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What does Maine’s criminal system look like?

Everyone dreads it, the blue lights in your rear-view mirror, the officer knocking on your door to “just talk,” or the night out to the bar the ends with a ride to the jail.

However your case starts one of the most frightening things is not knowing what happens next.  Fear of the unknown is a powerful motivator.  It can lead law-abiding citizens to talk to police officers when they should not or to plead guilty to crimes that they did commit.  Knowledge is power.  Here is a look at how the criminal justice system in Maine operates.

How do Criminal cases begin?  They can start in several ways:

1. You receive what is called a “summons.”  This is sometimes also referred to as a “ticket.”  This is always given by some type of law enforcement officer and tells you the alleged offense the officer believes you committed and more importantly the date, time, and place you are required to appear in court.  Being summonsed for an offense means that you were not arrested – but you will have to come to court at a later date.  It is CRUCIAL that if you receive a summons to contact a lawyer immediately.  An experienced criminal defense attorney can help explain your rights, begin talking with the prosecutor, and help make this process go as smoothly as possible.  Remember:  A “summons” is just that, a law enforcement officer giving you notice of a court date.  The real decision about what to charge you with is made by the prosecutors office.  Getting an experienced criminal defense attorney involved at this stage can be a big help to YOU.

2. You are arrested.  This is when a law enforcement officer actually takes you to jail.  Once you are at the jail one of two things will happen.  If you are being charged with a crime that a bail commissioner can set bail for (this includes most offenses) then bail will be set.  If you or a family/friend can post bail you will be let out of jail on conditions and given a future court date.  However, if you are charged with an offense that only a judge can set bail for (allegations of domestic violence amongst other things) or cannot make the bail that a bail commissioner set, then you will remain in jail until you see a judge.

Maine law requires people who  (required to occur within 48 hours excluding weekends and holidays) and that judge will set your bail.  A “lawyer of the day” is usually available to speak with people who find themselves brought to court for this reason.  They can assist with informing you of your rights and discussing bail.

3.  The third way that criminal cases can start is by the issuance of an arrest warrant.  This is done when a prosecutor asks the court for a warrant AND shows that there is reason to believe that the offense has occurred.  A judge must grant this order.

What happens after a case begins?

The next step is what is called an “initial appearance.”  This will either occur on the date on the summons that you received OR it will occur when you are unable to make bail (or a judge must set bail) after you are first arrested.  If you are charged with a misdemeanor (most types of cases are misdemeanors) than the state will be prepared to make an plea offer on this date – if you are facing a felony then no offer will be made at this point.  Either way bail will be discussed, you can find out if you are eligible for a lawyer, or you can speak with the lawyer of the day.  If you do not resolve your case with a plea on this date (and you should ALWAYS consult with a lawyer first) you will be given a new court date.  This court date is for a “dispositional conference.”

*****Remember – just because the prosecutor is making an offer to resolve your case this does not mean you should take it!  You have rights and an experienced criminal defense attorney can help get a BETTER offer!

The Dispositional Conference:

This is one of the most misunderstood parts of Maine’s criminal system.  This is a court date where you and your lawyer (if you have hired one on or have been appointed a lawyer) will come to court and speak with the prosecutor who is handling your case.  By this point, you or your lawyer will have had a chance to look at all of the evidence the state plans to use against you.  This is an opportunity to discuss potential resolutions to your case – and if necessary have a meeting with a judge to try and resolve matters.  If no resolution can be reached, then any relevant motions are filed and a “motions hearing date” is scheduled.

Motions Hearing:

Not every case will have a motions hearing.  This is a special type of hearing where a judge will get the opportunity to decide any motions that have been filed in your case.  This is the step when any motions to suppress evidence or statements are heard.  Once a judge makes a decision on any motions, then your case is ready for trial.

Trial:

This the hearing where the state HAS to prove each and every element of every offense that you have been charged with.  You do not need to present ANY evidence but will have the chance to cross examine each of the state’s witnesses.  Trials are complicated and can take anywhere from a few hours to many days.  They can be decided either by the judge or by a jury of 12.  Having an experienced criminal defense attorney at your side during this phase is crucial and can be the difference between your freedom and a conviction.

 

If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges do not hesitate to call me, Andrew Edwards at 207-530-0102.  I have successfully navigated hundreds of clients to successful outcomes of their cases and will fight for YOU!

Protection from Abuse and Protection from Harrassment Orders — The real story

Protection from Abuse Orders and Protection from Harassment Orders are the subject of a lot of mis-information and misconceptions.   We hear them referred to often as “restraining” orders or simply as “protection” orders but do  you really know what they are and what impact they can have on your life?

