Posted by Edmund R. Folsom, Esq., February 25, 2019
THE BOTTLENECK THAT IS MAINE’S OFFICE OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE.
In Maine, a person charged with a first-offense OUI will face a 150-day license suspension imposed administratively by the BMV, and a 150-day license suspension imposed by the court if convicted of the charge. The person will be required to serve a total suspension period of 150 days between the two, because time served on an administrative suspension is automatically credited to a court suspension. In other words, the State has 2 cracks at a person to impose the suspension, but the person only has to serve the suspension once. However, no person will be reinstated from either the administrative suspension or the suspension for the criminal conviction until the person has met Maine’s Driver Education and Evaluation Program (DEEP) requirements, as determined by Maine’s Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (within the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)). Maine law also provides that a person who has completed DEEP requirements and has paid the required reinstatement fee and application fee for early reinstatement may be reinstated to drive with an ignition interlock device (IID) installed in that person’s vehicle after the person has served 30 days of the 150-day suspension period. The ignition interlock restriction stays in effect for the remainder of the 150-day period, requiring the person to blow a clean breath sample to start the vehicle and to pull over periodically to blow another clean sample before continuing to drive. Before early reinstatement with an installed ignition interlock device became an available option for first offenders, a first-offense OUI license suspension was 90 days. The length of suspension was increased to 150 days simultaneously with the law that made early IID reinstatement possible. In other words, the IID option and the longer suspension period were made to offset each other.
Again though, a person is required to complete DEEP requirements before the BMV will reinstate the person from an OUI license suspension either at the end of the 150-day period or early, after 30 days, with an installed IID. Because of this, what is originally a 150-day suspension will last 100 years if it takes the person 100 years to complete DEEP. In fact, the suspension will last 100 years if it takes the Maine Office of Substance Abuse 100 years to notify Maine’s BMV that the person has met DEEP requirements, even if the person performed all steps necessary to complete DEEP requirements well before then. And therein lies a, now longstanding, problem. A couple of years ago, the Maine Office of Substance Abuse got seriously backlogged crediting people with completion of DEEP requirements. Those who got stuck in the backlog simply couldn’t get their licenses reinstated despite having completed their suspension period and having done everything else they were required to do. In a story that appeared in the Portland Press Herald in January of 2017, the Office of Substance Abuse attributed the backlog to staffing shortages beyond its control. Whatever the reason, the problem leaves the duration of first-offense OUI suspensions to systemic caprice rather than legal principle. Anyone unlucky enough to have their suspension fall during an Office of Substance Abuse backlog might find that their 150-day suspension in fact lasts 180 days or more, not because that’s the suspension that was imposed but because that’s how the bureaucracy crumbles. They had better hope their suspension comes when the Office of Substance Abuse is staffed up. Otherwise, although they did everything they were required to do and expected to get reinstated with an IID in their vehicle after 30 days off the road – because that’s what the law says they can do – they might find themselves spending 60 or 90 days off the road because the Office of Substance Abuse doesn’t have adequate staff to even pick up the phone on some business days.
That’s right, on some business days this particular office of Maine State Government does not have sufficient staff to even pick up the phone. As I write this, Monday, February 25, 2019 is one of those days. The message all day today is, “The DEEP Office is unavailable today. Sorry for any inconvenience that this may cause.” I know this because I called to verify a client’s report that this is the message that greeted him when he called to enroll in a weekend Risk Reduction (DEEP) Program. Not long ago, I had another client experience the same thing on another business day. Lately the reports are coming from all over of people snagged-up getting their licenses reinstated from a first-offense OUI suspension because the Office of Substance Abuse is delayed processing the necessary documents. Imagine getting a 2-day jail sentence and being told the day you think you’ll be released that you can’t get out – You see, there’s a staffing shortage and the person who calculates how many days a person has left to serve is out till further notice… “Sorry for any inconvenience that this may cause.” Sometimes the law is only the law till it runs up against purse strings and bureaucracy, at which point it turns into a less principled reality — “Sorry for any inconvenience that this may cause.”