What to do When Faced with Criminal Abuse Charges in Maine
Often, it’s quite confusing for people because it’s a vastly different system that they’re in at that point. It’s the state or the D.A.’s office versus the person. If it’s a domestic assault situation, they think the alleged victim has brought the case against them. That’s not actually true. It’s the state, started by a police department usually, that brings an action against you. Often, even an uncooperative person who doesn’t want you charged with a crime can be forced to participate in the system. The first issue to get really straight is the state is against the person who’s charged with a crime.
The next thing is often the first time the person realizes they’re going to be charged is when they’re arrested. Maine is a pretty good state with regard to bail. If the person’s history isn’t too awfully bad and they’ve appeared in court for any other things that they’ve had, Maine often grants bail. It’s a very good state for bail. Sometimes, it’s with a cash component, often not. There are often conditions with regard to especially domestic kind of cases of no contact with the alleged victim, sometimes with the children. Sometimes, it’s not to possess firearms or other dangerous weapons. You want to mind those bail conditions because you can get arrested and charged with a separate crime for violating conditions of release.
If you’re not arrested, often you’re summoned. That’s just an order to appear at the court, like a ticket almost. You get a bail sheet when you get bailed, if that’s what happened if you got arrested. The conditions are on the bail sheet, as is the court date that you must appear. Either on the summons or on the bail sheet, there is a court date. You have to go to the court on that date. That’s your arraignment. If it’s a felony-level offense, that arraignment date – you still have to go to that, but the actual arraignment might be delayed pending indictment.
At that first initial arraignment hearing, issues of bail can be addressed. For example, if the alleged victim wants to have contact with you or wants to allow children to have contact, you have to make those arrangements. That is an opportunity to address those issues there. You can actually address those earlier, too, if they’re necessary and an agreement can be reached.
After that, most counties in the state of Maine are part of the Uniform Criminal Docketing System, which is a single court for criminal cases, both misdemeanor and felony-level cases. You are entitled to a jury trial. Traditionally, you had to request a jury trial if you wanted one for a misdemeanor, but that has largely been dispensed with in counties that have the Uniform Criminal Docketing System. You’re automatically in line for a jury trial. That happens after your arraignment.
At your arraignment, your attorney or you usually get the police reports of the incident. They’re very important because that’s the state’s or prosecutor’s office perspective on the evidence supporting a conviction. Sometimes, it’s not complete, or there’s other information that a person knows is out there that you can seek. You can get it from the prosecutor’s office if they have it, or you can conduct or have a private investigator conduct an investigation for those things that the district attorney’s office might not have access to.
There is, under the Uniform Criminal Docketing System, a motion’s hearing date. That’s very important, in a criminal context especially, because that’s often where constitutional rights and whether or not they’ve been violated are litigated. They can have a profound impact on whether a conviction occurs or not. For example, if a statement was taken from the defendant when they were in a situation where they’re under arrest and they weren’t given the appropriate warnings, that is deemed to be custodial interrogation.
Without the proper warnings, it’s not admissible against the person. Sometimes, the alleged victim is also an aggressor, and the issue comes up was the defendant defending themselves as opposed to committing a crime. Sometimes, an alleged victim admits that’s what was going on and is helpful that way. Sometimes, you interview them, and they lay out that that’s what happened. Sometimes, those people have their own rights that need to be protected, not by the defendant’s lawyer, but they need to be informed that they may not be required to testify, for example, because they are implicated in crimes themselves.
The jury trial, although it’s frightening to most people, is a tremendous protection for folks, ordinary citizens, that we have. It’s relatively unique in the world. As much as any other way that exists to arrive at the truth, it works. It really does. It’s very much a protection for the accused that’s constitutionally entrenched. In Maine, and in most other jurisdictions, the jury has to be unanimous as to every element of the crime.
If they’re not unanimous beyond a reasonable doubt that every element of the crime has been committed or that the defense, for example, has been disproved beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury has to acquit. If they can’t reach a unanimous verdict of guilty or not guilty, that’s considered a hung jury, essentially, and a person can be retried. Unless it’s quite a serious charge, that usually doesn’t happen. The state has limited resources, and they often don’t do that. It’s, I think, very protective of the presumption of innocence to have a jury trial.
The way I like to describe it to people is the jury – it’s like their first day on the job. They take it very seriously. They listen to the instructions of the judge to only convict if it’s beyond a reasonable doubt, that they have to weigh the evidence. They are mindful that they have to be unanimous. They take it quite seriously. It turns out, it’s quite a protection for people who have a defense, are not guilty, the situation is somewhat ambiguous, and a defense is possible. It really, really works. I realize that people are very afraid of it. The whole idea terrifies some people. It’s quite distasteful for other people. It’s a very good system for the defendants in determining whether or not they’re guilty.