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Charges are initiated through investigations by the police agencies which serve Cumberland County. Individuals may be issued Uniform Summons and Complaints to appear in court, they may be arrested and bailed to appear in court or they may receive notification from the court to appear in cases where the police agency has requested a review of the case prior to acting on an investigation.
The Office of the District Attorney however is the only agency responsible for deciding whether or not a person or entity should be prosecuted and what crimes will be charged. Because we base our charging decision upon the information gathered by the police agencies, we will occasionally have to send the case back to that police agency for further information or investigation. Any person/entity that has been bailed to court must appear in court on the date given on their bail bond.
Once we determine that a referral from a police agency warrants prosecution, we then file the charging document with the appropriate court. Generally, if the alleged crime is a misdemeanor, then it is filed in one of three District Courts depending on where the offense occurred – Bridgton, West Bath or Portland. All alleged crimes that are felonies are filed in the Cumberland County Unified Court (formerly the Superior Court) in Portland. We may file a charging document for a felony or we may present it to the Grand Jury.
A Grand Jury is a group of 23 citizens that meet once a month over a period of a few days to review our evidence in criminal cases and determine whether or not the case can proceed with prosecution. If the Grand Jury determines that we do not have enough evidence or Probable Cause, they vote no on our request to indict, issue a “No Bill” and the case is closed. However, if they decide that we do have enough evidence and vote yes to our request, an indictment will be filed against the defendant. In the event that a person/entity is bailed to a date preceding a seating of the grand jury, we will file a complaint with the Court and the defendant will have an initial appearance on the charges. At the initial appearance, the court will assign a return to court date to check on the Grand Jury status of the case
Shortly after a case is charged as a misdemeanor, you may receive a letter and other attached documents from an Assistant District Attorney or intern requesting your input or inviting you to comment on their charging decision and offer. Additionally, at this point, there are staff members assigned to misdemeanor cases who can answer questions and assist you throughout the criminal process once the case is charged.
If a case is indicted as a felony, you may receive a letter from a staff member advising you that they are available to answer your questions and assist you through the criminal process.
In either situation, it is very important that you let us know of any changes in your contact information such as your home and work phone or mailing address so that we can stay in contact with you as the case progresses.
At any time while the case is pending the defense attorney or the defense’s private investigator may attempt to speak with you. We cannot advise you on whether or not to speak to this person. This is your decision.
Bail can be an amount of money and/or conditions that are designed to ensure the defendant will appear in court as ordered and that the victim feels safe. For more information, contact the Cumberland County Jail at 207-774-5939 x2144.
Bail can be addressed at various stages of the criminal process. As previously mention under "Charges", bail can be set upon arrest by a bail commissioner at the jail. Otherwise, bail will be set once the defendant has been charged with an offense. If the defendant cannot come up with the funds or comply with the conditions of bail, he/she may stay in jail until their case is resolved. Defendants can request a review of the set bail or a change in the bail with cause.
After a complaint is filed or an indictment is issued, the defendant will appear in court to be informed of the charges and to enter a plea. This is called the arraignment. Typically a defendant will enter a “not guilty” plea and be scheduled for a dispositional conference. At this time, the District Attorney’s Office hands over copies of all the evidence, also called “discovery”.
At the arraignment, the defendant will receive a number of court dates. The first of these dates is for a Dispositional Conference. This is a non-testimonial court appearance and only requires the presence of the prosecutor, defendant and defense attorney (if applicable). During this “conference” the parties will meet with a judge and discuss the merits of the evidence, the defense and any pre-trial motions. At the conclusion of the ‘conference’, the case may be resolved by plea negotiation or the case may proceed to a Motion hearing docket, a Miscellaneous docket or a Jury trial docket.
After the arraignment, the defendant has until 10 days preceding the Dispositional Conference date to file “motions”. The court can extend this time with just cause. The most common motion is called a “Motion to Suppress”. This Motion essentially asks the judge to prevent the District Attorney from using certain information against the defendant at trial. Other common motions include, Motion for Additional Discovery, Motion to Dismiss, Motion for Funds for Private Investigator. Because trials cannot occur until all preliminary motions have been resolved, cases can be delayed for weeks or even months. All motions are either worked out between the attorneys before a hearing or by a judge after a hearing.
The vast majority of criminal cases are resolved without going to trial by defendants pleading guilty. Most pleas are a result of negotiations between the prosecutor, the defendant, and/or the defense attorney. A plea negotiation usually involves a specific sentence recommendation or dismissal of certain charges by the state in exchange for a guilty plea from the defendant on specific charges.
