ELLSWORTH — Those who drive drunk and get pulled over, soon may find themselves squaring off in court against an attorney devoted to prosecuting drunk and drugged drivers.
“It is no longer a simple area of criminal law, especially with the increase in drugged driving, which has even more challenges when trying to prove a case,” said District Attorney Matt Foster, who represents Hancock and Washington counties.
“The list of special considerations goes on and on,” Foster said.
For example, a motorist could be using prescription drugs improperly, he said.
Foster spoke to the Hancock County Commissioners Tuesday about providing $8,000 in initial funding for an impaired-driving special prosecutor.
Downeast Maine has been approved for a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration grant for the position, Foster said. That grant would reimburse the counties for their investment in the special prosecutor.
“We had over 400 impaired driving cases screened through our offices in 2016 and having a specially designated prosecutor for those cases will allow us to prosecute more impaired driving cases and give better attention to the ones that are borderline and might get pleaded down to a lesser offense right now,” Foster said.
“OUIs can be somewhat technical in that there are certain procedures that must be followed, specific items of proof to provide, and many, many statutory duties on the state to preserve evidence, or have certain witnesses available on request of defense,” Foster said.
The prosecutor explained that a plea deal for a simple OUI might involve a defendant pleading guilty to a charge of driving to endanger after a deferred disposition or other conditions.
Foster cited Maine’s mandatory 96-hour jail sentence for motorists who refuse to submit to blood alcohol or drug tests as another example.
“The state might delete that language in the complaint to remove the mandatory jail from the plea deal,” Foster said.
Foster said his office handled about 3,500 cases in 2016. Of that total, 400, or 11 percent, involved impaired driving.
“I am hopeful that both counties will recognize the need for and benefit of this opportunity and provide the requested funding,” Foster said.
Chairman Antonio Blasi and Commissioner Percy “Joe” Brown voted to support the program. Commissioner Bill Clark arrived after the vote.
Foster is scheduled to present the proposal to the Washington County Commissioners today, Thursday, Sept. 14.
The prosecutor asked the Hancock County Commissioners if the board would be willing to fund the entire initial cost, $16,000, if Washington County doesn’t want to participate. The prosecutor would then prosecute cases only in Hancock County.
The commissioners said they would need to further consider funding the entire $16,000 in start-up costs even though the funds would be reimbursed.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has grant funds that are utilized in four other districts in Maine at this time,” Foster said. The grants are one year in length.