A law is a law, and two people charged with the same offense should reasonably expect the same result.

That’s not how it works in Maine, though, at least when it comes to drunken driving.

According to a recent report by MaineToday Media, people charged with operating under the influence in Aroostook County are almost twice as likely to be convicted as those nabbed in York County. The two counties have 10-year average conviction rates of 74 percent and 37 percent, respectively. And the conviction rate in Cumberland County is 47 percent, just over half that of Penobscot, which leads the state with a conviction rate in drunken driving cases of 83 percent.

It’s clear that the prosecutors’ offices in southern Maine, with their higher volume of cases, assign priorities to those cases and allow some defendants to plead down to lesser charges.

This may be a responsible use of resources by district attorneys who have more cases, including assaults, robberies and drug crimes, than they can handle. It is not fair, however, for two drivers with the same blood-alcohol content to end up with different penalties simply because they are nabbed in different parts of the state.

The system could be made more equitable, but each has its own problems.

A lighter sentence for first-time drunken drivers could get more guilty pleas in the high-volume districts, but also could send the wrong message that the state is growing more tolerant of drinking and driving.

The state could boost the budgets of the busiest district attorneys’ offices, but coming up with more state money is never easy.

Some states have experimented with having police officers act as prosecutors in OUI cases, but that just shifts the resource problem from the DA’s office to the police department.

Even with those problems, however, the Legislature should address this situation. Expectations for prosecution and conviction should not vary this much among the state’s 16 counties.

One law exists for the whole state, and the consequence for breaking it should be the same no matter where the offense occurred.

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