What Should You Expect When You've Been Charged With Domestic Violence in Maine?
Serving all of Portland, Augusta, Bangor, Saco and Biddeford
Domestic violence is a serious charge and one that carries serious, mandatory penalties that include terms of imprisonment, fines, counseling and probation. A conviction for a domestic violence charge can have long-term, life altering effects; many of which can't be accurately predicted due to the changing state and federal laws dealing with this topic.
In Maine, whenever the police are called to a "domestic dispute", someone is getting arrested and taken to the county jail. Period. And that's because Maine has a serious domestic violence problem and as a result, both prosecutors and judges take a hardline against domestic violence offenders. In York and Cumberland counties, those District Attorney offices have their own special domestic violence prosecution divisions, manned by specially trained prosecutors whose sole mandate is to prosecute crimes of domestic violence. In light of some recent high profile murders, which were fueled by a history of domestic abuse, other counties have formed their own special DV prosecution units.
Domestic Violence is no joke in Maine and a conviction is likely to land you in jail for months or even years, depending on your criminal history and the facts of your case. Regardless of whether or not you've been charged with a misdemeanor or felony crime of domestic violence, you should immediately contact an attorney to defend you. Failure to retain the right attorney on your case can have disastrous results.
When your spouse or significant other calls the police because the argument you two had has spiraled out of control, at least two police officers are going to show up at your home. They're going to separate the two of you to get your stories and will try and get you to admit to pushing, striking, threatening or causing offensive physical contact to your significant other. Once that fact has been established, either through your own admission or your spouse's statement, you can expect to be arrested and charged with a crime of domestic violence.
During the arrest sequence, the "victim" in the case usually expresses regret or even outrage that the defendant is being arrested. More often than not, that's because the "victim" was unable to get his or her way during the argument or was unable to resolve the issue and called the police to assist them in settling it for them. That's not what the police are for; they're not there to help you resolve an argument. And in arguments, sometimes people say things they don't really mean. But once the police are called, someone is going to jail and as the victim, there is nothing you can do to prevent the arrest.
Common allegations in Domestic Violence charges include the following:
- Domestic Violence Assault - the defendant pushed, shoved, struck, punched or slapped the victim. If the conduct would constitute an assault under the law and the "victim" was a dating partner or household member, you've committed a crime of Domestic Violence Assault.
- Domestic Violence Terrorizing - the defendant communicated a threat that would cause the victim to reasonably believe that a crime would be committed against the victim.
Once you've been arrested for a crime of Domestic Violence, you'll be brought to the local county jail where either a bail commissioner will set bail or if you can't afford the bail as set, you'll be held until you can see a judge.
In all domestic violence cases, the bail commissioner and/or the judge will set the following conditions, at a minimum:
- no contact, either direct or indirect, with the alleged "victim";
- exclusion from the home or apartment if you resided with the "victim" and he or she will be entitled to exclusive possession of the premises until the case is fully and finally resolved;
- no use or possession of illegal drugs and alcohol if it's alleged you'd been drinking or drugging during the domestic dispute;
- no use or possession of dangerous weapons.
In order to ensure that you're in compliance with your bail conditions as set, the court or bail commissioner will also order that you be subject to random search, seizure and testing for drugs, alcohol and dangerous weapons. If you are found to be in violation of your bail conditions, you'll be charged with a new crime of Violating Conditions of Release and likely held without bail pending resolution of the Domestic Violence charges.
To be clear, courts define contact as any contact, direct or indirect and include the following examples of prohibited direct contact with the "victim": texting, calling, writing letters, electronic contact of any sort to include contact through social media, and showing up at the "victim's" home, place of work or church. Examples of indirect contact include having a friend or family member call the "victim" in order to relay messages to him or her; showing up repeatedly at the grocery store when the "victim" is shopping (which incidentally could qualify as stalking). Any allegation of direct or indirect contact with the "victim" will result in your immediate arrest and a no-bail hold until the case is resolved.
Keep in mind that bail conditions don't "go away" once you plead not guilty. Instead, bail conditions remain in full force and effect until the case is resolved; either through a plea, dismissal of the charges or return of a verdict following trial.
In most of my domestic violence cases, the services of a private investigator are needed in order to ensure a successful outcome. In many cases, the "victim" wants to recant his or her statement and it's important that the PI is available to take a new statement from the "victim". If the "victim" later changes his or her mind about recanting, we'll be able to introduce the "victim's" own sworn statement against them if the case proceeds to trial.
In addition, there maybe witnesses to the alleged crime. Perhaps one of the neighbors heard the argument and wrote a statement or a friend was present when the argument occurred. Obtaining an independent statement from those witnesses can prove helpful to the case, especially if the witnesses disposition has changed from hostile to friendly with respect to the defendant. Many times, the witnesses will make inconsistent statements in their original statements to the police and the follow up statements to the PI. Those inconsistent statements can be used to create reasonable doubt at trial or leverage when attempting to negotiate an outcome with the District Attorney.
Depending on your financial resources, the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Defense may be willing to assist you in funding the costs of a PI. Just because you retained an attorney doesn't mean you necessarily have the funds available to pay for a PI. At WTB Law, we have the experience to make those determinations and can secure you alternatives to paying the full cost of a PI out-of-pocket.
The purpose of an arraignment is to apprise the defendant of the charges pending and to enter your plea of guilty or not guilty. Bail issues can also be addressed during the arraignment and is usually the first opportunity to have some of the more onerous conditions amended or even stricken.
