Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Senate GOP Caucus Calls for Judiciary Oversight Hearings to Review OUI Laws

I have joined with my Senate Republican Caucus members in calling for legislative oversight hearings to review the state’s OUI laws, following recent media reports of repeat offenders being granted lenient sentences.

Six years ago, the Massachusetts Legislature passed Melanie’s Law to get repeat drunk drivers off the Commonwealth’s roads. Despite the positive steps forward, a Spotlight Team investigation by the Boston Globe earlier this month found that more than 80 percent of drunk driving defendants in Massachusetts who go before a judge rather than a jury are acquitted of the charges.

In light of these reports, the Caucus has sent a hand-delivered letter to the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, asking for one or more oversight hearings to be convened to examine the adequacy of the state’s existing laws for dealing with driving while under the influence.

In our letter, the Caucus cites several recent examples of some of the most blatant repeat offenders, including:

• Patrick Henry of Franklin, who was arraigned on November 28th on charges of driving while under the influence of alcohol, the 11th such time he was arrested for this offense;

• Albert Diaz of East Boston, who was arrested on November 23rd and charged with drunk driving for the 8th time, and whose license was revoked in 2004; and

• Howard Stockbridge of Taunton, who was arrested on November 7th for operating under the influence after five prior charges and for driving without a license, which had been suspended in 2008 for 10 years.

Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board singled out Massachusetts as one of ten states doing the least to combat repeat drunken driving offenses.

Our letter notes: “Our failure to keep repeat drunk drivers off the road is being exacerbated by the judiciary’s reluctance to convict those who are charged with the crime of driving while under the influence. We certainly believe strongly that every criminal defendant is entitled to their day in court and the assumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. An acquittal rate of 80 per cent for bench trials of those accused with driving while under the influence, however, is cause for deep and persistent concern, especially in light of the conviction rate in other states. Unfortunately, this leniency puts Massachusetts in the unenviable position of earning recognition for such a lenient rate, and more seriously, puts the public at a greater risk of danger.”

Attached below is a copy of the Senate Republican Caucus’ letter to the Judiciary Committee co-chairs.

Senate GOP Caucus OUI Oversight Letter to Judiciary Committee