A 42-year-old South Hadley man was arrested by police on March 26, 2017. He was charged with operating a motor vehicle under the influence of liquor. This was the man's 5th offense. 5th offenses hold a maximum penalty of a fine of no less than $2,000 to no more than $50,000. A jail sentence of 2 - 5 years in State Prison, and a lifetime license suspension with no possibility of a hardship license.
In an interview with Western Mass News Captain John Cartledge of the Northampton Police Department, states that "one of our sergeants was patrolling in the Pleasant Street area and observed a vehicle have a marked lanes violation." The Northampton Police Department alleged that the man was weaving back and forth through driving lanes. "The vehicle subsequently stopped in the Toasted Owl parking lot off of Main Street," Cartledge added.
The man in question Mr. Joel Vieu, received his first OUI in 1993 and his most recent in 1999, where he received a two years suspended sentence and 15 months committed.
According to Capt. Cartledge, "he didn't have his license in his possession, but he did have an active driver's license." The question remains, how was this 5th offender still allowed to operate a vehicle?
Attorney Joseph D. Bernard explained in his interview with Western Mass News on March 27, 2017 that, DUI laws have changed since 1999. Attorney Bernard explained that “license suspensions were different back then, so people could get their licenses back sometimes even after five offense.”
On October 28, 2005 Massachusetts legislatures passed, 'Melanie's Law.' The purpose of the law was to enhance the penalties and administrative sanctions for offenders convicted of an OUI. It added harsher penalties to drunk driving laws in the state. ‘Melanie's Law' came to fruition after the a 13-year-old Marshfield girl's death, who was struck by a repeat OUI offender.
‘Melanie's Law' allows certified court records to be introduced, to prove prior convictions and doubles minimum mandatory sentences for motor vehicle manslaughter to five years in drunk driving cases. Anyone convicted of driving drunk with a suspended license faces a mandatory minimum one year in jail. The law also requires repeat offenders to have interlocking devices installed in any vehicle they drive. The devices are intended to prevent ignition if the driver is drunk.
Attorney Bernard explained that "the law now has built into the statute many different penalties that permanently for the rest of your life take away your license, whereas before, that wasn't the case," For example, there is an increased license suspension for refusal of a breathalyzer, 10 years for refusal if an accident results in serious bodily injury, and a lifetime suspension for refusal when an accident results in death.
It was reported that Vieu refused a breathalyzer, but was given numerous sobriety tests that he allegedly failed. He was held on $5,000 cash bail.
However, since the driver in this particular case hadn't been charged since 1999, he was - in a sense - grandfathered in. Attorney Bernard explained that anyone who received an OUI prior to 2005 when ‘Melanie's Law' came into fruition they would still be allowed to drive. If the offender received or receives an OUI after 2005 they then become subject to ‘Melanie's Law.'
To know more about ‘Melanie's Law' click the link below.