The police can stop you for any moving violation, such as for speeding, running a red light, or having an expired inspection sticker. Though an officer may already suspect you are intoxicated when he/she pulls you over (for example, if you were driving erratically), it is when the officer asks for your license and registration that he/she will assess whether you may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Know your rights if you get pulled over

If you get pulled over and are suspected of drunk driving, you may be asked to take some field sobriety tests. The officer might ask you to stand on one leg, say the alphabet without singing, or walk in a straight line for nine steps then turn and walk nine steps back. You have the right to refuse field sobriety tests. Anything you do or say at this point gives the police officer an opportunity to gather additional evidence against you.

You will also be offered the opportunity to take a Breathalyzer (breath) test. The breath test can be used to prove or disprove that your BAC is above the legal limit (0.08 percent). You have the right to refuse a breath test. You can also arrange for a blood test following your arrest.

If you refuse a Breathalyzer (breath) test

Because of the Massachusetts implied consent laws (by driving a motor vehicle and being accused of drunk driving, you consent), the following are penalties for refusing a breath test:

  • First offense: automatic loss of license for 180 days
  • Second offense or under age 21: loss of license for 3 years
  • Third offense: loss of license for 5 years
  • Fourth offense: loss of license for 10 years
  • Fifth offense: loss of license for life

It may be possible to get your license restored after refusing a breath test if you are ultimately acquitted of the drunk driving charges.

The state's burden of proof

Under Massachusetts law, to convict you of driving drunk the Commonwealth (the police and the District Attorney's Office) must prove all of the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. You were operating a motor vehicle.

  2. You were operating the motor vehicle on a public road or in an area where the public had a right of access (i.e., in a parking lot).

  3. You consumed enough of an intoxicating substance that your driving was impaired, and/or you had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher. (This does not mean your case will be dismissed if your BAC is under 0.08 percent, but it is helpful in your defense.)

What to do if you get pulled over

If you get pulled over for drunk driving in Massachusetts, know your rights and protect yourself. The following steps are strongly recommended.

When you get pulled over:

  • Call an attorney as soon as you are pulled over
  • Give the police officer your license and registration, but do not talk more than is absolutely necessary
  • Be polite
  • Refuse field sobriety tests
  • Refuse the Breathalyzer test

The next day:

  • Call an attorney
  • Don't speak to anyone other than your attorney about your case
  • Tell your attorney if there is anyone you were with prior to being pulled over who would make a good witness on your behalf

Most attorneys who specialize in drunk driving cases have 24-hour phone lines, so you may want to keep one of these numbers on hand, just in case. If you have been arrested and charged with drunk driving in Massachusetts, it is best to retain an attorney that specializes in criminal and driving offenses as soon as possible.

Additional resources:

Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles: Melanie's Law

Related Legal Guides:

DUI and Drunk Driving Laws

Driving under the Influence