Whether by a budget amendment or a separate bill, state lawmakers need to close a legal loophole that allows repeat drunken drivers to bargain their way to less serious penalties than would otherwise apply.
A stunning Supreme Judicial Court decision last week found that an admission to sufficient facts for a guilty finding — as opposed to an actual conviction — cannot be counted against a driver suspected of repeatedly driving while intoxicated. The high court ruled that the language of the state's new drunken-driving statute — Melanie's Law — does not specify that a continuation without a finding after admitting to sufficient facts should count the same as an actual conviction in determining punishment.
That narrow ruling does nothing but provide defense lawyers yet another handy tactic for gaining their clients a break when charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol. And that's a shame.
Thankfully, state Sen. Bruce Tarr of Gloucester, who fought hard previously to get Melanie's Law in place, seems as offended as the rest of us.
"(This) decision ... is deeply concerning and undermines the effectiveness of a major law that protects our public safety," Tarr said — and he's right.
He and his Republican colleagues have filed a budget amendment that would indeed close this loophole, and the full Legislature should give it the attention it deserves.
An admission in court to driving while intoxicated — and that's largely what a drunken driver does by "submitting to facts" — should be treated the same as a conviction when that person returns in court for a similar offense.