Criminal Cases

Criminal cases are brought by the State against persons accused of committing a crime. The State brings the charge because a crime is considered an offense against society. Normally, the local District Attorney's office represents the State and prosecutes the case against a defendant. If the defendant is found guilty, the penalty may be imprisonment, a fine, probation or other supervised/unsupervised release, or a combination of these. If a fine is assessed, it is paid to the State, not to the victim of the crime. In some cases, however, the judge may also order the defendant to make restitution to the victim for any losses caused by the crime. Regardless of whether restitution is or is not ordered, the victim may recover compensation for the losses by bringing a civil action against the offender.

Criminal offenses are divided by the Maine Criminal Code into classes according to the seriousness of the offense and the penalty. Classes A, B and C are the more serious offenses; Classes D and E, the least. Murder, the most serious crime, has separate sentencing provisions. The principal offenses in each class are summarized in Table I.

Table 1 -- Criminal Offenses
Examples of Offenses
Murder Murder From 25 years imprisonment up to life imprisonment with no possibility of release.
A Manslaughter, kidnapping, gross sexual assault (rape), arson Not to exceed 30 years imprisonment and/or $50,000 fine.
B Aggravated assault, drug trafficking, burglary of a residence Not to exceed 10 years imprisonment and/or $20,000 fine.
C Perjury, burglary, theft of $1,000 - $5,000 Not to exceed 5 years imprisonment and/or
$5,000 fine.
D Assault, operating under the influence, theft of property, the value of which is between $1,000 - $2,000 Not to exceed 1 year imprisonment and/or
$2,000 fine.
E Disorderly conduct, operating after suspension, theft of property, the value of which is less than $1,000 Not to exceed 6 months imprisonment and/or $1,000 fine.

Note: For any of these offenses except murder the judge may also impose a period of probation (with a variety of special conditions), order restitution, order the defendant to perform community service, or a combination of these.

Generally, only class D and E criminal offenses are prosecuted in District Court. (Persons charged with more serious offenses may plead guilty in District Court, but trials for those crimes must be held in Superior Court.) Your first appearance in court will usually be at your arraignment. On that date, you will be asked if you want to plead guilty and accept a fine/sentence at that time or whether you want to plead not guilty. If you plead not guilty, you will be informed of the date of your trial. In the District Court, trials are held by a judge (there is no jury). If you are charged with a class D or E offense and you want a jury trial, you must file a written request for a jury trial with the court ? there is a short deadline so be sure to ask for the form and ask about the deadline for filing the form at your arraignment!

The purpose of a criminal trial is to determine whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty of the charge. Since the penalty for a crime may be very serious, including the deprivation of liberty, the State is held to a high standard of proof. The law presumes that the defendant is innocent, and the State must prove his or her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Because the defendant does not have to prove innocence, the finding is not guilty, rather than innocent, if the State fails to meet its burden of proof. You may hire an attorney to represent you at the arraignment and/or the trial. If you are facing a risk of jail time and you are unable to afford an attorney, you may request that the court appoint a lawyer to represent you for free or for a reduced fee. Be sure to request and then fill out all of the necessary paperwork.

Except for most motor vehicle criminal violations, and some hunting and fishing offenses, persons under the age of 18 who are charged with criminal conduct are considered to be juveniles. Procedure in a juvenile case is different from that in an adult case. An intake worker advises the District Attorney whether to prosecute. The trial is heard in District Court by a judge alone. Trials of Class D and E offenses are closed to the public. A juvenile murder trial and trials of Class A, B and C offenses are open to the public. A juvenile who is charged with murder, or a Class A, B or C offense may be "bound over" to be tried as an adult, when certain legal conditions are met. In any event, a juvenile murder trial and trials of Class A, B and C offenses against juveniles are open to the public.