Many Maine residents are car-dependent, and it is not just convenience that drives them to purchase their vehicles. Traveling in Maine is challenging when you only rely on public transportation. There is such a high demand for buses and other transit modes that they cannot cater to everyone.
Thus, Mainers tend to use their own cars. However, having a car does not automatically mean life gets much better in the Pine Tree State, as even car owners have to deal with road hazards. Therefore, traveling within the state may not always be the best experience, whether you are a driver or a passenger.
Furthermore, this frustrating experience can quickly turn tragic when you add alcohol to the equation. Within the past decade, Maine has recorded 47,581 drunk driving offenses, with a significant portion involving repeat offenders. But whether it was a repeat offense or not, any of those thousands of cases could have resulted in an accident along the state’s hazardous roads.
Therefore, it is crucial that Mainers and state visitors be aware of Maine DUI laws that protect road users. Your knowledge of relevant legislation will help you in case you become a drunk driving victim in the area.
OUI vs. DUI in Maine
When a person is caught driving while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs, they are usually charged with driving under the influence, or DUI. Most states use the term "DUI" in their laws and criminal charges. It is also the phrase prevalently used by mainstream media in the USA.
However, some regions prefer other terms. For instance, Maine laws use OUI, or operating under the influence, instead of DUI. Other states that use this exact term include Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Informally, OUI and DUI are interchangeable. They both refer to the act of driving or operating a vehicle while intoxicated. However, there may be legal subtleties between the two terms unfamiliar to civilians.
For instance, a person may have incurred a prior DUI charge in another state before getting arrested for OUI in Maine. They must consult a Maine-based lawyer to know if their recent arrest is considered a first or second offense. An attorney can best advise if the DUI in the other state constitutes a first offense in Maine and how it will affect the penalties they face.
General OUI Laws in Maine
A person is considered to have committed an OUI in Maine if they were caught operating or attempting to operate a vehicle while:
Intoxicated by liquor or drugs.
Having an alcohol level of at least 0.08 grams per 210 liters of breath.
Having an alcohol level of at least 0.08 grams per 100 milliliters of blood (equivalent to 0.08% blood alcohol content).
The influence of intoxicants on a person does not have to be significant for them to be charged with an OUI. Even just a slight mental or physical impairment caused by alcohol, drugs, or some other substance while driving or attempting to drive can be grounds for a criminal charge.
Alcohol Level Limits in Maine
The 0.08% BAC limit imposed by Maine applies to most drivers across the state. However, there are a few exemptions: minors and commercial drivers.
In the case of minors, there is zero tolerance for OUI. Therefore, drivers below 21 years old cannot have an alcohol level above 0.00% BAC, or 0.00 grams per 210 liters of breath or 100 milliliters of blood. Meanwhile, commercial drivers have an alcohol limit of 0.04 grams per 210 liters of breath or 100 milliliters of blood.
Implied Consent Law
Tests are necessary to determine a person's exact alcohol level. Note, though, that it is not possible to circumvent the law by refusing to undergo an alcohol test because this is against the implied consent law in Maine.
Your refusal to take an alcohol test may even be used against you, resulting in worse penalties. Moreover, even if you do not undergo a test, you can still be charged with OUI based solely on testimony from an officer of the law.
The implied consent law states that a driver must submit to an alcohol test if the authorities have probable cause to believe they were driving while intoxicated. Otherwise, their license will be suspended for at least 275 days. If it is not the driver's first refusal to undergo a test, the license suspension will be extended to up to six years.
Three types of tests are used to determine alcohol levels in Maine:
A breath test is usually administered first by an officer. However, if the latter believes a breath test is unreasonable, a blood or urine test may be conducted.
Underage OUI Laws in Maine
Maine imposes strict zero-tolerance laws against OUI by minors or drivers under 21 years of age. Therefore, if you are an underage driver, you must not drink alcohol if you plan to drive. Even a 0.01% BAC reading can result in a license suspension and harsher penalties.
It is also important to note that having an underage passenger while operating under the influence may worsen the penalties for the driver. Specifically, having a passenger aged 20 or younger while you were drunk driving can result in jail time or an extended license suspension.
These stringent laws are imposed to protect the underage. In 2019, the state recorded four minors out of 50 people who were fatally injured in accidents caused by alcohol impairment. In the same year, 26 Mainers under the age of 18 were arrested for driving under the influence.
