Out of all of the criminal cases involving an allegation of operating under the influence (OUI) in the Portland area, those that stem from fatal car accidents are the most severe. Rather than being charged with a standard OUI, the criminal charge becomes one for OUI manslaughter.
Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about the law of OUI manslaughter in Maine.
What is Manslaughter?
Manslaughter is a type of homicide. Homicide is the unlawful killing of another human being. Those that are done intentionally are murders. Those that are done unintentionally are manslaughters.
The law in Maine considers fatal car accidents that were caused by an inebriated driver to be manslaughters: Getting behind the wheel of a car while impaired, in the eyes of the law, amounts to at least the level of criminal negligence or recklessness that is necessary to support a manslaughter charge.
How Do Police Investigate OUI Manslaughter?
After every fatal crash, and even most crashes that lead to a serious injury, police will test everyone involved for their blood alcohol content (BAC) via a blood test. Even where there is no probable cause to believe you operated a motor vehicle under the influence, the police are likely to bring you to a hospital for a blood test. This is standard protocol in an accident involving death or serious bodily injury.
Additionally, police often conduct field sobriety tests on people who do not have any detectable alcohol on their breath.
What Would Happen if I Refused a BAC Test After the Crash?
Refusing a validly requested BAC test – including a breathalyzer or a blood test – is a violation of Maine's implied consent law. Not only would this result in an automatic suspension of your driver's license; it would also be used against you by prosecutors if you are accused of OUI manslaughter.
Furthermore, refusing a BAC test after a fatal car accident will just lead the police to request a warrant. In these situations, warrants can be obtained easily and within a few hours, allowing police to get a blood draw over your objections. However, during that time, your BAC may have dropped to an undetectable level so refusing a blood test in a manslaughter case is a double-edged sword.
What are the Penalties for an OUI Manslaughter Conviction?
The penalties for a conviction of OUI manslaughter are far higher than for a regular OUI. At a minimum, the fine is $2,100 and the license suspension is for 10 years, even if you have never had an OUI before. At most, the fines can be as high as $50,000, and there can be up to 30 years of jail time on the table for an OUI manslaughter conviction.
What if the Other Driver Caused the Accident?
If the other driver caused the fatal accident, but you are found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, proving that the other driver was at fault becomes both incredibly important and also very difficult.
In the eyes of the law, having a BAC at or over the legal limit is a strong sign that you were at fault for the crash. Overcoming that presumption is not easy. Additionally, it is not enough to show that your inebriation did not cause the crash – you have to show that your driving was not the cause of the accident.
Are There Opportunities to Plead Guilty to a Lesser Charge?
Rarely. Prosecutors in Maine are pressured to look tough on people who have been charged with OUI in all of its forms. When an OUI charge involves a fatal accident, that pressure is even higher. District attorneys want to look tough on drunk driving, and allowing the prosecutors in their offices to offer plea deals would undermine that goal.
Are There Defenses to a Charge of OUI Manslaughter?
Yes. Depending on your situation and the circumstances of the crash, there is often at least one way to challenge the case against you.
One of the most common defenses is that you were not under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the accident. BAC tests like breathalyzers and even blood tests can be inaccurate and can return a false positive if they are not calibrated correctly. When a BAC was not conducted and the prosecutor's case relies on field sobriety tests, this defense gets even stronger because field sobriety tests are notoriously unscientific.
Even in cases where there is strong evidence that you were under the influence of something, you can still raise strong defenses by showing that you were not at fault for the crash. This often involves highlighting specific aspects of the accident and challenging whatever indication there is that you were at fault, including the police report if necessary.
Why Should I Hire a Lawyer to Defend Against an OUI Manslaughter Charge?
Because OUI manslaughter cases can be won. The pressure that prosecutors feel to convict people on OUI manslaughter charges and refuse to offer a plea deal is the same pressure that can lead them to overcharge situations where the facts simply aren't there. Hiring a lawyer to keep them in line by challenging the evidence they present can successfully defend you against a serious criminal allegation.
Additionally, OUI manslaughter convictions are incredibly costly. They can strip you or your right to drive for an entire decade and can come with extensive jail sentences. Not having a lawyer to defend you and represent your rights and interests in court – even in cases that seem cut and dried – can mean the prosecutor gets to dictate exactly what happens to you. Their job is to get the most severe penalties possible. Hiring a lawyer can prevent them from getting what they want.
Portland OUI-Defense Lawyers at WTB Law
The OUI-defense lawyers at WTB Law in Portland strive to represent people who have been accused of OUI manslaughter in the Portland area, including in Biddeford and Saco, as well. If you have been arrested after a fatal car accident and accused of driving while drunk or drugged, you need legal help. Call the OUI-defense lawyers at WTB Law at (207) 571-8146 or contact them online for the legal representation you need to fight these allegations.