Just like in any other state, Maine has a lot of armchair constitutional scholars. These are people who may have read the U.S. Constitution a few times, and come to the understanding that it creates a body of government, and then reserves a handful of rights for individuals.
However, since it came into force in 1789, the terms of the Constitution have been interpreted countless times by courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States. In many cases, these interpretations have changed the apparent meaning of the Constitution, sometimes drastically. One of the ways that the Constitution has evolved like this is with regards to the Sixth Amendment, and your right to a trial by jury.
The Sixth Amendment states that, “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.” This might seem pretty straightforward. However, the Supreme Court has limited this right – criminal charges for “petty” offenses don’t need a jury for the trial.
While the rationale behind this is understandable – requiring courts to empanel a jury for each and every trial, no matter how small, would be a drain on the resources of government – it creates a dangerous slippery slope with regard to what’s a “petty” offense.
Ever since deciding that only defendants for non-petty offenses deserve the right to a jury trial, numerous cases have fought over what “petty” means.
After decades of arguing over the topic, the only things that have been solidly decided is that the focus should be on the sentence for the offense, and that a jail term of more than six months makes an offense “serious,” and not “petty.”
This difference between a “serious” and a “petty” criminal offense has a huge part to play in the crime of operating under the influence (OUI). In many states, jail terms for OUI offenses can approach the six month limit. However, jail terms are only a small aspect of OUI penalties – they also include lengthy license suspensions and serious fines.
New Jersey is currently in the middle of this very discussion. A driver was recently convicted for his third OUI, and sentenced to six months in jail and given a ten-year license suspension, followed by two years with an ignition interlock device. His right to a jury trial had been refused because this was deemed a “petty” offense.
The option of exercising a jury trial is an important one to consider. In Maine, however, OUI penalties only become “serious” if it’s your fourth offense, which can come with a mandatory minimum six months behind bars, but also a minimum fine of $2,100 and an eight-year license suspension. With that said, while the stiff jail penalty would qualify the charge under federal law for a jury trial, in Maine, any person charged with a criminal offense is entitled to a jury trial under Maine law. Maine doesn’t differentiate between serious and petty offenses when determining jury trial rights.
If you are facing criminal charges in Maine, the attorneys at The Maine Criminal Defense Group are here to help. Call our office to speak with
one of our team members, who will discuss your case with you and set up a consultation with one of our attorneys
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