What Are the Penalties for a DUI in Maine?
The minimum penalties for a DUI or OUI charge in Maine depend on the circumstances. For instance, previous offenses, underage passengers, and severe injuries are some factors that may enhance the applicable penalty.
Length of Jail or Prison Sentence
Is the right to register a vehicle suspended?
Is participation in a government alcohol and drug program necessary?
$500 ($600 if the person refused an alcohol test)
At least 48 hours if the person:
Has an alcohol level of at least 0.15 grams per 210 liters of breath or 100 milliliters of blood.
Exceeded the speed limit by at least 30 miles per hour.
Escaped or attempted to escape.
Has an underage passenger.
At least 96 hours if the person refused an alcohol test
150-day suspension (additional 275 days if there is an underage passenger)
$700 ($900 if the person refused an alcohol test)
At least seven days (if the person refused an alcohol test, then at least 12 days)
Three-year suspension (additional 275 days if there is an underage passenger)
Third offense (Class C crime)
$1,100 ($1,400 if the person refused an alcohol test)
At least 30 days (if the person refused an alcohol test, then at least 40 days)
Six-year suspension (additional 275 days if there is an underage passenger)
Fourth (or more) offense (Class C crime)
$2,100 ($2,500 if the person refused an alcohol test)
At least six months (if the person refused an alcohol test, then at least six months and 20 days)
Eight-year suspension (additional 275 days if there is an underage passenger)
Maine counts all OUI (or equivalent charges) within the past 10 years as additional offenses. Therefore, if you were arrested for an OUI nine years ago, it will still be considered, so your recent infraction will be regarded as a second offense. But it will not be counted if the prior OUI was recorded 11 years ago. However, if you committed a criminal homicide, Class C, or Class B crime before, the court will consider it even if it happened more than 10 years ago.
Also, note that these are just the minimum penalties. The court may impose higher fines, longer jail time, or license suspension.
Enhanced OUI Penalties in Maine
Graver penalties await drivers who were not only charged with OUI but also caused injuries or the death of another person. The enhanced penalties depend on whether the person is charged with Class B, Class C, or criminal homicide.
Person committed their third (or more) OUI offense or caused serious bodily injury to another person.
Up to five years of jail time
Person caused the death of another person or had a prior Class B, Class C, or criminal homicide conviction that resulted from an OUI incident.
Up to 10 years of jail time
Person was convicted of homicide after causing the death of another person.
Penalties for Underage Offenders
If a minor is charged with OUI, they will face longer license suspensions. Specifically, their license will be suspended for one year if it is a first offense and for two years if it is a second offense.
Meanwhile, an offender caught with an underage passenger will have 180 days added to their suspension. Other penalties may also be imposed if the minor is caught with a substance, such as drugs or alcohol.
License Suspension for Refusing an Alcohol Test
License suspension is imposed on all OUI offenders. Moreover, if they refuse an alcohol test, their license suspension may be extended.
Overall, the final minimum period of suspension depends on which one is longer—the one for the OUI offense or for refusing an alcohol test.
Alcohol Test Refusal
275 days (18 months if a minor or one year if there is probable cause to believe that a death has occurred or would occur)
18 months (30 months if a minor)
Penalties for refusing an alcohol test may only be implemented after the officer has warned the driver. This warning involves informing the driver that their refusal will result in a suspension of their driver's license, will be considered evidence in the trial, and will aggravate any penalties imposed on them.
Restoring a Suspended License Due to OUI in Maine
All OUI cases involve license suspension as a penalty. While you can wait for the suspension period to pass, it is possible to restore your license earlier.
Minors who have committed their first OUI offense can get their license back after six months (or half of the suspension period). However, they must first complete the government's alcohol and drug programs and inform the Secretary of State. They are also mandated to pay a reinstatement fee worth $200 and complete up to 60 hours of community service.
Meanwhile, adult drivers can reinstate their licenses earlier if they have an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicle. An IID, which is connected to the ignition system, is a kind of breathalyzer. A person must breathe into it before driving, and if their alcohol level does not exceed the device's limit, which is usually 0.02 grams per deciliter, they can go and operate the vehicle. Otherwise, the vehicle will not start.
The IID will remain in place until the remaining suspension period has passed. Note that tampering with the device, driving without it, having another person breathe into it, or borrowing a vehicle without it can lead to penalties such as jail time, further license suspension, and fines of at least $500.
