Attorney Mike Bowser of Bowser laws speaks with John Maher about reciprocity between Massachusetts and New Hampshire in DWI cases. Your driving record in one state can affect your driving privileges in the other. Mike describes how reciprocity can affect your DWI defense and what your attorney can do for you.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Mike Bowser, a board certified DUI defense lawyer practicing in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Today we’re talking about the importance of understanding reciprocity between Massachusetts and New Hampshire in DWI defense. Welcome, Mike.
Mike Bowser: Good morning.
John: So Mike if a Massachusetts resident is arrested in New Hampshire for a DWI, what do they need to know?
Mike: What they need to know first and foremost is that the only entity that can revoke a Mass resident’s Massachusetts driver’s license is either the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles or court–a judge sitting in a court in Massachusetts. When you get arrested in New Hampshire, there are penalties that apply to your privilege to drive. The New Hampshire courts and the New Hampshire DMV cannot take a Massachusetts’s license or revoke it, but they can say to a Mass driver “your privilege to drive and operate on the roads of this state, in New Hampshire, are revoked.” You get arrested in New Hampshire, you’re from Mass, there are going to be some mandatory penalties, both administrative through the DMV and then through the court process on the DWI charge–they apply to your privilege to drive. It may take and oftentimes it does take the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles some period of time, several weeks, sometimes several months to catch up to that Massachusetts driver. What that driver needs to know is that they are probably going to be revoked shortly after their arrest in New Hampshire; meaning their privileges are revoked but they’re going to maintain a valid Mass license for a period of time.
Again, several weeks or several months. Which means they can drive everywhere in the world except New Hampshire. That’s important to someone in Massachusetts to know that you still hold a valid Mass license. You can drive to work, you can do what you need to do, you cannot drive in New Hampshire necessarily and you need to understand the mechanism by which Massachusetts responds to the New Hampshire DMV. They will typically find out through the National Driver Registry that you have a suspension of your privileges in New Hampshire in this reciprocity, meaning Massachusetts will issue a notice saying, “We found out about your administrative suspension in New Hampshire” or “We found out about you DWI conviction in New Hampshire, your Mass license on a date certain–usually 30 days out–is going to be revoked.”
John: Okay. Then how does Melanie’s law applied to a Massachusetts resident with a New Hampshire DWI charge?
Mike: Melanie’s law in effect treats your driver’s history as a lifetime look-back. If you have a DWI charge in New Hampshire as a Mass resident, you may not have had anything on your record for ten years. New Hampshire uses a 10-year look-back. You could be charged in the Laconia District Court with a DWI first offense, because you haven’t had anything in terms of an OUI or DWI conviction in ten years. But if you had two or three, twenty or thirty years ago, under Melanie’s law the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles if notified of another DWI conviction, they’re going to treat you as a third or fourth lifetime offender and the penalties that are imposed by Massachusetts could be drastically different than a minimum penalty on a DWI first in New Hampshire; meaning the New Hampshire courts can say your privilege appears to be revoked for a period of nine months, do a program, pay a fine, and it’s a first offense. Then you get a notice from the Mass Registry that says, “Well this a fourth OUI lifetime offense for you, your license is revoked for 10 years”. You need to know what’s coming and how that reciprocity affects a Mass driver when they’re in a New Hampshire courtroom.
John: When your license is revoked by Massachusetts then you can’t drive anywhere. It’s not just 90 days in New Hampshire anymore. It’s now you’re not a driver.
Mike: Right. You need to understand again what the relief is that you can obtain for a Mass driver with that situation where they’re revoked in New Hampshire. The bottom line is Mass won’t grant you any relief until you’re completely cleared in New Hampshire. Then once you’re cleared in New Hampshire, you then have to approach the Mass Registry in terms of getting the license reinstated, whether it be on a hardship basis or early relief or through the board of appeal. You need to understand all of those various options that may apply to a Mass driver with that New Hampshire DWI.
John: What if the situation is reversed and a New Hampshire resident is arrested for an OUI in Massachusetts, what do they need to know?
Mike: They need to know that New Hampshire historically looks at an arrest in another state two-fold; meaning there’s an administrative component to every OUI in Massachusetts. When you get arrested, you’re typically going to see either 30-days suspension administratively of the privilege to drive in Mass because you took a test over, or a 180-day loss of privilege because you refused a chemical test at the time of your arrest. New Hampshire historically has not reciprocated on a Massachusetts’s administrative suspension. Meaning, you very well could have New Hampshire resident whose privileges are revoked in Mass but the New Hampshire DMV doesn’t take any action based on just an administrative suspension of the state which means-
John: Explain that difference again between an administrative suspension and an actual conviction.
Mike: Sure. The OUI charges the criminal charge before the district court. If there is a finding, a guilty finding, on an OUI charge in a court against a New Hampshire driver, the New Hampshire DMV will find out about it, they will reciprocate and they’re going to impose at least a 90 day loss of your New Hampshire license. That’s on a court conviction. Administratively, a New Hampshire driver’s privilege to drive in Massachusetts can be revoked through the registry of motor vehicles at the time of their arrest because they either took a test over the legal limit of .08–that’s a thirty day loss of privilege–or they refused to test and that’s a typically a 180-days loss of privilege. That’s administrative in the sense that there’s been no action in the court yet. The Registry of Motor Vehicles has notified them that they can’t drive administratively through that administrative agency. Typically the New Hampshire DMV does not reciprocate based on a mere administrative suspension. But if there is a finding of guilty on an OUI in a courtroom, the New Hampshire DMV will reciprocate and revoke that New Hampshire driver’s New Hampshire license.
An interesting…the typical first defense disposition on a plea in Massachusetts is what’s called the Continuance without a Finding. Where the driver admits that there is sufficient evidence that if the case did go to trial they could be convicted, their lawyer will usually ask the judge to continue the matter without a finding of guilty and entering for a period of one year, they do the program. There’s a loss of privilege, they are on probation and at the end of the year, it’s dismissed without a guilty finding entering. That’s 90% of first offenders. That’s the exact disposition they get. If you’re from New Hampshire and your matter is continued without a finding before the Massachusetts court, the New Hampshire DMV doesn’t recognize that disposition either. Conceivably, a New Hampshire driver facing a first offense OUI in Mass could go through the administrative suspension with no reciprocity from New Hampshire, receive a Continuance without a Finding on the OUI charge, and there will be no reciprocity in New Hampshire. They’d keep their New Hampshire license throughout. In fact, I’ve actually, in that exact situation, been able to take a New Hampshire driver with their valid New Hampshire license to the board of appeal and ask the board of appeal to give them a 12-hour hardship privilege to drive, because they still have a valid New Hampshire license. That’s actually happened a number of times in my practice.
John: That’s really great information Mike. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Mike: Sure. My pleasure.
John: For more information about Mike Bowser, visit bowserlaw.com or call 888 526 9737.