In Maine, a person becomes designated a Habitual Offender (HO) when that person is convicted of three (3) serious motor vehicle crimes in a five (5) year period. “Going HO” means that your license is revoked, or suspended indefinitely. It is easier to become a Habitual Offender than you would think. Once you get one driving-related conviction, such as for Operating Under the Influence (OUI) or Driving to Endanger (DTE), for which the penalties include a license suspension, if you continue to drive after your license has been suspended, you can easily accumulate two (2) more driving-related crimes, and end up as a Habitual Offender.
Once you become a Habitual Offender in Maine, the law offers almost no opportunities for relief. For the average person, the effect of a Habitual Offender designation can be devastating, no longer being able to drive to work or school legally. Moreover, criminal charges for driving beyond Habitual Offender status carry stiff penalties, including jail time.
In the following instance, I helped a client achieve what he believed was impossible- I helped him come off of Habitual Offender status. Through my representation the habitual offender status was removed by the BMV because I successfully moved the Court to vacate my client’s plea in his last OAS conviction and got the charge dismissed. As such, the BMV was without the required three conviction for a driving related crime that prompts Habitual Offender status.
- Habitual offender defined. An habitual offender is a person whose record, as maintained by the Secretary of State, shows that:
- The person has accumulated 3 or more convictions or adjudications for distinct offenses described in this paragraph arising out of separate acts committed within a 5-year period:
(1) Homicide resulting from the operation of a motor vehicle;
(2) OUI conviction;
(3) Driving to endanger, in violation of section 2413;
(4) Operating after suspension or revocation, in violation of section 2412-A;
(5) Operating without a license;
(6) Operating after revocation, in violation of former section 2557, section 2557-A or section 2558;
(7) Knowingly making a false affidavit or swearing or affirming falsely in a statement required by this Title or as to information required in the administration of this Title;
(8) A Class A, B, C or D offense in which a motor vehicle is used;
(9) Leaving the scene of an accident involving injury or death, in violation of section 2252;
(10) Leaving the scene of an accident involving property damage, in violation of section 2253, 2254 or 2255;
(11) Eluding an officer, in violation of section 2414;
(12) Passing a roadblock, in violation of section 2414, subsection 4;
(13) Operating a motor vehicle at a speed that exceeds the maximum speed limit by 30 miles per hour or more; and
(14) For a person whose license is reinstated pursuant to section 2412-A, subsection 7 or section 2508, operating a motor vehicle without an ignition interlock device; tampering with or circumventing the operation of an ignition interlock device; or requesting or soliciting another person to blow into or otherwise activate an ignition interlock device for the purpose of providing the person with an operable motor vehicle; or [2013, c. 381, Pt. B, §30 (AMD).]
Getting Off of Habitual Offender a Long Shot
My client had faced a criminal charge of Operating After Suspension (OAS). The basis of the suspension was that the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) believed he was uninsured at the time of the stop, and so his license was under suspension. Initially, my client went to Court without any legal representation. Without fully knowing or understanding the consequences of what he was doing, he entered a guilty plea to the charge of OAS so that he could take care of the issue that day at Arraignment. Soon thereafter, he received a notice from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles indicating that he was about to go Habitual Offender (HO). His most recent guilty plea was the third OAS conviction within the past five (5) years. Therefore, the law considered him to be a Habitual Offender.
For my client, living as a Habitual Offender was simply not feasible, especially for the typical 6 years that a Habitual Offender’s license is revoked. My client required the ability to drive, as many people do, in order to drive to and from work so that he could maintain his job. Since the Habitual Offender status put his job at risk, he contacted my firm.
When I spoke with my client, he asked whether or not it was possible for him to “get off of” Habitual Offender status. We discussed that there is an extremely narrow way to get off of HO status, and not everyone fits into these narrow requirements. In order to make sure that my client understood what he was asking me to do, I explained that the legal effort to get off of HO generally is a “long shot” because whether he even gets a second chance depends on whether the Judge is willing to allow him to withdraw the last guilty plea he had previously entered. If the judge denied my client a second chance, then he would remain HO and that would be the end of it.
The Courts Prefer to Maintain Pleas that are Entered
From the Court’s perspective, there is a desire to maintain the integrity of pleas that are entered. If you enter a guilty plea, the Court does not want to promote people coming back later because they have changed their minds or later decide that they do not like the effects of the guilty plea, and so they want to go back and fight the charge. The Court prefers that you be proactive about defending yourself, doing your homework up front to anticipate what the collateral consequences may be, and making an informed plea. Knowing in advance what the collateral consequences may be for you is best achieved by hiring a Maine Criminal Defense Attorney to represent you and fight against the charges. Making pleas permanent supports the legitimacy of the judicial system.
Unfortunately, all too often people do not do their homework, nor do they bother to read the fine print on court forms. This is to their detriment. Often when I receive a phone call asking for help is after the defendant has pled guilty and suffers negative collateral consequences as a result. From the perspective of the criminal defense counsel, it is much easier to fight the criminal charge while it is still pending.
Client Had a Valid Defense
The basis of my client’s underlying OAS charge was that he was driving a car while his license was under suspension due to him being uninsured. However, this assertion was invalid. Investigation and documentation from the BMV and from his insurance company revealed that he was actually insured at the time of the stop, and so in fact his license should not have been suspended. This proved very significant to my client’s case. Because my client had a good case to fight the underlying OAS charge, it became evident that had he introduced this information earlier, that he could have fought the charge successfully instead of rolling over and pleading guilty.
A Well Deserved Dismissal
I filed the motion to withdraw plea and restore to docket, and I pursued the matter at the BMV, as a person has a right to challenge the HO status at an Administrative Hearing. Ultimately, the Judge agreed with my position. My client’s guilty plea was withdrawn successfully, and the matter was restored to the Docket at Court for Arraignment. Because the basis of the underlying OAS charge was invalid, the OAS charge was dismissed, which is the best possible outcome in a criminal case. I brought this information to the BMV, who withdrew Habitual Offender status from my client. His license was restored, and he was extremely thankful for my assistance.
Lesson to Take With You
Ultimately, the lesson from this client’s experience is to fight driving-related charges while the matter is pending at Court, and to always plead Not Guilty at Arraignment. You never know what defense you might have until a Criminal Defense Lawyer examines the case. Just because you have been charged with committing a crime, it does not mean that the State is always right. In my client’s case, he would have avoided Habitual Offender status in the first place and the OAS charge would have been dismissed