Frequently asked questions about criminal charges in Maine

If you or a loved one has been arrested or summonsed for a crime in Maine, you probably have many questions. The attorneys at Libby O’Brien Kingsley & Champion are experienced in criminal defense, and have defended clients against criminal charges such as domestic violence, assault, aggravated stalking, theft, drug possession, drug trafficking, operating under the influence, violation of a protection order, burglary, arson, and murder.

What can I expect? 

The first court appearance in a criminal case will ordinarily be for an initial appearance or an arraignment. During this first court appearance, you will be advised of the charge against you and, if you are charged with a misdemeanor, you will be asked whether you would plead guilty or not guilty. If you have an attorney, an attorney can enter your not guilty plea by mail.

The next step is a dispositional conference. The dispositional conference is not a trial, but a negotiation day to see if the case can be resolved by agreement. If the parties reach an agreement, most likely your case will be fully resolved then and there. Otherwise, the Judge will determine if the case is ready for trial and, if so, schedule the case for a jury selection and a jury trial.  During jury selection, the Court will select a jury to hear your case. In most cases, the trial will begin sometime within a week or two of the jury selection date. If the jury returns a guilty verdict after trial, you will have the opportunity to appeal the conviction to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court (known as the “Law Court” in Maine).

What are my rights when facing criminal charges? 

A person charged with a crime benefits from a number of constitutional rights, including the following:

  • The right to be presumed innocent unless the State proves each element of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. This burden is entirely on the State. You are not required to prove your innocence, and the presumption of innocence alone is enough for you to be acquitted.
  • The right to the assistance of an attorney.
  • The right to confront and cross-examine the State’s witnesses.
  • The right to a speedy and public trial by the court or by a jury.
  • The right to present witnesses, including the right to compulsory process.
  • The right to either testify on your own behalf or refrain from testifying. If you choose not to testify, the jury will be instructed that it cannot consider your silence as evidence of guilt.
  • If you are charged with a felony, the right to have the charge presented to a grand jury.
  • In Maine, the right to a unanimous jury verdict, meaning that you cannot be found guilty unless all twelve jurors agree that the State has proven your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

What are the penalties for crimes in Maine? 

Other than murder, all crimes in Maine are defined by the following classes:

Class A: Up to 30 years incarceration and a $50,000 fine.

Class B: Up to 10 years incarceration and a $20,000 fine.

Class C: Up to 5 years incarceration and a $5,000 fine.

Class D: Up to 364 days incarceration and a $2,000 fine.

Class E: Up to six months incarceration and a $1,000 fine.

Crimes that are categorized as Class A, B, and C crimes are considered felonies, whereas crimes categorized as Class D or E crimes are considered misdemeanors. Many criminal convictions may also carry collateral consequences, which are indirect consequences of having a criminal conviction. Collateral consequences frequently arise in the areas of professional licensing, immigration, and motor vehicle offenses.

What is bail? 

Bail is security, such as cash, that is posted by a defendant to secure the defendant’s release pending trial. The purposes of bail are to ensure the appearance of the defendant as required in court, to ensure the integrity of the judicial process, and where applicable, reasonably ensure the safety of others in the community. In addition to requiring cash, a defendant’s bail bond may require that the defendant comply with conditions of release, such as refraining from the use of alcohol, submitting to random searches, and having no contact with the alleged victim or a witness. A violation of a bail condition is itself a crime.

What is a filing agreement? What is a deferred disposition? 

Two tools that are frequently used in Maine to avoid trial are filing agreements and deferred dispositions. A filing agreement is an agreement between the defendant and the State that, if the defendant refrains from criminal conduct and satisfies other conditions, the charge will be dismissed after a certain period of time (usually one year). If the defendant violates one of the conditions in the filing agreement, the charge can be restored to the trial docket and the case will resume in the regular course.

A deferred disposition agreement is similar to a filing agreement but requires that the defendant enter a guilty plea up front. At the end of the deferment period, the charge may be dismissed, reduced, or a sentence may be imposed in the manner required by the agreement. Although a deferred disposition may often seem like an attractive option, a defendant entering a deferred disposition agreement is waiving his or her right to a trial. As such, defendants who have meritorious defenses should seriously consider whether accepting a deferred disposition agreement is in their best interest. And, even if a charge is ultimately dismissed under a deferred disposition agreement, it may still be treated as a “conviction” for some purposes (e.g., immigration).

What is probation? 

Probation is a process by which the Court suspends some (or all) of a person’s sentence, based on that person’s promise to comply with a set of probation conditions. Standard conditions of probation include:

  1.  Refrain from all criminal conduct and violation of federal, state, and local laws.
  2.  Report to the probation officer immediately and thereafter as directed and within 48 hours of your release from jail.
  3.  Answer all questions of your probation officer and permit the officer to visit you at your home or elsewhere.
  4.  Obtain permission from your probation officer before changing your address or employment.
  5.  Not to leave the State of Maine without written permission of your probation officer.
  6.  Maintain employment and devote yourself to an approved employment or education program.
  7.  Not possess or use any unlawful drugs and not possess or use alcohol excessively.
  8.  Identify yourself as a probationer to any law enforcement officer if you are arrested, detained, or questioned for any reason and notify  your probation officer of that contact within 24 hours.
  9.  Waive extradition back to the State of Maine from any other place.
  10.  Not own, possess or use any firearm or dangerous weapon if you have ever been convicted of a crime in any jurisdiction with a potential penalty of one year or more or any crime involving domestic violence or the use of a firearm or dangerous weapon.
  11.  Pay to the Department of Corrections a supervision fee.
  12.  Provide a DNA Sample if required.

Additional conditions of probation, depending on the circumstances of the case, may be imposed as well. These conditions typically include no use or possession of alcohol or illegal drugs, no possession of firearms or dangerous weapons, random searches and tests for the same, no contact with the named victim, and substance abuse evaluation and/or counseling to the satisfaction of a probation officer.

A violation of a condition of probation can result in any amount of time up to the full amount remaining to be served.  What may seem like an insignificant violation may be treated very harshly by a probation officer and a judge.  A probation violation hearing cannot be heard by a jury, just one judge, and has a lesser standard of proof than that of a new crime. It is also very difficult to obtain bail after being arrested for a violation of a condition of probation, creating a very real possibility that a person charged with violating probation will be held in jail until the final probation violation hearing.

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 »