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What is Melanie’s Law, and Does It Work?

Melanie’s Law is a strict Massachusetts law put in place in 2005 in order to deliver harsher punishments to repeat drunk drivers. It is named after Melanie Powell, who was killed in 2003 by a drunk driver while walking home on the side of the road. The law is intended to make it harder for second-time offenders to avoid legal issues, and in some cases, they must deal with mandatory minimum sentences or mandatory license suspensions.


The law is one of the strictest OUI laws in the United States, but some question its effectiveness as a deterrent. There is a lot of disagreement between various parties about how effective the law is, and whether or not there should be even stricter laws in place to ensure that repeat drunk driving offenders are given harsh punishments and restrictions to keep the Massachusetts roads safer. Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) would like to see the laws expanded to give greater punishments to first-time offenders as well, stating that the law is effective but has an opportunity to do even more good.

A History of Melanie’s Law

In 2003, Melanie Powell was killed by a repeat drunk driver while walking home in Marshfield, MA. Her grandfather, Ron Bersani, then became a fierce advocate for stronger penalties for OUI offenders, understandably upset by the fact that his granddaughter may have avoided this tragedy if the driver had not been granted such lenient penalties on previous OUI convictions.

It was signed into law in October of 2005 by then-governor Mitt Romney, who believed that the bill had an opportunity to do even more for safety and OUI deterrence if it had been passed as originally proposed.

The Specifics of Melanie’s Law

One of the major pieces of Melanie’s Law is that all repeat offenders and anyone granted a hardship license, is required to install an Interlock Ignition Device in their vehicle to deter future drunk driving. In addition to needing the device during the hardship license, all offenders are required to have a device installed for two years after their license is reinstated (hardship license time does not count towards these two years).

In addition, there are a variety of other penalties such as mandatory minimum jail sentences for certain repeat offenders, enhanced punishments for OUI with a child under the age of 14 in the car, automatic penalties for anyone who refuses a breathalyzer, and more.

Is Melanie’s Law Effective?

In the first year after Melanie’s Law was passed, drunk driving arrests decreased by half, and the number of drivers agreeing to Breathalyzer tests increased by almost 20%. However, the law has seen a decrease in use as personal injury attorneys have worked around the penalties by utilizing different approaches to the cases. In other cases, it may be unclear whether or not the arrest should fall under the law. Your best bet is to hire an OUI lawyer in Massachusetts to make sure that your case will go smoothly through the courts.

Some groups, like MADD, want to see Melanie’s Law extend to first-time offenders, with penalties such as Interlock Ignition Devices installed in the vehicle after a first OUI arrest. Others have expressed their frustration with the fact that there are loopholes in the law that essentially avoid the penalties put forth entirely.

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