February 10, 2013

Kennebec County pilot program puts first-time OUI offenders into diversion, treatment

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

The new district attorney has changed the iron-clad, no-deal policy for drunken driving charges in Kennebec County that's been in place since 1976.

click image to enlarge

Maeghan Maloney

Contributed photo

2011 Drunken Driving Arrests

Statewide:   5,812 

Kennebec County: 614

Source:  Crime in Maine 2011, Department of Public Safety

A pilot program, launched last week, gives first-time offenders in Kennebec County a chance to avoid a conviction for operating under the influence, but they’ll have to work hard to do it under the guidelines set by District Attorney Maeghan Maloney, who took office last month.

Those charged have to undergo substance abuse evaluation and treatment if recommended, refrain from using or possessing alcohol for a year, do community service, pay a monthly supervision fee and refrain from new criminal conduct.

“This is giving someone a chance,” Maloney said. “It has to be more difficult than just pleading guilty to an OUI. Essentially, it forces someone to have treatment.”

The people considered for the diversion program must have a clean criminal record, a blood alcohol content of less than 0.12 percent recorded during the incident and no aggravating factors in the traffic stop.

“No accident, no kids in the car, no dangerous driving,” Maloney said.

She also said that if people are unable to afford alcohol treatment programs, she would accept proof that they had attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for a year.

The pilot program is not in effect in Somerset County, said Maloney, even though her prosecutorial district includes both counties. She said she wants to evaluate the success of the diversion program, which is similar to one offered in Portland.

She's most interested in seeing whether people reoffend.

 Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty worked with Maloney on the program.

“I believe this creative, innovative policy better serves the public, reserving those jail bed-days for violent offenders,” Liberty said. “Solely incarcerating people for offenses is not effective as a deterrent.”

Liberty said his focus is having offenders get treatment and give back to the community.

The change in policy was evident at hearings last week in Kennebec County Superior Court. Several people pleaded guilty to drunken driving, and the disposition of the case was postponed, in most cases for a year.

Nathan D. Williams, 27, of Unity, pleaded guilty to operating under the influence and received a 12-month deferred disposition with conditions that ban him from use or possession of alcohol or illegal drugs, and subject him to search for those and a chemical test at the request of a law enforcement officer.

He was ordered to undergo substance abuse evaluation — his attorney, Wayne R. Foote, told the judge Williams was already in the state’s Driver Education and Evaluation Program — complete counseling and provide proof of that every 60 days. 

The conditions include performing 40 hours of community service.

Under the agreement between the prosecutor and Foote, If Williams complies with all conditions, he can withdraw his plea next February and plead guilty to the lesser charge of driving to endanger, with an accompanying $575 fine and a 30-day license suspension.

The state program is aimed at reducing “the incidence of injury, disability and fatality that results from alcohol and other drug related motor vehicle crashes, and to reduce the risk of reoffense for OUI,” according to the Office of Sustance Abuse and Mental Health Services.

Kevin James Nadeau, 26, of Winslow, who entered a guilty plea via his attorney, Scott Gardner, to a charge of operating under the influence, was placed under the same conditions as Williams.

In a more unusual arrangement, Kathleen Ruff, 53, of Benton, was placed on a six-month deferred disposition after pleading guilty to operating under the influence and ordered to pay a $25 monthly supervision fee.

If she remains free from criminal problems, she can withdraw her plea and be convicted of driving to endanger, with an agreed-upon sentence of a $700 fine and a 90-day license suspension.

(Continued on page 2)

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