Maine Criminal Law: An Overview
Statistically speaking, Maine is one of the safest states in the union. But crimes do occur, and Mainers need to know what they are dealing with when facing criminal charges.
This article is a broad overview of some of Maine’s criminal statutes and how they affect your criminal case. LawInfo can also connect you with a Maine criminal defense attorney in Portland, Lewiston, Bangor, or elsewhere in the state.
Crime Classifications in Maine
Each state distinguishes crimes by severity and the possible punishments for a criminal conviction. While most states classify crimes as felonies, misdemeanors, and petty offenses, Maine assigns each criminal offense to one of five classes.
Except for murder offenses, which are unclassified, the state classifies all other criminal offenses as Class A, B, C, D, or E offenses. Class A offenses, like manslaughter and rape, are the most serious criminal charges after murder offenses, and Class E offenses, such as petty theft and driving with a suspended license, are the least serious.
Every class carries a range of sentences, but a specific offense’s statute may override the standard sentence with a unique one. The sentences for each class include:
- Unclassified (murder) crimes: 25 years to life imprisonment
- Class A crimes: Up to 30 years of imprisonment and up to a $50,000 fine
- Class B crimes: Up to 10 years of imprisonment and up to a $20,000 fine
- Class C crimes: Up to five years of imprisonment and up to a $5,000 fine
- Class D crimes: Up to one year of imprisonment and up to a $2,000 fine
- Class E crimes: Up to six months of imprisonment and up to a $1,000 fine
Maine DUI Laws
The Pine Tree state refers to drunk driving as “operating under the influence,” or OUI, and has some of the most strict penalties in the nation. A first offense could mean 48 hours in jail and a 5-month license suspension.
The legal limit for blood-alcohol content (BAC) is, like most other states, 0.08 percent, but Maine also has an enhanced penalty or aggravated OUI BAC limit of 0.15 percent. Additionally, the state has a “zero-tolerance” policy for underage drivers, meaning any BAC for someone under the age of 21 while behind the wheel is illegal. And keep in mind that part of having a driver’s license in Maine means you have consented to BAC testing if you are arrested on suspicion of driving drunk.
One thing people often don’t realize is that OUI laws are not limited to drunk driving, and you could face criminal charges if you are driving while under the influence of narcotics or even prescription medicine.
Domestic Violence Laws in Maine
Maine has broad domestic battery and domestic abuse protections. The state does not limit the definition of domestic violence to spouses, and defines “domestic violence assault” as any assault on a family member or household member, including:
- Current or former spouses or domestic partners
- Individuals who are or were sexual partners
- Natural parents of the same child
- Minor children living in the same house
- Adults related by blood living in the same house
- Individuals presently or formerly living together
Domestic violence is a Class D crime and includes criminal threatening, terrorizing, and stalking.
If you’ve been the victim of domestic abuse, you can seek three different orders to keep your abuser away: protection from abuse orders, which apply to instances of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault; protection from harassment orders; and protection from abuse orders for elderly, dependent, or incapacitated victims.
Maine Murder vs. Manslaughter Laws
Killing someone may be one of the worst crimes to commit in Maine, but not all homicide cases are the same. State law recognizes that a person who accidentally killed another doesn’t deserve the same criminal penalties as a person who killed someone intentionally. That is why Maine distinguishes manslaughter from murder.
Murder is the most serious homicide offense as it implies that the killer intended to kill another person. The only instances in which a homicide is determined to be manslaughter are if the killer either acted recklessly or with criminal negligence, or knowingly or intentionally killed while under the influence of extreme anger or fear that was caused by the victim or a third party. If there was no adequate provocation that would reasonably instigate the killer’s extreme anger or fear, the homicide is considered murder.
Manslaughter is a Class A criminal offense. However, if the offense involved the death of an employee as the result of a manager or executive’s violation of occupational health and safety codes, it is a Class C manslaughter offense.
Maine Criminal Record Expungement
Some states allow people to have certain criminal cases expunged (or sealed) from their record. Maine, however, imposes stringent restrictions that only allow someone to expunge juvenile crimes at a certain time. The purpose of expungement in Maine is to help a person who had committed a minor juvenile offense to work toward sealing that offense so that it doesn’t affect future work and life opportunities.
Maine’s record expungement requirements include:
- Only Class E convictions, which are the least serious criminal charges
- You committed the offense when you were between the ages of 18 and 21 years
- Four or more years have passed since you completed your sentence
- The conviction you want expunged is the only criminal conviction on your record in Maine
- You have no other convictions outside of the state or jurisdiction.
What To Consider When Hiring a Maine Criminal Defense Lawyer
Hiring an experienced criminal lawyer is critical to successfully navigating the court system. Consider the criminal defense attorney’s years of experience, the character of the attorney-client relationship and their practice areas, among other factors. Even if the attorney primarily practices criminal law, find out if the criminal matters they typically handle involve the type of charge you are facing. For example, if an attorney primarily handles DWI/DUI/OUI cases, it may not be a good fit if you are charged with a violent crime or a sex crime. You may want to find an attorney that is experienced in defending against those criminal charges. Or if you are charged under Maine law with a property crime or drug trafficking crime, you can ask the attorney about their years of experience handling those types of cases.
Most criminal defense lawyers will offer free consultations in order to meet with them first before you decide to hire them or not. This can be a good opportunity to find out what that attorney-client relationship might feel like going forward. Going through the criminal court system on your own can be a daunting task in the state of Maine. Find an advocate who is on your side to protect you every step of the way.