laws Title XIV, Chapter 90, Section 24D:
- 2 years of probation
- Completion of a driver alcohol education program (a “24D first-offender program,” usually a 16-week course)
- A reduced 45-90 day license suspension
These dispositions are the most common way that a second DUI charge is resolved in Massachusetts. Consult with an DUI attorney to see if either of these options could be available in your case.
There are two threats to your license when you’re charged with multiple DUIs. First, you’ll face a breathalyzer-related suspension from the initial arrest (for either failing or refusing to take the test). This is handed down by the RMV and is unrelated to the outcome of the case. Second, your license will be suspended by the court if you are found guilty (or if you receive a CWOF).
Breathalyzer Refusal Suspensions:
- 1 prior DUI Offense: 3 years
- 2 prior DUI Offenses: 5 years
- 3+ prior DUI Offenses: Lifetime suspension
- Prior Conviction for DUI Serious Bodily Injury: 10 years
- Prior Conviction for DUI Causing Death: Lifetime Suspension
- Under 21: 3 years in addition to a JOL suspension (listed below)
- JOL Suspension (18-21 Years Old): Additional 180 days
- JOL Suspension (Under 18 Years Old): Additional 1 year
Breathalyzer refusal suspensions are municipal penalties for violating the “implied consent” law, not criminal sentences. This means that your license won’t be automatically reinstated if you beat your case in court. RMV suspensions begin before the trial and any court-imposed suspension.
Breathalyzer Failure Suspensions:
If you choose to take the test and register a BAC reading of .08% or higher, your license will be automatically suspended for 30 days.
This might not seem too bad compared to the penalties for refusing, but remember that a failed breath test is just one more piece of evidence the state can use to attempt to prove your guilt. It’s wise to give prosecutors as little evidence as possible if you want to beat the case and escape the harsh penalties for conviction.
Suspensions for Conviction:
- “24D Second Chance” Disposition: 45-90 days
- Second Offense: Up to 2 years
- Third Offense: Up to 8 years
- Fourth Offense: Up to 10 years
- Fifth Offense: Lifetime Suspension
License suspensions in Massachusetts are cumulative. If you refused the breathalyzer and were convicted for a second offense DUI, for example, you’d be given 3 years for the refusal and 2 additional years for the conviction. This would leave you with 5 total years of license suspension.
It’s also important to note that anyone convicted of multiple DUIs in Massachusetts will need to install an Ignition Interlock Device in their vehicle before they can be considered for reinstatement.
Many people with multiple DUIs in Massachusetts can be considered for hardship licenses under the right circumstances. When you apply, you’ll be asked to provide proof of hardship, evidence that you’ve completed of an adequate alcohol treatment program, and documentation that a minimum portion of the suspension has been served (among other details). Eligibility doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be granted a hardship license. Ultimately, the decision will be up to the RMV. If the RMV denies the hardship request, you can file an appeal to the Board of Appeals, which is an entirely different process.
Minimum time served varies by the length of your suspension:
For Work/Education Hardship Eligibility:
- 3 months of a 1-year DUI suspension
- 1 year of a 2-year DUI suspension
- 2 years of an 8-year DUI suspension
- 5 years of a 10-year DUI suspension
For General Hardship Eligibility:
- 6 months of a 1-year DUI suspension
- 18 months of a 2-year DUI suspension
- 4 years of an 8-year DUI suspension
- 8 years of a 10-year DUI suspension
Breathalyzer suspensions are separate from DUI suspensions and don’t count towards the minimum time served. In most cases, there is no eligibility for a hardship license during a breathalyzer suspension. Discuss your case with a lawyer to learn about the specifics of your situation.
DUI is a criminal charge, which means each conviction will result in a misdemeanor or felony on your criminal record.
DUI convictions stay on your criminal record for life. This means multiple DUI offenses will appear on Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) checks, which can potentially affect employment opportunities and other aspects of your life.
The only possible exception would be if your first offense ended with a CWOF (dismissal), and your second offense was treated as a first offense (with another CWOF and 24D alcohol education program). CWOFs are still visible on CORI checks during the time of continuance, but most employers will only be able to see misdemeanor or felony convictions once that period is over.
However, misdemeanor offenses are no longer visible on Standard Access CORI checks after five years. This would include most first and second DUI convictions. An employer will need “Required 1” or higher levels of CORI access (such as schools, banks, hospitals, or religious organizations) to see all adult convictions and pending cases.
Third and subsequent DUI charges are considered felonies in Massachusetts. While a second DUI charge is still a misdemeanor, there are aggravating circumstances that could lead to the state charging you with a felony. For example, a second DUI offense is a felony under Mass. General Laws when:
- There is a repeat incidence of child endangerment
- Reckless or negligent operation while DUI resulted in serious bodily injury
- Someone was killed
Felony DUI convictions are serious business. A vigorous defense is critical to keeping a felony off your record—and staying out of prison.
Nothing in the law says you can’t be hired because you have multiple DUI convictions. However, many employers will conduct CORI checks and have their own policies in place that would make them reluctant or unable to hire you. On top of that, a lengthy license suspension can make getting to work difficult.
You’ll need to be prepared to explain your situation to prospective employers and have a transportation solution in place until you’re eligible to reinstate your license. Some employers will give applicants a chance as long as they are highly competent and gave an honest explanation of the circumstances around their record. Some fields will also weigh multiple DUI convictions more heavily than others.
There are really only a few paths you can take when you’re facing multiple DUIs:
- Plead guilty (or “admit to sufficient evidence” for a CWOF) and accept the consequences
- Have the case dismissed before trial (perhaps for lack of evidence)
- Attempt to bargain the charges down
- Fight the charges at trial
A lawyer will be able to advise you best about what makes the most sense in your case, but pleading guilty probably isn’t the answer. Sure, you’ll avoid the expenses of going to court, but the potential consequences for multiple DUIs are severe.
Going to court can be frightening—especially if this isn’t your first time being charged with DUI. However, unless you agree to a CWOF and “Second Chance 24D” Disposition, your best bet is to fight the charges. There’s almost no advantage to entering a plea of guilty. Even if you’re found guilty after trial, you’ll likely face consequences similar to those you would’ve had after entering a guilty plea.
But if you fight the case and win, you’ll get your license back more quickly and avoid the harsh consequences that threaten people who are charged with multiple DUIs.
It’s not inherently more difficult to fight a third or fourth DUI at trial than a first or second offense. The facts of the current case are all that matter, and the same variety of DUI defenses will be available to your DUI defense attorney. These might include:
- Lack of reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop
- Improper procedures on the part of the arresting officer
- Mishandling of evidence
- Questions around the authenticity of evidence
- Reasons to invalidate breath test results
If you’ve been charged with multiple DUIs in Massachusetts, save all documentation and contact a qualified Massachusetts DUI attorney right away so they can look over the details of your case. Experienced legal counsel may find elements of your situation that were mishandled under the law or circumstances that make the state’s evidence unreliable. An expert in your corner gives you the best chance at a positive outcome.