If the Domestic Violence charge was a misdemeanor, you won't need to appear in court unless you failed to retain an attorney. If you retained the services of this law office, we'll appear on your behalf and plead you not guilty. If bail needs to be argued, we'll ask that you appear and attempt to ascertain whether or not the "victim" is in agreement with some of the conditions you're seeking to have amended.
Once you've been arraigned, a date for the dispositional conference will be set. This is the first court appearance where you presence is mandated. However, with that said, there are some courts in the state of Maine that don't require you to appear at this stage of the proceeding. If you have questions about whether or not your appearance is mandatory, check with your attorney.
During the dispositional conference, the merits of the case are discussed with both the DA and if necessary, the judge. Both sides are trying their best to resolve the case without resorting to trial. However, that's not always possible and trials are sometimes unavoidable. With that said, the dispositional conference is where the best outcome can be negotiated. If the parties cannot come to an agreement, the case will either set for jury selection or for a hearing on a Motion to Suppress Evidence.
Some of the possible outcomes from a dispositional conference can include the following:
- Dismissal of all charges
- A deferred disposition agreement
- A filing
- A reduction of charges
- An agreement to plead guilty as charged but for the mandatory minimum sentence
Motions to Suppress Evidence
During a hearing on a motion to suppress evidence, the court will determine whether or not your constitutional rights were violated and if so, whether or not some or all of the evidence sought to be introduced by the prosecutor will be suppressed.
The prosecutor has the burden of proof and therefore, must present the state's evidence as it pertains to the constitutional violation. They do that by introducing witnesses who present sworn testimony to the court. The defense attorney can then cross-examine (question) the witness and introduce their own witnesses to rebut the state's evidence. Both parties can make arguments and present relevant case law for the court to consider.
If the court finds that a constitutional right has been violated by the government, the court will suppress the evidence that was obtained in violation of your rights. This can lead to mere exclusion of the damaging evidence or, if the evidence was crucial to the State's ability to prove their case, can result in a dismissal of the charges.
Type of constitutional issues heard by Maine courts include:
- Violation of Miranda rights;
- Illegal seizures;
- Arrests without probable cause
Assuming that your case didn't resolve at dispositional conference and that the State's case survived any constitutional challenges, you're now ready to pick a jury and conduct a trial.
All trials are open to the press and public. No one is excluded from these public proceedings. That means the press can print what is learned at trial and publish the jury or judge's verdict for the world to see. With that in mind, many defendants seek to avoid trial as the risk of public humiliation through the airing of private affairs is to great.
Juries are made up of 12 people from the county where the crime occurred. Because jurors are people, they sometimes have a difficult time separating their personal biases and feelings from the law. That's why it's important for the attorney conducting the defense to ensure a proper void dire in order to exclude those type of people from the jury pool.
Ultimately, your case and future is in the defense attorney's hands. So choose your champion wisely. All attorneys are not created equal. Some have greater or lesser trial skills than others. Make sure you pick a fighter and not a coward.
Since the State bears the burden of proof, they get to make the first opening statement and they get to put on their case first. The defense goes last for opening statements and putting on their witnesses. Most cases are won or lost through cross-examination and persuasive (or not) presentation of the evidence. A seasoned and skilled trial attorney will know how to bring all of his considerable trial skills to bear for your benefit.
A jury's verdict must be unanimous. If only one juror holds out with a "not guilty vote", the case is considered a mistrial and the DA has the choice of reviving the charge and starting over or negotiating a more favorable outcome with the defendant. Each case's facts and circumstances are unique and will influence the prosecutors decision either positively or negatively. Nonetheless, a mistrial is a successful outcome, which could result in a dismissal or steep reduction of the original charges
If a jury returns of verdict of NOT GUILTY, the case is over. Bail is released and you are free to continue on with your life. If you've had time to make up with your wife or significant other, you'll be allowed to reside with him or her and pick up the pieces. Hopefully, life will return to normal and the nightmare that's been your life these last many months will subside and fade away.
If a jury returns of verdict of guilty, the judge will either impose sentence immediately following arguments from the attorneys or the judge will postpone sentencing so that the attorneys can prepare arguments for a later date. If sentencing is postponed, bail will remain in effect until the court renders judgment. If the sentence includes a period of imprisonment, be prepared to go to prison that day. In many cases, judges will refuse any requests to stay execution of a prison sentence following a trial as they're concerned that the defendant will exact revenge on the "victim" in the case.
Unforeseen Consequences of Domestic Violence Conviction
If you've been convicted of a crime of Domestic Violence, life as you've come to know it will be irrevocably changed. Forever. Aside from the obvious criminal penalties imposed by the court, which include a term of incarceration, probation, fines and mandatory completion of Maine's Certified Batter's Intervention Program, the following additional, unforeseen consequences await you upon release from jail or prison:
- You are now federally prohibited from ever owning, possessing, or using a firearm or ammunition. Violation of this prohibition will result in federal charges.
- You will likely lose your job as employers will see you as a risk for violence in the workplace.
- You will be unable to apply for federal jobs.
- You'll likely have your security clearance revoked if you're a member of the military, resulting in termination from your chosen branch of service.
- You'll have a permanent, criminal record.
- Your spouse can use the conviction against you in a family law matter such as a divorce action, child custody litigation or determination of parental rights and responsibilities.
If you've been charged with a crime of Domestic Violence, don't go forward alone. Retain an experienced and aggressive attorney such as William T. Bly, Esq. Call WTB Law for a free consultation, where you'll learn about your rights and defenses to your pending criminal charges.