BANGOR, Maine — The “worst of the worst” drunk drivers face stiffer penalties and longer consideration of their past offenses under a Maine law that goes into effect Aug. 1.
Marks said Thursday that he was always frustrated when he handed over an OUI case involving a repeat offender to the district attorney, only to find that several or all of their past drunk driving convictions couldn’t be considered because of how the law was written.
It was especially upsetting to arrest or hear about individuals with 10 or more past convictions.
“It should never get that far,” Marks said. “That’s a failure of the system.”
Under current law, after 10 years an OUI conviction is “washed out” and can no longer be considered in determining whether a driver is prosecuted as a first, second, third or subsequent-time offender. Repeat offenses carry increasingly severe penalties, such as higher fines, longer license suspension periods and, after the first offense, jail time.
With this change, felony OUI convictions will never be cleared from a person’s record and can be used in prosecuting any future offenses.
An OUI offense elevates to the felony level when someone is seriously injured, killed or when a driver is convicted of an OUI for the third time in a 10-year period.
The law also boosts the license suspension period for a person who has one OUI in a given 10-year period from 90 to 150 days. If the person has two OUI offenses within 10 years that suspension is active for three years, increasing to six years for three offenses and eight years for four or more offenses.
In May, the bill recovered from a veto by Gov. Paul LePage after all but nine members of the house and every state senator voted to override the veto, making it law.
LePage explained in his veto letter that he didn’t think the bill went far enough.
Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said that 3,976 people were convicted of driving under the influence in 2013, but just 131 of those elevated to the level of felonies. In the 10 years leading up to 2013, state records indicate that more than 40,000 drivers have had one OUI conviction, while just 80 were convicted three or more times.
“It’s not going to affect many drivers,” but the law does get at the “worst of the worst offenders out there,” Marks said.
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Correction: An earlier version of the story reported that OUI convictions after 10 years could not be used to determine punishments for new impaired driving offenses. An OUI conviction after 10 years can no longer be considered in determining whether a driver is prosecuted as a first, second, third or subsequent-time offender.