Maine OUI Convictions

July 22, 2012

OUI conviction rates vary widely across Maine

DAs’ policies, case volumes lead to significant discrepancies in southernmost counties

By Ann S. Kim akim@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Scarborough police Sgt. Tom Chard conducts a sobriety test Thursday after stopping a motorist during an operating-under-the-influence detail on Route 1. The driver passed the test. Average conviction rates on OUI charges range from 37 percent in York County to 83 percent in Hancock and Penobscot counties.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

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Geoffrey Rushlau, district attorney for Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties, believes that rigid prosecution policies force prosecutors to ignore the individual strengths and weaknesses of cases. While he doesn't have a set policy, Rushlau said he tries to take an aggressive approach. His counties have 10-year conviction rates ranging from 64 to 68 percent.

"We have fewer OUI cases. I think that means we can give them more focused attention. We have a tendency, if a case has some defects in it, we try to resolve those defects," he said.

The number of charges resolved in a particular county also range widely. Cumberland had the most for the 10-year period with 14,172 and for a single year, 1,667 in 2002. Piscataquis had the fewest over the 10 years, with 842, and the lowest number for a given year, 58 in 2011.

In high-volume courthouses, the system depends on plea negotiations, said Ed Folsom, author of the book "Maine OUI Law" and a Saco-based criminal defense lawyer.

"If the cases aren't getting moved, the system just grinds to a halt," he said.

Darrick Banda, a former assistant district attorney in the Kennebec-Somerset prosecutorial district, said that that office is among those with a no-negotiation policy. He said such offices are more likely to screen out cases with low breath-test levels.

"When you screen them out, the case is dead -- done. The person will never be prosecuted for anything," said Banda, who is running for district attorney in those counties.

But Carletta Bassano, district attorney of Hancock and Washington counties, said many of her .08 and .09 cases do go to trial. Her office's policy is to not drop those cases down to driving to endanger.

"I've gone to enough roadside crashes where someone has died, where someone's been drinking and driving," she said.

Prosecutors in Aroostook County do not routinely drop an OUI to driving to endanger, according to District Attorney Todd Collins. The 10-year rate for the county was 74 percent.

"We do prosecute .08 and .10 OUI cases. We will take OUI cases to trial, where a defendant will sometimes be acquitted by a jury. When we do reduce or drop OUI charges it is because there is a legal or factual impediment to a successful prosecution," he wrote in an email message.

Bangor-based Wayne Foote is among the criminal defense attorneys who said no-negotiation policies waste taxpayer money.

"You think of the cost of a jury trial," said Foote, whose practice focuses on OUI cases. "You bring in the jurors. You bring in a judge. You have a prosecutor. You often have a court-appointed defense lawyer. You have a clerk and you have a court reporter."

He noted that a defendant initially charged with OUI who is convicted of driving to endanger still faces penalties -- a $575 fine, compared to $500 for the vast majority of OUI cases, and a court-ordered suspension of at least 30 days -- as well as the likelihood of an administrative license suspension of 90 days through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

Lt. Louis Nyitray of the Maine State Police has worked in different prosecutorial districts. Currently based in Alfred, Nyitray said troopers do see cases dismissed for unexplained reasons.

"That does provide a level of frustration to the men and women of the police forces -- state, local and the county -- because we're out there taking these people off the road and for whatever reason, they're not prosecuted."

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

akim@pressherald.com

Twitter: AnnKimPPH

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