While most cases of operating under the influence (OUI) in Portland, Maine begin with a traffic stop, some of the most severe begin with a car accident, instead. Criminal charges of OUI that involve a car crash are far more severe than those that do not, and accidents that produce an injury or a fatality are even more significant.
In fact, Maine is one of the states in the U.S. where drivers who are found to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs and who have caused a fatal car crash can be charged with manslaughter. These OUI manslaughter charges carry extremely steep penalties and consequences if convicted. Having an OUI-defense lawyer like those at WTB Law on your side can make sure your side of the story gets heard, your rights get invoked, and your future is preserved.
Manslaughter OUI in Portland
There are special provisions in Maine's OUI law – Maine Revised Code 29-A §2411 – that deal with drunk or drugged driving situations that result in a fatal crash.
In particular, §2411(1-A)(D) enhances a typical OUI offense when any of the following circumstances are in play:
- There was an accident that caused a “serious bodily injury”
- There was a fatal accident
- The suspect has either a prior OUI manslaughter conviction or a prior felony-level OUI conviction
If any of those factors are involved in an OUI case, the penalties that could be on the table increase substantially.
The most severe enhancement to an OUI charge in Maine is when the incident involved a fatal crash. This becomes OUI manslaughter.
Manslaughter is an unlawful, but unintentional killing of another person. This includes deaths that are caused by someone else's recklessness or even their criminal negligence. In Maine, the law treats driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol as an act of criminal negligence sufficient to make a case of manslaughter: In the eyes of the law, the decision to get behind the wheel while too impaired to drive creates the foreseeable risk of seriously hurting or killing someone else.
Penalties for OUI Manslaughter
Whenever an OUI charge follows a fatal crash, the penalties of a conviction increase dramatically. Even for people who have never been convicted for OUI before, the mandatory minimum sanctions for a conviction of OUI manslaughter would be:
- $2,100 in fines
- Driver's license suspension of 10 years
These are just the minimums. Because it is a Class A offense, the potential fines and prison time on the table for a charge of OUI manslaughter can be as high as 30 years in prison and up to $50,000 in fines, plus probation.
When compared to a typical first-time OUI offense, the penalties of an OUI manslaughter conviction really stand out. When a defendant has not had an OUI conviction in the last 10 years and the test is below a .15%, the only minimum penalties are a $500 fine and a 150-day license suspension.
Additionally, the judge in a criminal case often has the option of suspending the penalties of a conviction, effectively putting them on hold until the defendant has been convicted of another crime or the probationary period has expired. If the defendant does get convicted for another crime in that time period, any penalties that had been suspended are never served.
For OUI manslaughter in Maine, though, these mandatory minimum sanctions cannot be suspended – they have to be served after a conviction, even if the defendant has a clean criminal history and it is clear that they have learned their lesson and are not going to break the law again. Even if they could be suspended, though, the political pressure of not looking “soft” on OUI really comes into play in OUI manslaughter cases, pushing judges and prosecutors into
Low Standards for Proving an OUI Manslaughter Charge
To make things even worse, OUI manslaughter is a fairly easy charge for prosecutors to prove. Unlike many other criminal offenses where law enforcement has to prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, OUI is a strict liability crime and OUI manslaughter presumes that the crash and resulting fatality were caused by the driver's impairment.
In Portland, the law sees drivers as per se inebriated whenever their blood alcohol content (BAC) is at or above the legal limit of 0.08%. Even if a driver feels completely sober and can drive perfectly safely, if they provide a breath or blood sample to police that shows they are at or above the legal limit, the law deems them under the influence.
This is especially problematic for OUI manslaughter cases because it means police only have to show that an OUI suspect's driving caused the fatal accident, not that the crash was caused by the suspect's alleged impairment.
As a result, many criminal charges of OUI manslaughter in Portland that include damning BAC evidence from a breath or blood test are difficult to defend against. However, refusing to submit to a breathalyzer or blood test after a fatal accident is a violation of the implied consent law and will be used as evidence against you in a subsequent case of OUI manslaughter. In addition, if you refuse to submit to a test at the request of a police officer, a warrant will be requested and a blood draw could be forcibly taken over your objection.
Defending Against an Allegation of OUI Manslaughter in Portland
Just because it can be difficult to defend against a charge of OUI manslaughter does not mean that it is impossible. In fact, precisely because the deck seems to be stacked against defendants in OUI manslaughter cases, Portland prosecutors seem to feel like they can file OUI manslaughter charges even when the evidence they have to prove their case is extremely weak. Invoking your rights and raising legal arguments against the evidence they present against you is the best way to preserve your future and avoid a costly criminal conviction.
One of the best ways to defend against an OUI manslaughter accusation is to challenge the prosecutor's claim that you were under the influence when your BAC was actually found to be below the legal limit during your arrest. Prosecutors pursue OUI manslaughter charges in these instances all the time – relying on the testimony of the arresting officer that you were acting impaired, looked inebriated, or failed sobriety tests, even though you passed a breath or blood test with a BAC that was below the legal limit. The testimony of officers is often weak and filled with problems, but it can take an OUI-defense lawyer to overcome the perception of reliability that comes with a uniformed police officer's statements.
Another effective defense can be to overcome the presumption that your inebriation caused the fatal crash. There are plenty of times where a serious car accident involved someone who was under the influence of alcohol or drugs but was actually caused by another driver who was completely sober. Unfortunately, judges and juries presume that the inebriated driver was the one to blame, simply because they were under the influence of something. An OUI-defense lawyer can conduct an independent investigation into the crash to find out if another driver was to blame.
The OUI Court Process in Portland
If you were arrested for OUI manslaughter in Portland, your case will be heard by the Maine Unified Criminal Court. This court is located at 205 Newbury Street in Portland, Maine, in a building that is half bulky white stone and half modern concrete and windows.
Confusingly, the Maine District Court and the U.S. District Court are right next to each other, and both made of the same white stone construction and in the same architectural style. Because an OUI manslaughter charge is a state crime, rather than a federal one, if you have been charged with OUI manslaughter, you will be in the Maine District Court, not the U.S. District Court.
After the arrest, your first court appearance will be your initial appearance, where you will NOT enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Instead, the judge will apprise you of the allegations, the maximum penalties you're facing and whether or not bail is satisfactory to the state and the defendant. While all courts in Maine allow defendants to skip their arraignment and have their defense lawyer speak on their behalf, Portland is not one of them when it involves a felony.
Many cases for OUI manslaughter have trial dates set for 12-18 months after the arraignment. During that time, there is frequently only one opportunity to negotiate a plea deal – the dispositional conference. This conference is also something that you will have to attend, even if you are already dead set on taking the case to trial.
OUI Manslaughter Defense Lawyers in Portland at WTB Law
An accusation that you were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and caused a fatal crash is one of the most severe criminal charges you can face in Maine. The penalties are steep and can get much worse if effective legal defenses are not raised.
The OUI-defense lawyers at WTB Law in Portland work diligently to fight on behalf of those who have been accused of OUI manslaughter in Portland, Maine, and the surrounding area. Contact them online or call their law office at (207) 571-8146 if you have been arrested and accused of OUI manslaughter and want to invoke your rights and fight for your future.