Drunk driving offenders with prior felony DUI convictions could face a new felony DUI charge for every subsequent drunk driving offense for the rest of their lives thanks to a new drunk driving bill passed by the Maine Legislature last week. The bill allows prosecutors and judges to consider prior felony DUI convictions during a lifetime when sentencing drunk driving offenders. Currently, judges and prosecutors are limited to considering prior DUI felonies within the past 10 years.
Under Maine’s current law, if drunk driving offenders don’t have a DUI conviction in the past 10 years, they’re considered first-time offenders, despite how many or what type of convictions they might have received prior to those 10 years. That means that a drunk driving offender who was convicted of felony DUI over 10 years ago is charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by only 364 days in jail at the most. However, under the legislature-passed bill, any drunk driver who was convicted of felony DUI at any time in his or her life would face a new felony charge, punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Felony DUI offenders would also face a significant increase in the driver’s license suspension period.
While the bill only affects a small amount of DUI offenders, Rep. Timothy Marks, the bill’s prime sponsor, notes that it keeps the most dangerous drivers off the road and toughens consequences for repeat offenders, the state’s biggest problem when it comes to drunk driving. According to a 2013 analysis of repeat offenders by the Portland Press Herald, 819 drivers were convicted of drunk driving at least three times between 2003 and 2013.
The bill has been sent to Gov. Paul LePage for signature and will take effect in 90 days after it becomes a law.