In Maine, there is no such thing as a “minor” conviction for operating under the influence (OUI) of drugs or alcohol. Every OUI conviction carries the potential for severe penalties. In a worst-case scenario, you could face felony charges for an OUI.
Felony OUI arrests are fairly uncommon. Most drivers that face OUI charges are first-time offenders who never face arrest again. For drivers with multiple convictions, however, it is possible that their criminal record could lead to felony charges.
If you are concerned your OUI charge could carry felony penalties, your best course of action is to work with an experienced defense attorney. Contact the Law Offices of William H. Ashe to discuss your options right away.
Understanding Felony OUIs in Maine
To understand a felony OUI charge in Maine, it is helpful to review felonies in general under state law. Unlike other states, Maine does not explicitly differentiate their criminal charges between felony or misdemeanor. Instead, they designate every criminal charge by class. There are five classes in total: A, B, C, D, and E.
While state law may not formally differentiate between the two types of crimes, informally the courts split the five classes into two groups. Class D and E crimes are considered misdemeanors, while Class A, B, and C offenses are felonies.
Felony OUI Charges
OUI charges only become felonies under specific circumstances. Specifically, state law upgrades an OUI charge to a felony depending on the number of prior convictions a person has. For first and second-time OUI offenders, their charges are Class D offenses. Considered misdemeanors, these charges carry serious penalties but are nonetheless not felonies.
On a third offense, OUI becomes a Class C felony. It should be noted that not every third OUI offense will qualify. Maine has a 10-year “lookback” period for OUI convictions. In other words, when calculating prior convictions, the court will only review the previous ten years of a defendant's criminal record. This means a person with a dozen OUI convictions could face misdemeanor charges if their record has been clear for the previous decade.
The picture becomes murkier when a defendant has prior convictions from another state. Criminal convictions for driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol can vary substantially from one state to another. In many states, first-time offenders are allowed to plead to reduced charges that are not technically OUIs. A Maine OUI attorney could review your out-of-state criminal record and advise if your history could lead to felony charges or not.
Statutory Penalties for Felony OUIs
The penalties for a felony OUI as prescribed by statute are serious. While the court has tremendous leeway in sentencing following a third OUI conviction, the offense carries minimum jail times and fines. A felony OUI carries a potential sentence of between 30 days and five years in prison and a fine of least $1,100 and at most $5,000.
While Maine is known for tough OUI penalties, the consequences related to a convicted person's right to drive are especially tough. For a third or subsequent OUI conviction, the state will suspend your driver's license for six years. However, that term could be shortened with the use of an ignition interlock device.
Examples of Felony OUIs in Maine
Examples can help understand how an OUI becomes a felony. Consider the below following examples.
Example #1: Third OUI as a Felony
After an evening drinking with your co-workers, you decide to drive home instead of taking a cab. On your way home, you roll through a stop sign, only to realize a police car is right behind you. After the officer pulls you over, you fail a breathalyzer and are arrested for OUI. You have two previous convictions from the previous year, making this offense a felony.
Example #2: Third OUI as a Misdemeanor
Consider the same example as above. Given the same set of facts, you are arrested for OUI after you fail a breath test. You have two prior convictions for OUI on your record. Your first conviction was nearly 20 years ago. Your second conviction was more than 15 years prior. Because of Maine's 10-year lookback provision, your current OUI is treated like a first-offense misdemeanor.
How a Maine OUI Attorney Can Help
There are a variety of ways that your attorney could help you fight back against an OUI charge. If they can establish that any prior convictions you have occurred outside of the lookback period, it could mean the difference between facing a misdemeanor versus a felony charge.
To discuss your legal options with a skilled trial attorney, contact the Law Offices of William H. Ashe.