Connecticut Drivers facing OUI charge in Massachusetts will have assignment to Connecticut Diversionary Program count as a conviction for purposes of breath test refusal suspension

The Massachusetts Court of Appeals addressed an important question for Connecticut Drivers charged with DUI in Massachusetts in the case of Thomas Scheffler v. Board of Appeals. The Appeals Court held that a driver’s assignment to a diversionary program, which is not considered a DUI Conviction in Connecticut, does count as a like offense for the purposes of determining whether the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles will issue a license suspension.

In 2009, Mr. Thomas Scheffler was charged in Connecticut for operating under the influence of liquor, in violation of a Connecticut statute. Because Mr. Scheffler refused a breathalyzer test, his license was suspended for six months. However, the OUI charge was dismissed upon Mr. Scheffler’s completion of a pretrial alcohol education diversion program, in compliance with another state statute.

Almost two months later, the RMV notified Mr. Scheffler that his license would be suspended for one year based on the Connecticut OUI charge. Despite being later informed that Mr. Scheffler’s license was actually suspended for refusing a breathalyzer, and that the OUI charge was dismissed following completion of the diversion program, the RMV did not clear Mr. Scheffler’s record. Instead, his record now reflects both the breathalyzer refusal and the OUI dismissal, in addition to the completed alcohol education program.

Scheffler appealed the RMV’s decision to the Board of Appeals, and then to a Superior Court judge, both of whom affirmed the RMV’s decision. In reviewing the matter, the Appeals Court reasoned that Massachusetts law (G. L. c. 90, § 24) allows the RMV to post a “like offense” from another state onto the driving record, as long as there was substantial similarity between the adjudication of the charge among the two states. The Court analogized the Connecticut statute allowing dismissal of the OUI charge upon completion of the diversion program to the disposition of a continuance without a finding in Massachusetts. Thus, the Court upheld the determination that the Connecticut incident was a “like offense,” and the diversion program was substantially similar to a continuance without a finding.

In addition to the finding of the Connecticut incident as a “like offense,” the Court held that Massachusetts law (G. L. c. 90, § 22(c)) also allows the RMV to treat any conviction for the purposes of suspension as if the violation occurred in Massachusetts. These findings ultimately led the Appeals Court to affirm the Board’s decision.

The Court did suggest, however, that Scheffler may have succeeded on the argument that Connecticut should not have reported his dismissed charge to the RMV in the first place. However, because Scheffler did not raise this argument before the appeal, it was not an issue that could be addressed on appeal.

  • The Significance of the Scheffler Decision for Connecticut Drivers facing an OUI charge in Massachusetts:

The issues raised in this case could arise in the following circumstance for a Connecticut Resident charged with a DUI in Massachusetts. For example, if a Connecticut resident is assigned to a diversionary program and is later charged with DUI in Massachusetts and refuses a breathalyzer test, based on this decision the Registry of Motor Vehicles would impose a three year suspension for breathalyzer refusal as it would consider the Connecticut diversionary program as a prior offense, resulting in an enhanced suspension for breathalyzer refusal.

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