Also, drivers who have had their licenses permanently suspended due to a homicide conviction (resulting from an OUI) may have their driving privileges returned. They must petition the Secretary of State 10 years after they were released from jail. The family of their victim will also be informed of the petition, as the Secretary will consider the family's testimony in deciding whether or not to approve the petition.
Penalties for Operating Without a License in Maine
If a person decides to drive a vehicle while their license is suspended as an OUI penalty, they will face these minimum penalties:
At least seven days of jail time
Additional one to three years of license suspension
In addition, the consequences are more severe if the person has previously driven a vehicle without a license while serving an OUI penalty. They will pay a fine of at least $1,000, be imprisoned for 30 days to six months, and face an additional license suspension of one to three years.
The court may also require an IID installment. In some severe instances, the government may seize or forfeit the vehicle.
Maine Dram Shop Law
Establishments that sell alcohol, like bars or taverns, are also called dram shops. Thus, laws that discuss the liability of these establishments are called dram shop laws.
Under Maine's dram shop law, it is not just intoxicated drivers who can be held responsible for injuries or property damage. The establishment that provided the alcohol or intoxicant may also be liable if it provided alcohol to an individual who is underage or apparently intoxicated.
They may also be liable if they encourage an intoxicated individual to drink more or provide so much alcohol that it may lead to alcohol poisoning.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Drunk Driving Injury in Maine?
There is no limit to the amount someone can sue for in a drunk driving injury in Maine. The state's damage caps apply only to wrongful death cases. Therefore, the amount a person can claim in a lawsuit depends on the evidence they present, such as bills, receipts, medical findings, and other supporting documents.
However, it is not always the case that the plaintiff will receive the total amount they requested. Under Maine's modified comparative fault rule, a victim may be barred from claiming damages if they are at least 50% at fault. If they are 49% or less at fault, they will still be able to recover indemnity, but an amount equivalent to their percentage of fault will be deducted.
For example, a plaintiff sued for $100,000 for a drunk driving injury. However, the court found them to be 20% at fault. Thus, they can only receive $80,000, as the deducted amount of $20,000 is equivalent to the driver's 20% fault.
If you want to know more about settling car accidents in Maine (even those not caused by drunk drivers), you may check out this article on Maine car accident laws.
Liability and Damage Caps in Maine
Plaintiffs may not be limited by the amount they can sue for an injury resulting from an OUI. However, there are other caps for various cases. For instance, Maine’s dram shop law limits the liability of establishments to $350,000 for damages that are not medical-related.
Meanwhile, there is a cap of $750,000 for wrongful death lawsuits for non-economic damages, which are intangible effects like pain or suffering. A limit of $250,000 is also imposed on punitive damages, or an excess amount the court orders the defendant to pay to deter them from repeating an offense.
The Statute of Limitations in Maine
These are the statutes of limitations in Maine that are relevant to OUI cases:
Failure to file your Maine DUI lawsuit within these periods may invalidate your case.
Exemptions to the statute of limitations are rare, but they may be possible if the plaintiff is a minor, the defendant is absent from the state, or the injury is discovered late. It is best to consult an accident lawyer based in Maine in such cases.
Resources for OUI Defendants and Folks Injured by an Impaired Driver in Maine
MADD is a nonprofit organization that began in California and has since expanded across the US and Canada. It is dedicated to victims of drunk driving, assisting them by providing emotional support, legal referrals, and other resources valuable to the victim's journey toward justice. The organization's members also advocate stricter laws against drunk driving to protect and prevent future victims. To contact MADD's Maine chapter, call their 24/7 hotline: 877-MADD-HELP or 1-877-623-3435.
Injuries and damages can be a significant financial burden for drunk-driving victims. The state can help ease some of it through the Victims' Compensation Program. Eligible residents may receive up to $15,000, which they can use for medical costs, burial or funeral expenses, and compensation for income loss. A form must be filled out to claim the benefits of this program. If the claim is denied, a hearing may be held. Then, the victim may appeal to the Superior Court if it is still denied after the hearing.
Finding affordable lawyers to assist with your drunk driving case can be challenging. However, you can benefit from this list of legal aid that the Maine State Bar Association has provided. The organization provides a compilation of free or low-cost lawyer services in the state. You may also utilize the state's referral service to consult with a lawyer for 30 minutes. Each consultation costs $25, and you can decide afterward if you'll proceed to work with that attorney, subject to costs.
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