We assume that when someone’s conduct behind the wheel is so egregious they receive a “lifetime driving ban” that it means just that – they’ll no longer be able to lawfully drive. It turns out that it’s not so in Maine.
This was highlighted in a recent case out of Fairfield. There, a man previously from Skowhegan was convicted of drunk driving for a 1996 crash that killed three people and injured two others. For this crime, as part of his sentence, the judge imposed a lifelong ban on his driving privileges. That should have been the end of the story, but as it turns out, there is a loophole in Maine law. If a person’s driver’s license has been “permanently” revoked, they are still allowed to petition the court for reinstatement of that license if 10 years have passed since they were released from prison.
After this case was highlighted by the Press Herald, two lawmakers from central Maine who are members of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee vowed to introduce a bill that would scrap that section of the law. In an interview, they noted it was “upsetting” that the word “permanent” doesn’t actually mean that under state law. They say there should be no chance for a driver like this one to appeal years after a judge ruled they should never be allowed to drive again.
In this case, the 39-year-old convicted felon had three times requested to have his license reinstated after it was suspended for life back in 1997 when he was sentenced. Last year, his claim was denied by the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles, following a hearing in which he explained (via his attorney) that he needed a license to be able to run basic errands and see his family. The hearing officer denied the claim, finding the man hadn’t made any sort of meaningful apology to the families affected until he sought to reinstate his license. Interestingly, in that decision, handed down in October, the hearing officer also cited a number of recent Facebook messages sent by the man, indicating he was “callous” about the impact his drunk driving accident had on the families.
Family members and friends of those who were killed in that crash appeared at the hearing, saying they always believed the license ban was intended to be permanent.
Nonetheless, his most recent request for reinstatement was granted.
Legal scholars quoted by the Press-Herald noted that there is technically nothing irrational or internally wrong about the law. However, it is clear that “permanent” doesn’t mean permanent – unless after a permanent revocation and reinstatement, someone commits another offense. Only at that point is the permanent revocation unable to be appealed.
Lawmakers say that in order to remedy this contradiction, they would not take out the term “permanent” – since that could actually have the effect of weakening the law. Instead, they would cut out the entire section allowing an appeal of any “permanent” ban on one’s driving privileges.
Still, even if the law was passed, it wouldn’t apply to the current case, since individuals are only subject to legal provisions in place at the time of their offense.
If you are a victim of a Bangor car accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-490-5218 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
Bill would make lifetime driver’s license suspension permanent, May 29, 2017, By Doug Harlow, Press Herald
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