Q: My brother from California was visiting me here in Maine over the holidays and was charged with an OUI and has a court date here in Maine next month. Of course he’s gone back home. His job requires him to drive and he can’t risk losing his license. But does he have to come all the way back to Maine to do this? Can an attorney do this for him? And about how much would it cost?
A: A Maine attorney can make an initial appearance for your brother with his written permission, called a Consent to Appear in the Absence of the Defendant. Whether he will get through the whole process without having to come back to Maine will depend upon the circumstances of the charge and the discretion of the judge.
The majority of OUI sentences without “special circumstances” — such as prior OUIs, a high alcohol level, having a child in the car, causing an accident or death — do not result in jail, and there is usually no need for the defendant to appear in person unless the judge insists otherwise.
If one of these complicating circumstances exists, an attorney will likely be able to proceed on his behalf through initial appearances, but your brother will eventually have to return to Maine at least once. If he does not dispute the charge, his attorney may be able to get the court to agree to an alternative sentence involving some kind of rehabilitation or diversion program.
Even if an appropriate program is available in California and the judge decides to allow the requirement to be fulfilled there, your brother will still have to appear before the judge in Maine to receive this sentence. If your brother’s case goes to trial, an attorney can represent him for preliminary appearances, but he will have to be in court for the trial itself if jail time is a possibility.
As you can see, this is not a simple issue. An attorney can help your brother decide the wisest course, and may be able to get the court to set dates with some consideration for your brother’s schedule. As for how much it costs, average rates for an OUI attorney range from $150 to $300 an hour, and your brother should expect an attorney to require a deposit or retainer before appearing in court.
Your brother may be tempted to ignore this summons because it is so inconvenient. He should know that ignoring it won’t make it go away. If he does nothing, a warrant will be issued for his arrest, and the next time he gets a parking ticket, is stopped for speeding, or goes to renew his California license, he will be forced to deal with more serious charges.
This column is a service of the Lawyer Referral and Information Service of the Maine State Bar Association. Its contents are a general response to the question and do not constitute legal advice. Questions are welcome. Just go online to AAL@mainebar.org, describe your question and note you are a BDN reader. Written questions mailed to “Ask a Lawyer,” Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329 will be forwarded to the LRIS.