Negligent Operation and Drunk Driving

Keys and bottle caps

Charges of Operating Under the Influence (OUI) and Negligent Operation of a Motor Vehicle often go hand-in-hand. It is rare for us to see a criminal case where someone was charged with Operating Under the Influence, but not charged with Negligent Operation. There were two reasons these charges always went together: (1) the arresting officer assumed that if you were driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you were also operating your vehicle negligently and (2) the negligent operation charge was almost always dismissed if you admitted to sufficient facts or plead guilty to OUI.

This has all changed with the recent Supreme Judicial Court decision of Commonwealth v. Zagwyn.  Now there has to be ADDITIONAL evidence other than intoxication for you to be found guilty of Negligent Operation.  This has big implications for your license and insurance surcharges.

Negligent Operation of a Motor Vehicle

In order to be convicted of Negligent Operation of a Motor Vehicle in violation M.G.L. c. 90, § 24 (2) (a), the prosecutor must show that you operated a vehicle “negligently so that the lives or safety of the public might be endangered.” Importantly, the prosecutor does not have to prove that you did endanger the lives or safety of the public, only that your driving might have endangered the public. If you are convicted of negligent operation, you face not less than two weeks, nor more than two years in jail. Your driver’s license will also be suspended for between 60 days to 1 year.

In the case of Zagwyn, the defendant’s vehicle was stopped because one headlight and his rear license plate light were not working. The officer did not observe the defendant speeding, suddenly stop, or swerve. Other than the defendant being under the influence of alcohol while driving his vehicle, and having a faulty headlight and license plate light, there was no other evidence that the defendant negligently operated his vehicle. The question for the SJC in Zagwyn became whether being intoxicated was enough to prove negligent operation and the SJC said it was not.

The SJC stated that in order to prove someone is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of negligent operation, the prosecutor must have additional evidence- it is not enough to prove the driver was intoxicated; there has to be additional evidence such as the driver was speeding, making an unsafe lane change, failed to stop when required, swerving, or that you committed under type of unsafe driving infraction.

We are here to help you! If you have been charged with Operating Under the Influence, Negligent Operation, or both, contact us today for a free consultation. There are many ways we can help you successfully resolve your case whether through a motion to dismiss, motion to suppress, plea, or trial. We will do everything we can to get you the best possible outcome based on the individual facts of your case. Contact us at Sweeney & Associates today for a free consultation. We can be reached at (617) 328-6900 or

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