In Maine and throughout this Country as a criminal defendant you have a right to a speedy trial. The State needs to move at a deliberate pace to charge you, and take your case through the criminal process for a resolution. In one recent case of mine, the State seems to have missed the concept of “speedy” in charging my client with Operating Under the Influence (OUI) way back when she attended college.
Almost a decade ago, my client was a student at a local college. One night, she was pulled over for speeding. Through her contact with the police, she was discovered to be in possession of alcohol while she was under 21 years old. In addition, she provided a breath sample of .08. She was Summonsed for Possession of Alcohol by a Minor, which is a civil violation. After being stopped and Summonsed, she was allowed to return to her dormitory.
Prior to the Arraignment for the alcohol possession violation, the local District Attorney reviewed the police report from the incident and added the criminal charge of Operating Under the Influence (OUI) to the charges she would face at Arraignment. This brand new OUI charge was a criminal count, causing my client to have two docket numbers at Court, one for her civil alcohol possession violation and one for her criminal OUI charge. The DA could have sent a local law enforcement officer to serve the OUI summons on my client while she was living locally in the college dormitory, but this did not happen, and so my client never received a formal Summons for the OUI charge before Arraignment.
In the interim, and unbeknownst to the District Attorney, my client had already taken care of the civil violation. She went to the Court Clerk prior to Arraignment and paid the waiver fine. Therefore, she was not required to go to her scheduled Arraignment for the civil docket number. As far as my client knew, that was all she needed to do.
The Arraignment date for the OUI was still valid. However, my client never went to the Arraignment. As a result, the Court issued a bench warrant on the OUI charge for her “Failure to Appear at Court”. Ultimately, my client was never informed of the warrant, or of any new court date because she had no further contact with law enforcement. Eight years passed. My client finished school, moved out of State, found a job, and became married, all the while unaware of the pending OUI charge in Maine.
The OUI finally caught up with my client when she attempted to renew her driver’s license, but could not because of the outstanding warrant for “Failure to Appear in Court”. Upon learning about the outstanding warrant for “Failure to Appear in Court” and the underlying OUI charge, my client contacted the local District Attorney, who told her she was required to appear and to be Arraigned on the OUI. This was very upsetting and disrupting to her because she had believed that this matter was resolved a long time ago. She simply could not believe that this “ghost” from her past was coming up to haunt her. She contacted my firm, and I gave her my opinion that this case should be dismissed for failure to prosecute.
A Decade Later is Not a Speedy Trial
The most significant of the state’s problems here was the fact that they could have served my client with the Summons for OUI when she was living in Maine. Her contact information at the time was in the original police report! By not making any attempt to notify my client that there was an additional charge, the State violated my client’s due process rights by attempting to prosecute her eight years later. Whatever happened to the guarantee of a speedy trial for those charged with a crime?
The State’s Opportunity to Prosecute Had Passed
I filed a Motion to Recall the Warrant and a Motion to Dismiss the case based on the Statute of Limitations because it took too long for the State to file a criminal Complaint against my client. The Court recalled the warrant and scheduled a hearing on my Motion to Dismiss.
At the hearing, I argued that my client’s due process rights require that in order for her to be prosecuted, she needs to be put on notice of any crime the State is going to charge her. Because the State failed to inform her of the OUI charge, the State lost its ability to prosecute the case, as the Statute of Limitations for her crime had already passed. Her right to a speedy trial was violated. The Court agreed with me, and granted my Motion to Dismiss.
I am pleased that my client stood up for her rights when she felt that it was wrong for the State to try to prosecute her for OUI eight years after the fact. I am glad she chose to fight these charges and sought out legal help. Her sense of justice was right on. The State indeed had violated her right to a speedy trial, and her case was properly dismissed through my help.