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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.


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!