Law Court overturns decision in OUI case involving 1991 Aroostook manslaughter case

6 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled on Nov. 6 that select evidence stemming from a 1991 manslaughter conviction against a Mount Desert man can be included in a current case. 

Troy D. Hastey, 46, was indicted in February 2016 on a Class B charge of aggravated operating under the influence. The enhancing factor in the indictment that elevated the charge to aggravated concerned Hastey’s 1991 manslaughter conviction that the state alleges “involved or resulted from” the operation of a motor vehicle while he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Hastey was 18 on the night of Jan. 19, 1990, when he drove a 1978 GMC pickup truck across the centerline while headed south on North Street in Houlton. The truck hit a 1986 Chevy driven by Ella Grant, 53, of Houlton, who was killed in the collision. Two other northbound vehicles also were involved in the accident after the initial collision, but no one else was injured.

Hastey pleaded guilty to manslaughter in May 1991, but the state dropped the accompanying OUI charge as part of the plea deal. He was sentenced to seven years in prison with all but two years suspended and four years probation.

Because Hastey was not convicted of OUI in that earlier case, he appealed the enhanced charge in the current case and argued that any evidence that alcohol was involved in the 1990 accident cannot be used against him now.

Kirk Bloomer, Hastey’s attorney, also contended that if the state was permitted to present evidence that he was intoxicated in the 1990 crash, the state would have to “re-prosecute the 1990 charges,” violating his right to not be tried twice for the same crime under the “double jeopardy” clause present in the U.S. Constitution.

Aroostook County Superior Court Justice Harold Stewart II agreed and granted Hastey’s motion to exclude evidence of his alleged intoxication in 1990.

The difference in a potential penalty for Hastey is significant. Without any aggravating factors, a Class D OUI is a misdemeanor punishable by no more than 364 days in jail and a maximum fine of $2,000. A Class B charge of aggravated criminal OUI is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

Prosecutors appealed Stewart’s ruling to the state’s highest court. They argued that the lower court erred when it ruled that the state’s proof regarding Hastey’s 1991 conviction is limited to the manslaughter judgment, which did not establish that Hastey was under the influence at the time of the incident. The prosecutors argued that even if it was not proven in 1991, they could prove now that he was under the influence when he drove his truck over the centerline and into a car 28 years ago.

They indicated in court documents that they intend to present certified Bureau of Motor Vehicle records and results of blood tests taken from Hastey in 1990. Aroostook County Assistant District Attorney Kurt Kafferlin further informed justices that the majority of the witnesses who were involved in the 1991 case were available to testify.

The Law Court agreed with the prosecutors in a 6-1 decision, vacating the lower court’s order and denying Hastey’s motion.

The majority of justices noted that protective measures in the law would shield Hastey from “potential unfairness,” including rules of evidence that would impact what would be allowed into a potential trial, and that the reliability of evidence and testimony “of an incident that by the time of the trial will have occurred nearly thirty years ago,” will be examined in court.

Justice Joseph Jabar was the lone dissenter in the supreme court decision. He noted in court documents that the court’s decision would allow the state to produce extrinsic evidence that Hastey was operating under the influence at the time of his manslaughter conviction, even though there is a possibility that the conviction did not “involve or result from” the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

He said that the result would be a retrial of the factual circumstances around a 28-year-old case. Jabar wrote that it was “fundamentally unfair to Hastey to undo the terms of his plea to manslaughter,” and that after 28 years, he was faced with having to defend himself against the charge of OUI “that was dismissed as part of his plea agreement.”

Kafferlin said Friday that since the case was still pending, he could not comment on it. Aroostook County District Attorney Todd Collins was not available for comment.

Bloomer said Friday that he was “very disappointed with the Law Court’s decision.”

“We feel that Justice Jabar hit the nail right on the head in his decision,” he said. “This places an unfair burden on my client.”

He said that he and Hastey have not yet decided on future plans for the case that now appears headed back for trial in Aroostook County.