Operating Under the Influence of Alcohol and other charges were filed against a Springfield man Wednesday morning, after his arrest by the Massachusetts State Police. According to the 03 Springfield, John Maher was speeding South on Route 391 in Chicopee at approximately 1:20 a.m. when he passed State Trooper Robert Church. Church claimed that Maher's pick-up truck was traveling at approximately eighty-five miles per hour when he passed. After pulling Maher over, Trooper Church made many of the usual observations found in OUI police reports -- blood-shot glassy eyes, slurred speech, alcohol breath, and unsteadiness on his feet. Back at the state police barracks, they learned that his "license had been suspended for eight years in 2006 at the time of his sixth OUI conviction."
"Maher was booked and charged with the following offenses:
1. OUI liquor, seventh offense.
2. Operating a motor vehicle with a revoked license, subsequent offense.
3. Reckless operation of a motor vehicle.
4. Operating a motor vehicle with a license revoked for OUI.
5. Operating a motor vehicle with a license revoked as a habitual traffic offender.
7. Marked lanes violation.
8. Failure to wear a seat belt."
A bail commissioner set his bail at $20,000.00. When he appeared in the Chicopee District Court later that morning, however, his bail situation changed drastically. The district attorney asked the court to hold Mr. Maher without any possibility of posting bail. This request was based upon "dangerousness." Generally bail is set simply to ensure that the accused does not flee and returns to court as scheduled. If, however, the prosecution is able to show the court that no terms of release, will prevent the accused from being a risk to the community, the court may hold the accused in jail without bail. Apparently the court granted the prosecution's request and ordered Maher "held without bail." Maher has a right to seek a change in these bail terms by appealing to the Hampden County Superior Court.
A few observations:
A conviction for a 6th offense today would result in a license loss for life, not for eight years. In fact, even a 5th offense results in a life-time suspension. Moreover, if anyone has his/ license suspended for anything more than a first offense, the law requires the installation of an "interlock" breath test devise in any vehicle that the person drives for a period of time. If a person that is required to have such a device drives a vehicle without the device, an addition felony charge would be filed. The potential penalty would be a mandatory minimum 150 days in jail and a maximum of five years in state prison. An interlock device is required when a person actually gets a hardship license or full license back after conviction. Maher had not even gotten to that point at the time of his arrest.
It could be that Maher's priors all occurred before Melanie's Law which increased OUI penalties and added new related offenses, including interlock crimes. (Failing to have an interlock, having another person breath into the interlock, etc.) Melanie's Law was enacted in October of 2005. Maher's 2006 conviction may have involved a drunk driving incident that occurred prior to that. A person, after all, may not be punished by a law that was enacted AFTER the commission of a criminal act.
It could also be that he had not actually been convicted of OUI six times in the past. Sometimes the records make it appear that there were more convictions than there actually were. In the early stages of a criminal case the police and prosecutors always choose the highest number. Afterward, that number sometimes goes down with a more complete search of the records.
In cases where a person is charged as a multiple OUI offender, the prosecution is required to prove the prior offenses at trial beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution may not simply show a person's uncertified probation record or uncertified driving history to do this. The prosecutor must obtain certified documents for each alleged prior conviction. The documents must contain important detailed information related to the prior conviction, or they will not be admitted at trial. So if they obtain six priors, but only 2 are admissible, the conviction will be for a third offense. This is very important to OUI defense attorneys and their clients when one considers that the penalties increase drastically with the number of proven priors.
When a person is charged as a multiple offender he is actually entitled to two trials. At the first trial, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person was driving under the influence of alcohol prior to the recent arrest. At this trial an experienced defense attorney will be sure to prevent the jury from hearing anything about prior convictions. To allow the jury to hear this would result in unfair prejudice. After all if the jury hears of prior similar crimes, they will likely assume that the accused was guilty of the present one too. (Or reason that an error in convicting on the preset charge is not a serious error because the accused is a criminal anyway). If convicted in the first trial, the defendant would then be entitled to a second trial at which the prosecution would be required to prove that the accused had previously been convicted. Again, each prior conviction would have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Since the news articles do not indicate that Maher failed a breath test, he probably refused to submit to one. According to Melanie's Law, this alone will result in a life time loss of license whether this is his 5th, 6th, or 7th offense.
A 7th offense OUI conviction carries a minimum sentence of 2 ½ years in state prison and a maximum state prison sentence of 5 years. In order to receive a state prison sentence, the prosecution is required to present this case to a grand jury and seek an indictment. If indicted, Maher will litigate this case in the Hampden County Superior Court. It is very likely, under these circumstances that the Hampden County District Attorney will be seeking such an indictment.
The charge of operating a motor vehicle with a license that has been suspended for drunk driving carries a mandatory minimum sentence of sixty days. If however, a person is drunk at the time, the mandatory minimum penalty increases to 1 year. The law requires that this sentence be served from and after serving any other sentence.
Needless to say, Mr. Maher has significant challenges ahead, and requires the expertise of a skilled criminal defense attorney.
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