Often I encounter clients who believe that their OUI case is hopeless because the police “got them” and they feel as though they have no choice other than to plead guilty and “take their medicine” in the form of a conviction and a sentence. They are relieved after speaking with me to learn that no matter how challenging the OUI case might look on the outside, it is always worth defending. Even in the most difficult cases where the facts “do not look good” for the client, a vigorous OUI criminal defense is always well worth your while. What follows is an example of how knowing the law and using it while advocating for my client produced an unexpectedly great result on a tough case.
Facts of the Case
My client’s OUI case began in a similar way as many others. He was pulled over for a minor traffic violation. Getting pulled over for a traffic violation is considered a legitimate law enforcement stop. And then when the officer interacted with my client, all of the usual cues for a potential OUI were mentioned, including the classic “smell of alcohol on the breath” and “glassy, bloodshot eyes” which tend to be included in almost every single OUI police report.
During the stop, my client did what many people do mistakenly, they admit to having had a few drinks. While my advice is always to remain silent, my client shared voluntarily that despite having had a few drinks, he “did not feel impaired.” Unfortunately, the Maine OUI Law does not measure impairment by a person’s subjective evaluation of whether or not they feel drunk.
The OUI stop progressed to my client taking, and failing the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. When my client was brought to the police station for an alcohol breath test. My client blew a 0.14, which is just a hair under an Aggravated Criminal OUI charge. At this time, my client was charged with First Offense OUI in Maine.
The Maine Law for Drunk Driving
The Maine Statute, 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2411 for Criminal OUI states the following:
1-A. OFFENSE. A person commits OUI if that person:
- Operates a motor vehicle:
1) While under the influence of intoxicants; or
2) While having an alcohol level of 0.08 grams or more of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood or 210 liters of breath;
Risks for the Client
For all intents and purposes, the State appeared to have performed a legitimate OUI stop and had the necessary evidence to convict. The officer was properly certified to administer the tests given to my clients, and no clear errors were made during the investigation. From the State’s perspective, this should be an open and shut case that my client operated a motor vehicle while under the influence of above the legal limit for alcohol.
Indeed, the facts did not look good for my client. And upon conviction, my client’s professional job would have been put at risk. So what could my client do to avoid a conviction and preserve his job? It was the very fact that he had such a difficult case why it was so important to have an aggressive OUI criminal defense lawyer on his side.
What happened at Court
When the State feels that it has the upper hand, the District Attorney’s office does not give up much when negotiating with criminal defense counsel. In some cases, the District Attorneys can even have explicit “no negotiation” policies for OUI cases. However, I communicated persistently with the District Attorney, negotiating skillfully for my client’s interests. In this case I had noticed that the arresting officer indicated in his report that he initially was driving in front of my client and had observed my client turn abruptly without using his turning signals. Because of this the Officer, turned and followed my client to later stop him for speeding. I found this to be peculiar, because the law requires the use of a turn signal only if the turn will have any impact on traffic. If the officer was in front of my client, and the report did not indicate that there was anyone driving behind him, how could of my client’s turn have affected any traffic? Was the stop of my client legit? Insofar as my client was stopped for speeding, was the reason that the officer was behind him legit?
I made my argument to the State’s Attorney. That in addition to the fact that my client had a perfectly clean record, and was far from a hardened criminal had some meaningful impact on the DA. As a good citizen, my client could show easily that the OUI case was just one bad decision, and not a pattern of behavior. Also, was the Judge going to buy my argument if we had a suppression motion? Maybe, maybe not, but to the DA and myself, the risks were apparent and we agreed that in this case it was not worth destroying my client’s life and livelihood over an OUI conviction.
As a result of my consistent and aggressive advocacy for my client, a resolution is reached outside of trial. The case was resolved in a plea deal in which the State agreed to dismiss the OUI charge outright. In its place, the State introduced a new, lesser charge of Driving to Endanger (DTE), which was then placed on a plea agreement for a period of time pending my client’s good behavior.
If successful in meeting the terms of his plea agreement, the State would then dismiss the charge for Driving to Endanger, resulting in no criminal convictions, period. For my client, this is the best kind of outcome for him because it assures a conviction free record. My client happily accepted the plea agreement and began to move on with his life.