An 18-year-old driver from Bridgewater allegedly led police on a high-speed chase in the early morning hours about three weeks ago. According to a story in the Taunton Daily Gazette, the driver is facing multiple criminal charges, and will likely face more as the case moves forward. He was originally clocked going 91 miles per hour down a city street, and refused to pull over when an officer tried to stop him.
The chase took the driver and police down several streets in Bridgewater and West Bridgewater. Police were finally able to stop the driver when they used spike strips to puncture the two front tires of his car. When he was finally apprehended, the driver told police that he had refused to pull over because he did not have a license. Episodes like this one, which happen more often than we would like to think, illuminate the complexity and inconsistency of certain traffic laws, and the failure of most drivers to understand them.
The Massachusetts criminal and traffic codes are full of outdated, incoherent laws and punishments. One example is the incongruity in punishment for unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle as opposed to operation of a motor vehicle with a suspended license. According to the newspaper story, the driver in the high-speed chase did not have a license. The statutory punishment for that crime is a fine between $100 and $1,000.
However, if the driver had been operating a vehicle with a suspended license, depending on the circumstances, he could have faced jail time, a steeper fine, and a further suspension of his license. On the extreme end of the spectrum we find the crime of operating a motor vehicle with license suspended for OUI. This is punishable by up to two and a half years in jail (at least 60 days of which must be served) and a one year additional loss of license.
Notice that, even if a driver is not operating under the influence at the time he is arrested for driving without a license, he still faces a very harsh penalty. In other words, a driver who had a license at one time (so presumably passed a driving test) and lost it is generally subject to harsher penalties than a driver who never had a license in the first place. This counterintuitive dynamic creates confusion and bad incentives among drivers. Since most drivers are not lawyers and do not have a sophisticated understanding of the traffic laws, they often rely on anecdotal accounts from friends and relatives to inform them about the laws.
A driver whose friend went to jail for two years for driving with a suspended license might be frightened to stop for the police, even if he is only operating without a license. But in the story above, the driver is now facing charges of unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, failure to stop for police, reckless operation of a motor vehicle, speeding, marked lanes violation, failure to stop/yield, taking an improper turn and a one way traffic violation. And he could face even more, all to avoid (at most) a $1,000 fine.
If you have been charged with violating Massachusetts traffic laws, you should immediately seek out the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact Edward R. Molari, Attorney at Law, today for a confidential consultation.
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