What is the penalty if a jury finds a person guilty of a typical first-offense OUI in Maine? The offender pays a $500 fine and his or her driver’s license is suspended.

What happens when a person pleads guilty and enters Kennebec County’s new year-long OUI diversion program? The offender must:

* Complete an alcohol evaluation with recommended counseling.

* Not use alcohol for a year.

* Perform 50 hours of community service or donate $1,000 to a community nonprofit, such as a local food bank.

* Pay a $35-per-month diversion supervision fee.

If the offender completes all these requirements successfully, the offense of “driving to endanger” is placed on his or her record (instead of operating a motor vehicle under the influence). The person also pays a $575 fine and his or her license is suspended.

It also is important to note that the OUI diversion program is available only to those drivers who have no priors, a blood alcohol content of less than 0.11 and no aggravating factors, such as a car accident.

This is one tough program. Why do I think it’s important?

An OUI offense happens because of alcohol. When someone drives under the influence, that person has lost the ability to judge when he or she has had too much to drink.

This loss in judgment signifies a bigger problem than a $500 fine will solve; it also signifies a need for treatment and a giving back to the community.

As district attorney, the only way I can require first-time OUI offenders to receive treatment is to offer an incentive. If the offender completes the year-long program, the incentive is that the OUI charge is reduced to a conviction of driving to endanger.

For those who do not choose the program nothing has changed: They are prosecuted for OUI and a guilty verdict is placed into their record.

So why would anyone ever agree to undertake a program that requires so much more than an OUI conviction? Not many do. Those who do choose to participate, however, recognize, like I do, that they need treatment to avoid re-offending.

Kennebec County is one of the hardest counties in Maine on OUI convictions. In other counties, an OUI charge might be reduced to driving to endanger without the offender completing any program.

I believe my main purpose as district attorney is community protection, and I am convinced that a conviction with treatment best protects the community.

Maeghan Maloney is the district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties. This program is offered only for violations that occur in Kennebec County.

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