Massachusetts Closes ‘Melanie Law’ Loophole

melanie lawMassachusetts Senator Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, introduced legislation this week which closed a loophole in the state’s comprehensive law to provide stiffer penalties for anyone convicted of drunk driving. Known as ‘Melanie’s Law’ the original legislation was intended to provide harsher punishments for those convicted of certain driving infractions including drunk driving.

However, the Massachusetts State Supreme Court found that the law left a loophole open by not specifying whether or not a simple admission of guilt was enough or if a complete court conviction was required. By not making the issue black and white, the court found it needed to err on the side of defendants until such time as the law could (or might) be made more clear.

Under the law, a driver with no previous convictions for drunken driving can receive an 18-month license suspension. The length of suspension increases with the number of convictions on a driver’s record. A driver with three or more previous convictions can receive a lifetime suspension.

Massachusetts lawmakers wasted no time to clarifying the law. The measure introduced by Tarr this week passed on a vote of 37-0. Talk about bi-partisan support!

No one questioned whether or not Massachusetts needed the new law. The measure was intended as a solution to the problem of repeat drunk driving offenders, one of whom struck and killed a little girl named ‘Melanie’ for whom the law was named. What was at issue was exactly whom would be included in the law and who would be left out. The State Supreme Court said it had to use the exact wording of the law for interpretation and therefore found in favor of the defendants, the drunk drivers. But lawmakers made it clear they felt the law was needed to work as intended and so they refined it to meet judicial expectations.


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