7/9/2007Maine: Bad Driving Law Snares Motorists in Ex Post Facto Trap
Drivers with multiple, past speeding tickets in Maine are finding their driving licenses suspended.
About two dozen motorists in Maine have lost their drivers' licenses over minor traffic tickets accumulated up to five years ago. The Lewiston Sun-Journal newspaper cites the case of Joe P. Dehetre, 23, as an example of a victim of Tina's law, a habitual offender statute that Governor John E. Baldacci (D) signed into law in April 2006.
"This bill is in an attempt to keep drivers with a history of motor-vehicle offenses, like the one who killed Tina [Turcotte], off the roads of Maine," Baldacci said in a statement at the signing.
Dehetre, however, believes he is being punished a second time for infractions he committed in the past and for which he has already paid his debt to society. Tina's law declares a driver a habitual offender if: "The person has accumulated 10 or more convictions or adjudications for moving violations arising out of separate acts committed within a 5-year period."
The penalty is a three-year driver's license suspension imposed immediately without a hearing, due process or consideration of mitigating circumstances. In Dehetre's case, he received two tickets for driving without a seatbelt and ten speeding tickets while working a job delivering tires on tight deadlines. He has never been convicted of a serious offense and he received his last speeding ticket in October 2005 -- long before enactment of Tina's law.
But when Dehetre rolled through a stop sign in January without coming to a complete stop, his prior record triggered the "ten ticket" definition of a habitual offender, even though nine of the offenses were committed long before the law was enacted. Dehetre points out that he already had paid $3000 in fines, spent four days in jail and had several license suspensions as punishment for his speeding and seatbelt offenses. He received notice in June that his license was suspended for three years as a result of Tina's law.
Article one, section 10 of the US Constitution prohibits states from enacting ex post facto laws. Former US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, defined as ex post facto: "Every law that changes the punishment, and inflicts a greater punishment than the law annexed to the crime when committed." (Calder v. Bull, 3 Dall. 386, 390, 391, 1 L. ed. 648, 650)