In Maine, operating under the influence (OUI) is one of the crimes that can lead to a habitual offender status if you're convicted 3 times within a five-year period. Being labeled a habitual offender is serious: it increases the amount of time for license suspension and pushes judges into sentencing you above the mandatory minimums.
If you have been accused of OUI and could become a habitual offender, you need legal help. An OUI defense lawyer from WTB Law can be your best line of defense in this time of need.
OUI Law in Maine
Maine's law against operating a car while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is found at 29-A Maine Statute § 2411. This statute makes it illegal to either:
- Drive a vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) at or above the legal limit of 0.08%, or
- Drive a vehicle while “under the influence of intoxicants”.
The first situation is unfair because you might have a BAC above the legal limit and still be sober enough to drive safely. The second is unfair because it relies heavily on testimony from police, who know all of the catchwords that can make you sound guilty.
Maine's Habitual Offender Statute
Maine's OUI law is mentioned in 29-A Maine Statute § 2551-A, also known as the state's habitual offender law. This statute defines what it means to be a “habitual offender,” and outlines the repercussions of having this label applied to you.
Habitual offenders under § 2551-A are people who either have 10 or more traffic infractions OR 3 or more criminal convictions for separate acts in the span of five years or people who have three or more convictions for the following offenses in the span of five years:
- Vehicular manslaughter
- Driving to endanger
- Criminal offense of driving without a license or while your license is suspended or revoked, unless your license had merely expired or if the suspension was because of a failure to pay child support or the reinstatement fee
- Making a false statement in information required by Maine's Motor Vehicle Code
- Any motor vehicle crime more serious than a Class E offense
- Operating after Suspension
- Eluding a police officer
- Passing a roadblock
- Speeding more than 30 miles per hour over the limit
- Breaking Maine's ignition interlock requirements.
These convictions could have happened in Maine or elsewhere for them to count under Maine's habitual offender statute. However, they do have to be from separate incidents – if you're convicted for speeding, eluding a police officer, and committing a hit-and-run and they all happened in a single string of events on a single night, it would only count as one offense for Maine's habitual offender statute.
Penalties for Being Labeled a Habitual Offender in Maine
If you are labeled as a habitual offender for having multiple eligible convictions in the past five years, the repercussions are severe.
The most important penalty imposed for being a habitual offender is your license does not get suspended. Instead, it gets revoked.
While it seems like there is little difference to the DMV holding on to your license for a while and the DMV actually throwing it away, this is not just a matter of semantics. Under a license suspension, you can often get a restricted license that allows you to drive certain places at certain times, like to and from work. You also only have to file some paperwork when the suspension period ends to get your license back.
When your license gets revoked because you are a habitual traffic offender in Maine, you cannot get a limited or restricted license for 18 months. If the conviction was for vehicular manslaughter or driving with a revoked license, or if you get labeled as a habitual offender within five years of having your license reinstated after a period as a habitual offender, you cannot get a restricted license, at all. This can make it incredibly difficult to keep your job, and often leads to severe financial hardship for people who become habitual offenders.
If you drive at all after your license has been revoked for being a habitual traffic offender, you risk being pulled over and arrested for operating under a revoked license under 29-A Maine Statute § 2557-A. This is a Class D crime that carries a minimum of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. These penalties increase if you have a prior record of driving with a revoked license.
Additionally, your status as a habitual offender sticks with you for five years after you get your license reinstated. Any subsequent convictions will come with higher minimum penalties and far less sympathy from the court.
Defending Against an OUI Charge That Could Result in Making You a Habitual Offender
There are ways to defend against an OUI charge that would make you a habitual offender, should it become a conviction. Defending against the underlying OUI is an important aspect of this defense strategy and can involve:
- Challenging the results of a BAC test;
- Showing that the field sobriety test was incorrectly administered;
- Proving that there was no probable cause for the traffic stop that led to the OUI arrest; and
- Poking holes in the arresting officer's claims that you were intoxicated.
It is also very important to challenge the license revocation. You only have 10 days to request a hearing with the BMV. This hearing is the only opportunity you will get to explain why you should not lose your license.
OUI Defense at WTB Law in Maine
The criminal defense and OUI defense lawyers at WTB Law in Portland strive to defend people who have been accused of operating under the influence in the state of Maine. Defending against an allegation is always important, but it becomes crucial when a conviction would label you a habitual offender. The long-term repercussions of being a habitual offender can make life difficult. Protecting your right to drive and avoiding a costly conviction are critical, and the defense lawyers at WTB Law can help you do it.
Contact us online or call us at (207) 571-8146 if you have been arrested in Saco, Biddeford, Portland, or elsewhere in southern Maine.