The Boston Herald released the findings of their look into the records of the state Registry of Motor Vehicles this week where they found that only 49% of drunk driving charges in the state end in a guilty disposition. The reports reviewed dated from 2006 through 2009.
The guilty dispositions include convictions (where a judge or jury rules the defendant guilty), and when the defendant pleads guilty, usually in a plea agreement predetermined with the prosecution. Not guilty cases include those that were dismissed due to lack of evidence, those that were found not guilty by the courts, and those offenders who worked out a deal to settle their case with a Continuance Without a Finding, or CWOF.
Mark Leahy, Northboro Police Chief and the head of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association called the findings a “very, very frustrating thing for us.” His view is one that’s common among law enforcement who feel as if their work isn’t appreciated somehow unless each case ends in a conviction and a harsh sentence.
Most first time offenders are able to take advantage of the CWOF. In these cases, the defendant admits that there is sufficient evidence to establish guilt. This disposition doesn’t count as a conviction and the defendant doesn’t have to disclose it on job applications and the like. But in every other meaningful way, it is the same thing as a guilty. Same penalty, license loss, fines, fees, and probation. And any subsequent drunk driving arrest will absolutely be recorded as a 2nd offense OUI.
If every single OUI charge ended with a trial and conviction, not only would the courts be overwhelmed but so would the jails. In order to balance public safety with court efficiency, most cases are always plead out.
Really, this is just the criminal justice systems working as designed and is not scandalous at all.