Governor Closes Loophole in Drunken Driving Law
New law treats cases continued without a finding as convictions.
The governor has signed a bill toughening the state's repeat drunken-driver statute, better known as "Melanie's Law."
And it happened fast—Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill closing a "loophole" in the law less than two months after the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the statute did not apply to people who had their cases continued without a finding.
Melanie's Law passed in 2005. It stiffened drunken-driving penalties by requiring an offender's license to be suspended for three years on a second offense. The law was named after 13-year-old Melanie Powell, who was killed by a repeat drunken driver as she crossed a street in Marshfield in 2003.
The law, however, did not apply to those who admitted to sufficient facts of the crime but had their cases continued without a finding. In other words, the charge would be dropped if the offender did not commit another offense in a certain time frame. The state's high court ruled on May 17 that such cases are technically not convictions and don't make a defendant a repeat offender.
The ruling caused an immediate reaction in the Legislature, with many calling the distinction a "loophole." Within days, both the House and Senate had filed bills closing that loophole.
Last Sunday, Gov. Deval Patrick agreed with the Legislature and signed, as part of the 2013 budget, an amendment to toughen the law. Under the new law, cases that are continued without a finding count as convictions, as does refusing breathalyzer tests.