First of all what are they?  They are orders issued by the court.  A protection from harassment order is a court document ordering a particular person to stop doing something specific that has been “harassing” another individual.  This order might direct that a person not call that other person, not text them, not go to their house, or message them on facebook.  The order will state that if this type of contact continues, then the person who violated the order will be subject to criminal penalties.

A protection from abuse order is very similar to a protection from harassment order.  It will identify a specific person, state what they are not allowed to do (contact the victim at all, only contact them under specific circumstances, etc) and warn the person who it is ordered against that they face criminal charges if the order is violated.

So far, this all is fairly obvious.  A protection from abuse order will order someone not do do certain things, but they can do much more than this.  For example, protection from abuse orders can:

1) prevent you from owning or possessing a gun,

2) order you to attend counseling,

3) make payments to the victim for their support,

4) limit contact with your children,

5) divide up personal property (TV’s, furniture, etc), and

6) determine who gets to keep a pet.

 

As you can see, a protection from abuse order can have a BIG impact on many aspects of your life beyond having contact with someone.  Additionally, if you are going through a divorce or are trying to obtain parental rights for your kids, if you have a protection from abuse/harassment order against you it can have an impact on future legal proceedings.

 

What does this mean for you?

1) If someone is trying to get a protection from abuse order against you, you must take it VERY seriously.

2) It is a real court order.  Do not try and do it yourself!  Hiring a lawyer can help you protect your rights.

3) Before a final order is issued there is a hearing in front of a judge.  You have a right to call witnesses and cross examine your accuser, make sure that you come prepared and have an advocate who understands the system.

Pre-existing injuries and personal injury cases

Consider this:

You were involved in an automobile accident a few months ago.  You were taken to the hospital, treated for whiplash and neck pain, then discharged later that day.  Later, you saw your PCP a few times, and have been seen by a Physical Therapist once a week for 5 weeks to reduce the pain in your neck and improve your range of motion.

One day you receive a phone call from an insurance adjuster for the person who hit you.  They make a very small offer to settle your case that doesn’t cover all of your medical expenses and fails to leave you with just compensation.  The reason?  They noticed on your medical reports that you had a been to a chiropractor 5 years before the accident seeking relief from “neck and shoulder stiffness.”

After they express their sorrow that their insured ran into you, they state that the neck pain and stiffness that you have been treating for since the accident is really just a result of your “pre-existing injury” as shown by the chiropractic treatment that you received 5 years ago.  Because of this, they can only offer a settlement that covers your trip to the hospital, and none of the subsequent visits to your PCP or Physical Therapist.

This is not true.

Insurance adjusters are paid to find ways to get you to accept the least amount of money possible in order to make you and your claim go away.  Fortunately here in Maine case law is clear, Lovely v. Allstate Insurance Co. (1995) is the leading case on this matter.  If you are involved in an automobile accident that exacerbates or aggravates a pre-existing injury or condition, it is possible for you to receive compensation for that exacerbation or aggravation.

This is a powerful tool to use when trying to obtain fair compensation for your injuries.  But, it is not one that the insurance adjusters want you to know about.  Make sure that you know all the facts before accepting any settlement.

 

 

 

Hurt in an automobile accident? Things to consider.

Being involved in an automobile accident is stressful.  Your vehicle has been damaged, you may have been injured, and you are probably experiencing a range of emotions from anger at the person who hit you, to worrying about how you will get to work.  As unsettled a time as this is for you, there are a few basic things that you can do to make sure your rights are preserved:

 

1) Talk to a lawyer as soon as possible.

-Why?  Insurance companies may be asking you to sign various releases and settlement in the days or weeks after an accident, without proper legal counsel, you could jeopardize your ability to obtain a fair settlement or award.  Additionally, an attorney can help you identify important documentation that you should keep, the small things can matter!

 

2) Take photos of everything.

-This includes the vehicles involved, any bruises you have, the scene of the accident, skid marks, property damaged by the vehicles, etc.  Do NOT assume that the Police will take pictures, they often do not.  Remember, you can never have too much documentation.

 

3) If you decide to hire an attorney, shop around!

-All attorneys charge different fees.  Some attorneys will charge you for photo-copying, postage, phone calls, and email.  If the attorney doesn’t tell you up front what their fees are, ask them!

 

 

If you have been hurt in an accident and want to discuss your options, call Andrew at Northland Legal Solutions, LLC for a free consultation at 207-530-0102.