The year 2019 brings a political change in Maine, and potentially in criminal law. With a former prosecutor in the Blaine House, and a politically unified leadership in the Executive and Legislative branches, criminal law may begin to fundamentally change. While the counties, through district attorneys, are the primary law enforcement officers for state crimes, criminal laws are created through the Legislature. It is difficult to say how criminal law will change, but by analyzing the Governor's history and positions on criminal law issues, we may have some guidance into future laws and enforcement.
For the first time since Governor Joseph Brennan was in office in the 1980's, Maine has a former prosecutor as Governor. Governor Janet Mill's most recent job was serving as Maine's Attorney General. The Attorney General's office, among other things, prosecutes Maine's most serious crimes. Mills also served as a District Attorney and held other prosecutorial offices during her career. With a governor with extensive practice in criminal prosecution, Maine could see support for strict criminal laws and harsher penalties. This may conflict with the general views of the Democratic party, of which Mills is a member, and who holds a majority in both houses of the Maine Legislature. The Democratic party is historically known for more rehabilitative focuses when looking at criminal justice. Mill's long history as a prosecutor and her political ideology will likely resolve in a focus on rehabilitation for those with addictions or for less serious crimes but will also mean strict laws and longer minimum sentences for more serious crimes.
Mills has not made many public announcements regarding criminal justice reform, but we can get a sense of her vision through other statements related to criminal law. Mills has stated one of her first priorities is to address the opioid crisis in Maine. On her campaign website, she lists several plans to help curb the high rate of overdoses on narcotics in Maine. One of her plans includes increasing use of Drug Courts. The Drug Court is a highly supervised program meant to assist those facing criminal charges who have strong addictions to substances and are high risk for reoffending. Oftentimes, their addiction is directly related to the crime. This program allows strict monitoring to prevent drug use, using incentives and disincentives to help people in recovery and giving them resources to cope with their addictions. Once someone successfully completes drug court, they will have the tools to carry on their battle against addiction and will receive a lighter sentence or avoid other criminal consequences. Drug Court is a rehabilitative form of criminal justice and will likely receive wide-spread approval in the Legislature. While addressing the opioid crisis, Mills also states that Maine must “prosecute those who poison our communities.” This likely means she will work to enact harsher sentencing for those convicted of drug trafficking in Maine, especially those who do not have addictions of their own. While most prosecutions of crimes happen in the counties, Mills and the State Legislature can start changing how crimes are prosecuted, what conduct is illegal, and how someone who is convicted of a crime should be sentenced. Additionally, many drug trafficking crimes are often prosecuted by the State Attorney General's office, an office where the Governor has a more direct link in influencing law enforcement.
One area of criminal law under the Governor's direct control is giving pardons and commutations for crimes and sentences. The Governor has the sole power to pardon people for convictions of State crimes, or commuting sentences for crimes, often by decreasing the sentence imposed. Generally speaking, not many applications for pardons or commutations are granted in Maine. With no mechanism to expunge, or erase, criminal records, this is often the only way crimes can be removed from public record. With Mill's history as a prosecutor, the number of pardons will likely be even more sparse.
The next few years will likely bring about changes to criminal law through the Executive and Legislative branches. If you are charged with a crime, contact the attorneys of WTB Law immediately for a consultation.