If you are a victim, we will make every attempt to discuss a potential plea agreement with you before the plea is presented to the court. Your opinion is very important to us so it is important that you advise this office of any changes in your contact information. Sometimes we may proceed with a plea negotiation even if you do not agree with our reasons. In these circumstances, you have a right to address your concerns directly to the judge. The judge may decide not to accept the negotiated plea and ask the parties to continue negotiations or to proceed with trial.
Plea agreements can be very helpful to victims because they assure a conviction for a crime without putting victims and witnesses through the inconvenience and trauma of going to trial. They eliminate the risk that the defendant may not be held accountable due to a court finding of “not guilty”. They enable the state to prosecute many more cases than we could without them and help prevent huge backlogs of cases.
When a criminal matter is scheduled for trial, we issue subpoenas to all victims and witnesses. A subpoena is a court order directing you to be available to appear in court for a certain time period. Failure to comply with a subpoena is a crime. If you cannot appear or have a conflict with the date(s) as specified on the subpoena, you must contact us immediately. We will attempt to accommodate your schedule to the best of our ability and within the limitations place upon us by the court. If we cannot subpoena you because you have moved and failed to update your information with us, the judge may dismiss the case. If you have been served a subpoena, but fail to appear on the court date or failed to contact this office, the judge may hold you in contempt of court at our request.
The burden of proof in criminal trials is very high. The State must prove through the presentation of testimony/evidence that the defendant is guilty of the alleged charges “beyond a reasonable doubt”. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” means that the judge or jury must find that the charges are “almost certainly true.”
A Defendant may or may not be represented by an attorney at trial. The defendant or the defense attorney is allowed to ask questions of all witnesses. All trials (except most juvenile trials) are open to the general public. In a bench trial, after all the witnesses testify, the judge decides whether or not the defendant is guilty. In jury trials, in order for the defendant to be found guilty, all twelve members of a jury must agree that the defendant is guilty.
The defendant has the right to appeal a guilty finding. Appeals can take up to two years and most are unsuccessful. If the defendant is found not guilty, the State cannot appeal and the case is closed forever.
After the defendant either pleads guilty or is found guilty after a trial, the judge determines the sentence. A sentence could include, but is not limited to: jail, probation, fines, restitution, community service, etc. Victims have the right to be heard at sentencing. Victims may address the court directly by making a statement or indirectly by providing a written statement to be read by the prosecutor. If you are a victim, we will attempt notify you of the sentencing date and help you prepare if you wish to make a statement. After hearing from the prosecutor, the victim and/or victim’s family and the defendant, the Judge will announce the sentence, usually right then and there.
Felonies are classified as Class A, Class B or Class C crimes. Class A offenses carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison (40 years for exceptional circumstances), Class B is 10 years and Class C is 5 years maximum. Misdemeanors are classified as Class D and E crimes and are punishable by a maximum sentence of 364 days in jail or prison. Fines and probation can also be ordered in all levels of criminal offenses.
Victims have the right to be notified of a defendant’s release from incarceration. If a defendant is sentenced to the Cumberland County Jail and is in execution of the sentence, you can call that facility at (207) 774-5939 ext. 2144. Any changes or updates to your contact information should be done directly with the jail facility.
If the defendant is in prison, you will be mailed a form that needs to be completed and returned to this office Any changes or updates to your contact information after you have provided the form to this office should be made directly to Department of Corrections Victim Services at (800) 968-6909. You may access additional information regarding their services at the following website: http://www.maine.gov/corrections/VictimServices/index.htm The notification requirement ends upon the defendant’s release or at the victim’s written request.
If you have suffered monetary losses as a direct result of a crime, upon notification of your loss, we will ask the judge to order the defendant to pay you back as part of the sentence. This is called restitution. You should receive the necessary forms to fill out about your losses after the defendant has been charged. Please note: The decision to order restitution is completely up to the Judge, who will order restitution only after finding that the defendant has an ability to pay it.
Victims may also contact the Victim Compensation Board for help. This Board is funded by a surcharge on all criminal fines collected. The purpose of the Board is to reimburse victims for their losses, whether or not the defendant is ultimately found guilty. For more information and assistance, you can contact us or the board directly through the information provided below:
Victims’ Compensation Program
Office of the Attorney General
6 State House Station
Augusta, Maine 04333-0006
Tel.: (207) 624-7882
Deborah Shaw Rice, Director