The Criminal Justice Process in Maine

Defendants in every state face the same basic criminal justice procedures, but the individual states do have different processes for those who go through the criminal justice system. In this article, you will be introduced to how Maine approaches the criminal justice process.

Arrest and Booking Procedures

Arrests are either made pursuant to a judge-issued arrest warrant based on probable cause, by the arresting officer if he or she has probable cause to believe you committed a crime or if the officer witnessed you committing a crime.

When arrested, the officer will inform you that you have the right to remain silent, that anything you say will be used against you, that you may have an attorney present during any questioning, and that you can have the court appoint an attorney if you are indigent.

At a booking facility, police will ask for identifying information, remove all items from your pockets, photograph and fingerprint you before placing you in a holding area.

Setting of Bail and Release

In Maine, a bail commissioner sets pre-conviction bail for most criminal defendants unless the charge is extremely serious such as murder or rape. In these cases, the state’s attorney can request a Harnish bail proceeding where the judge decides bail.

The bail commissioner decides on bail depending on information received from the arresting officer. If you are arrested on a Friday or Saturday, you must wait until Monday before appearing in court.

Arraignment and Plea Process

If still in custody, a defendant will appear at the arraignment within 48 hours. If a complaint is filed or an indictment issued, the charges are reviewed, the defendant is asked if he or she has an attorney or may have one appointed if the case involves jail time, and is then asked to enter a plea if represented.

For Class A, B and C offenses, a preliminary hearing is set or the charges are brought before a grand jury for indictment.

A Class D or E defendant is asked to enter one of the following pleas at the arraignment:

  • A guilty plea means the defendant has admitted to the factual basis of the offense.
  • Not guilty means that the defendant will contest the charges.
  • Nolo contendre, or no contest, is the same as a guilty plea, except that it may not be used as evidence of guilt in a civil proceeding.

If a not guilty plea is entered, a dispositional conference date is set.

Can You Plea Bargain?

The great majority of criminal cases are settled at a dispositional conference or even at arraignment. A plea bargain is a negotiated agreement in writing whereby the defendant pleads guilty or nolo contendre to a certain charge or lesser offense or to a specific sentence for court approval.

Right to Preliminary Hearing and Grand Jury

After the initial appearance, a criminal defendant charged with a Class A, B or C offense is entitled to a preliminary hearing to determine if there is probable cause to charge the defendant. The state’s attorney may also present the case to a grand jury to issue an indictment without a preliminary hearing.

If an indictment is issued or a preliminary hearing is held that determines probable cause, the defendant is arraigned and enters one of the three pleas.

Class D and E offenses are presented by information at the arraignment.

Maine’s Trial and Sentencing Process

Trials for Class A, B and C offenses are held in the Superior Courts. If in District Court, a defendant has 21 days after arraignment to demand a jury trial wherein the case is transferred to the Superior Court.

Class A, B and C offenses are tried by 12 jurors, others are before six jurors. The state must prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and the jury verdict must be unanimous.

Upon conviction, Class D and E defendants are generally sentenced shortly thereafter unless an alcohol and drug screening is ordered. For Class A, B and C offenses, the court orders a pre-sentence investigation report regarding the defendant’s criminal record, employment and family history, and other factors. Victims in serious crimes may offer their comments to the court before sentencing.

Get Help from a Criminal Attorney

Criminal laws and procedures differ in each state. Consult with a Maine criminal defense attorney if you are facing criminal charges.

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