Maine’s habitual motor vehicle offender law can trap the unwary, and the consequences are extremely serious. Any Maine driver who has multiple convictions or adjudications of the motor vehicle laws should familiarize him or herself with the habitual offender law and avoid a habitual offender declaration like the plague.
A declaration of habitual motor vehicle offender status carries a license revocation for an indefinite period. A person may not petition for reinstatement until at least 3 years have passed from the date of revocation. A work-restricted license may be available, but a person cannot apply for one until at least 18 months have passed from the date of revocation. There is absolutely no work license available for a person whose revoked status is in part based on a conviction of homicide resulting from operation of a motor vehicle, or based on a conviction of operating while revoked or aggravated operating while revoked, or a person who is re-declared an habitual offender within 5 years of being reinstated from habitual offender status. Three years is an awfully long time to be prohibited from driving. Eighteen months is a long time! In comparison, a person who is convicted of two OUI’s within 10 years will be suspended for 3 years for the second offense but may be eligible to drive with an ignition interlock device after 9 months. So how does a person become declared a habitual motor vehicle offender and become subjected to such harsh punishment?
There are two ways to reach habitual motor vehicle offender status. Each involves an accumulation of convictions or adjudications of certain motor vehicle violations committed within a 5-year period. Note that the important date for counting qualifying offenses is the date each offense was committed, not the date when the convictions or adjudications occurred. One way to be declared a habitual offender is to accumulate 3 or more convictions of major motor vehicle violations committed within a 5-year period. Under current law (at writing, it is 10/24/2012), the following offenses count in this category: homicide resulting from operation of a motor vehicle; OUI; driving to endanger; OAS; operating without a license; operating after revocation and aggravated operating after revocation; knowingly making a false affidavit or falsely swearing or affirming any statement as to information that the Motor Vehicle Code, Title 29-A, requires the person to provide; any Class A, B, C or D offense in which a motor vehicle is used; failure to report an accident involving injury or death; failure to report an accident involving property damage under 29-A M.R.S. sections 2253, 2254 or 2255; eluding or attempting to elude a police officer; passing a police roadblock; criminal speeding; and tampering with or circumventing the operation of an ignition interlock device or soliciting another person to activate an ignition interlock device in an unauthorized way. That’s quite a list. Anyone who commits 3 of these violations within a 5-year period and is convicted of them will be declared a habitual offender and will be revoked for at least 3 years, with the exception that multiple offenses committed during the same incident count as a single offense. Anyone with two qualifying convictions who faces a third charge committed within 5 years of the first two needs to consult with a lawyer who knows this area of the law. Anyone with two qualifying convictions who does not face a third charge committed within 5 years of the first two should be a very careful driver, at least until the 5-year window has passed after commission of the first countable offense.
The following offenses are excluded from consideration in declaring habitual offender status based on 3 major violations: operating without a license if the license had expired and was not suspended or revoked; OAS when the suspension was based solely on failure to pay child support; OAS when the suspension was based solely on failure to pay a reinstatement fee; and the traffic infraction, as opposed to the criminal offense, of OAS.
The second way to be declared a habitual motor vehicle offender is to accumulate 10 adjudications for any moving motor vehicle violations (speeding, stop sign, yield sign or red light violations, improper passing, etc.) that were committed within a 5-year period. As is the case with the major violations discussed above, offenses that arise from the same incident count as a single offense. This alternative way of becoming a habitual offender can sneak up on a person. The person might never have been suspended for even a day before he or she faces a minimum 3-year habitual offender revocation. This is possible because most moving violations that are traffic infractions do not result in license suspensions in and of themselves. Instead the BMV uses a system of points, in general suspending for 15 days those who accumulate 12 points in a given 1-year period. But the BMV also gives drivers 1 safe-driving credit for each year of violation free driving (up to a maximum of 3) and a person can earn 3 credits for taking defensive driving. Depending on the nature of the moving violations at issue and timing of events, a person might never accumulate 12 demerit points within a 1-year period and therefore might never receive even a 15-day suspension for accumulated points before being slammed with a 3-year revocation. Anyone who thinks he or she is in danger of reaching habitual offender status through an accumulation of 10 moving violations should consult with an attorney who understands this area of the law and should review the person’s driving record to assess his or her circumstances. Anyone in this position who faces another moving violation should consult with experienced counsel immediately.
The above information and observations are not legal advice and are not to be relied upon as such. The reader has no attorney-client relationship with me because he or she read this post.
Ed Folsom, Biddeford, Saco, Portland, Maine Criminal Defense, OUI, DUI Attorney. York County, Cumberland County.