Domestic violence crimes in Maine

Domestic Violence Crimes in Maine

Domestic violence crimes are among the most serious and frequently charged crimes in Maine. Even if charged as a misdemeanor, a domestic violence conviction will remain on your permanent criminal record and carries a stigma impacting you both professionally and personally.

Types of Domestic Violence Crimes

In Maine, the term “domestic violence” can cover a variety of crimes when committed against a household or family member. The predicate crimes include the following.

Assault. A person is guilty of assault if the person:

  1.  intentionally, knowingly or recklessly
  2.  causes bodily injury or offensive physical contact to another person.

Criminal Threatening. A person is guilty of criminal threatening if the person:

  1.  intentionally or knowingly
  2.  places another person in fear of imminent bodily injury.

Terrorizing. A person is guilty of terrorizing if that person:

  1.  in fact communicates to any person a threat to commit or to cause to be committed,
  2.  a crime of violence dangerous to human life,
  3.  against the person to whom the communication is made or another, and
  4.  the natural and probable consequence of such a threat, whether or not such consequence in fact occurs, is to place the person to   whom the threat is communicated or the person threatened in reasonable fear that the crime will be committed.

Stalking. A person is guilty of stalking the person:

  1.  intentionally or knowingly
  2.  engages in a course of conduct directed at or concerning a specific person, and
  3.  the defendant’s conduct would cause a reasonable person to
    1.  To suffer serious inconvenience or emotional distress;
    2.  To fear bodily injury or to fear bodily injury to a close relation;
    3.  To fear death or to fear the death of a close relation;
    4.  To fear damage or destruction to or tampering with property; or
    5.  To fear injury to or the death of an animal owned by or in the possession and control of that specific person.

Reckless Conduct: A person is guilty of reckless conduct if the person:

  1.  recklessly
  2.  creates a substantial risk of serious bodily injury
  3.  to another person.

Family or Household Member Requirement

For purposes of domestic violence crimes, a “family or household member” is defined to mean:

  • Spouses or domestic partners or former spouses or former domestic partners.
  • Individuals presently or formerly living together as spouses (regardless of whether the individuals hold themselves out as spouses).
  • Parents of the same child.
  • Adult household members related by consanguinity or affinity or minor children of a household member when the defendant is an adult household member.
  • Individuals presently or formerly living together
  • Individuals who are or were sexual partners.

This definition is construed broadly. But even so, when a person is charged with a domestic violence crime, the State must prove the relationship beyond a reasonable doubt as an element of the charge.

Penalties for Domestic Violence Crimes

The penalties for domestic violence crimes vary greatly depending on the facts and the offense charged.

Misdemeanor DV Offenses. Without any prior convictions or aggravating circumstances, the crimes listed above are all Class D crimes, which are punishable by a maximum of 364 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. Courts may also impose up to 2 years of probation for a domestic violence conviction and require that the defendant complete a certified batterer’s intervention program. Certified batterer’s intervention programs are long (48 weeks), expensive, and burdensome.

Prior Convictions. A misdemeanor domestic violence crime may be charged as a felony if the defendant has one or more prior convictions within the past 10 years for a domestic violence crime, a violation of a protection from abuse order, or a violation of conditions of release if the person was on bail for a domestic violence felony and violated a bail condition prohibiting contact with the victim or possession of a firearm. Out-of-state convictions for similar crimes count as prior convictions.

When a misdemeanor domestic violence charge is elevated from a Class D misdemeanor to a Class C felony, it is punishable by up to 5 years incarceration and a $5,000 fine.

Use of a Weapon. Maine’s criminal code has a general provision that, if a weapon is used in the commission of a crime, the classification of the crime is one higher than it would otherwise be. Because most domestic violence crimes are normally Class D misdemeanors, they will generally become Class C felonies if a weapon was used.

Felony Domestic Violence Crimes. Some domestic violence crimes can be charged as a felony to begin with, regardless of whether the defendant has any prior convictions or used a weapon. For example, when there is any physical contact with the alleged victim’s neck area, the State will frequently allege “strangulation” and charge the crime as a Domestic Violence Aggravated Assault, which would be punishable as a Class B felony, carrying a penalty of up to 10 years incarceration and a $10,000 fine.

