How Does Maine Define "Operation" in DUI Crimes?

Posted by William Bly | Dec 14, 2015 | 0 Comments

OUI or Operating Under the Influence is a pretty serious crime in Maine.  Maine, like all other states, defines it's crimes in rather plain language. OUI is defined as follows: 

A person commits an OUI if that person operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicants or while having a blood or breath alcohol content of .08 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood or 210 liters of breath.

Now, that sounds obvious, right?  If I'm under the influence of intoxicants (alcohol or drugs) or I blow / test a .08% or greater, I'm guilty.  Right?  And operation seems pretty obvious, right?  If I'm driving my car, I'm operating it.  However, what if you're not driving your car?  What if you're sleeping in your car and the car is running; is that operation?  How about if you're drunk and passed out in the car, is that operation?  Well, that's where things get tricky.

Maine defines operation as "applying power to the wheels".  That means the car must be in drive in order to satisfy the statutory definition of OUI.  If the State can't prove that you actually operated the car, they can't prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt.  However, if the State doesn't have direct evidence of operation, they can argue circumstantial evidence of operation.  What that means is that the State can argue that while the defendant was passed out drunk, behind the wheel of the car, he must have driven himself / herself there.  If a jury believes that the Defendant drove himself / herself there in the car, the State will have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant was under the influence at the time of driving.  Circumstantial evidence would include whether or not the engine was running, whether the hood of the car was warm, how long the defendant was at the scene before he / she was discovered, whether or not there were any empty cans or bottles in the car or outside of the car, and ultimately, what the Defendant's blood alcohol level tested at.  It is perfectly permissible for a jury to base its decision on circumstantial evidence or a combination of direct and circumstantial evidence.

With that said, the State of Maine will oftentimes rely on proving the crime of "attempted OUI".  In order to prove Attempted Operation Under the Influence, the State must show that the driver / defendant took a substantial step towards operation.  Examples of taking a substantial step for Attempted Operation would include a driver walking to his car with his keys in hand or a driver seated in his car and attempting to start his car.  If convicted of Attempted OUI, it is still an Class D offense and a court would hand down the same license suspension, just as if you'd been convicted of a "regular" OUI.

Operation isn't always obvious and is defined differently from state to state.  However, in Maine, the State must be able to prove that the defendant applied power to the wheels or took a substantial step towards operation in order to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

As you can see, the value of a retaining an attorney isn't limited to "pleading you guilty", which frankly, you can do all by yourself.  The real value in retaining someone like me is that DUI attorneys can find weaknesses in the State's case that they can exploit to your advantage.  For example, I had a client who blood tested at .348%, which is more than 4x the legal limit!  The client was found unconscious in his / her car with the engine running.  Based on getting the blood test result suppressed, we successfully argued that the State would be unable to prove operation while under the influence, beyond a reasonable doubt.  As a result, my client was placed on deferred disposition for a period of one year, with a dismissal of the charge at the end of the year.  

About the Author

William Bly

William T. Bly, Esq. is a graduate of Rutgers College where he majored in Political Science with a minor in U.S. History. Attorney Bly attended and graduated the University of Maine School of Law. During his time in law school, Attorney Bly focused on criminal defense.

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