Penobscot, Hancock counties have Maine’s highest drunken driving conviction rates

Posted July 22, 2012, at 11:10 a.m.
Last modified July 22, 2012, at 12:48 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Conviction rates for operating under the influence vary widely from county to county in Maine, an analysis of court records shows.

The analysis shows the 10-year average for drunken driving convictions ranged from a low of 37 percent in York County to a high of 83 percent in the more rural Hancock and Penobscot counties, according to the Maine Sunday Telegram, which conducted the study with the Portland Press Herald.

The contrast is even greater in individual years. It shows 94 percent of OUI charges resolved in 2010 Hancock County were convictions, compared with 32 percent in York County that same year. The newspapers analyzed 10 years of data provided by the state Administrative Office of the Courts.

Figures were not available on national conviction rates for impaired driving, so it’s difficult to assess how Maine stacks up against other states.

But in Maine, prosecutors, defense attorneys and law enforcement officers who become involved in OUI cases say district attorneys’ policies, case volumes and resources of the judiciary in particular locations are as some of the reasons for the wide discrepancies. For example, some district attorneys have a policy against pleading down OUI offenses to driving to endanger, but that practice is routine in other counties.

“If you start dropping these to driving to endanger, the question is, ‘Who gets the break and who doesn’t get the break?’” said R. Christopher Almy, the district attorney of Penobscot and Piscataquis counties, whose office opposes reducing charges. “It may appear that people with high-priced lawyers get a break or people with important jobs get a break or there’s some special reason. We just flat-out say no.”

Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson allows defendants the chance to plead guilty to driving to endanger when it’s a first offense and the breath test indicates a .08 or .09 blood alcohol content. Cumberland County had a 10-year conviction rate of 47 percent.

“I think it’s better to get something rather than nothing at all,” Anderson said.

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