Bail Conditions in Domestic Violence Crimes

The bail conditions that arise in domestic violence crimes are notoriously burdensome and frequently unfair to defendants. Because domestic violence crimes often arise between people who are living together, the immediate result of a domestic violence charge is that the defendant is effectively evicted from his or her own home and deprived of contact with loved ones through a “no contact” order. Many times, a no contact order is implemented without the alleged victim’s input or any serious consideration of the effect it is likely to have on the defendant, the alleged victim, or their children. Although defendants are favored with a presumption of innocence at trial, judges and bail commissioners regularly err on the side of caution when setting bail for domestic violence offenses.

Bail conditions may be amended or modified upon a showing of changed circumstances or upon the discovery of new and significant information. It is not lost on prosecutors that highly restrictive bail conditions increase the pressure on a defendant to plead guilty, so they will often fight vigorously to maintain them. In fact, the State will sometimes object even if the alleged victim does not oppose the change, if new evidence points to the defendant’s innocence, or if the defendant or others are experiencing hardship from the bail conditions. For this reason, it is critical to hire an attorney if you are seeking to change or modify a bail condition.

A violation of a bail condition is itself a Class E crime, punishable by up to 180 days’ in jail and a $1,000 fine. In some situations, a violation of a bail condition may be charged as a Class C felony. A violation of a bail condition can also result in bail being revoked. When bail is revoked, the court can order forfeiture of bail that has been posted, reset bail at a higher amount or with more restrictive conditions, or even hold the defendant “without bail” pending trial.

Firearms Prohibition

A conviction for a misdemeanor crime domestic violence offense in Maine can result in both state and federal restrictions on your ability to own or possess a firearm.

Federal Law. Under federal law, a person may not own or possess a firearm or ammunition if the person has been convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.” A “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” is an offense that:

  1.  Is a misdemeanor under federal, state, or tribal law;
  2.  Has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon; and
  3.  Was committed by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in   common, by a person who is cohabiting with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person   similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim.

It does not matter if the offense is formally defined as a “domestic violence” crime for this prohibition to apply. For example, a violation of Maine’s simple assault statute can trigger a federal firearm prohibition if committed against a spouse, regardless of whether the crime was charged as a “domestic violence” crime. Federal law also prohibits ownership or possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a felony, regardless of whether the conviction is for domestic violence or some other crime.

State Law. Under Maine law, a person convicted of a domestic violence offense may not own or possess a firearm until five years after the date on which the person is finally discharged from the sentence imposed. The five-year period starts anew if the person is convicted of another crime before the restriction is lifted. In the case of a deferred disposition, the five-year period begins at the start of the deferred disposition period, but can be terminated if the underlying charge is later dismissed with prejudice. Maine law likewise prohibits ownership or possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a felony.

These laws, both state and federal, are complex, frequently misunderstood, and subject to technical caveats and nuances. Anyone charged with a domestic violence crime who is at all concerned with firearm ownership or possession should consult with an attorney.

Common Issues in Domestic Violence Crimes

Domestic violence charges are rife with issues. Common defenses include:

  • The accuser has a motive to lie, such as spite, jealously, gaining an advantage in a custody dispute, or getting the defendant removed from a household.
  • Self-defense, defense of premises, and prior abusive behavior by the accuser directed against the defendant or others.
  • Inconsistencies between the accuser’s written statement, verbal statements to the officers, affidavits, statements on social media, and trial testimony.
  • Physical evidence that is inconsistent with what the accuser claimed happened.
  • Recantation of the accusation after a cooling off period.
  • Inadequate investigation by the police.

Every domestic violence case is different. Many abusers themselves leverage the criminal justice system by accusing the victim of domestic violence, resulting in the victim being arrested and prosecuted. Given the stakes, it is critical to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney early in the process. An attorney will assist you in gathering evidence, getting restrictive bail conditions lifted, developing defense strategies, and advising whether you should negotiate a plea agreement or put the State to its proof at trial.

Tyler J. Smith

Tyler J. Smith
Partner

Tyler’s practice is devoted to appeals, civil litigation, employment law, criminal defense, and defending operating under the influence charges. Before joining the firm in 2012, Tyler was a solo practitioner in Biddeford with a practice focused on criminal defense. After graduating law school, Tyler served as a judicial law clerk with the Maine Superior Court… Read more »