My name is Luke Rioux and I am a Criminal Defense Attorney based in Portland, Maine. I work in the State and Federal courts of Cumberland, York and Androscoggin Counties. Criminal defense is all I do and that means that I am a specialist attorney who knows the prosecutors, the judges, the rules and the law. A Criminal defense lawyer is your advocate, educator and representative. That requires doing a lot more than just going to trial. The following explains the phases of the criminal process and how your criminal attorney will help.
Understanding Maine Criminal Charges
Criminal law loves to take common words and torture them beyond all recognition. Terms like domestic violence assault, drunk driving and drug trafficking sound simple enough, but the words mask the complicated web of law that defines a crime. Here are some of the aspects of a criminal charge that your lawyer can help you understand:
- Elements of the Crime: The elements are the basic facts that the prosecution must prove to convict someone of a crime. The elements lay out exactly what conduct constitutes a crime, and what does not.
- Possible Defenses: If you know the elements of a crime, you start to have an idea of the defenses. If the prosecutor must prove all the elements, or there’s no crime. Other defenses like self defense, don’t challenge the elements, but claim that the conduct was justified. A lawyer will help develop a defense stratagy.
- Possible Sentences: An attorney can help you understand a crime’s maximum and minimum sentences, and what penalties are realistic. Proof of certain elements may increase the minimum sentence or elevate the crime to a felony.
- Other Consequences: Pleading guilty will resolve a case quickly, but a Maine criminal conviction can’t be expunged and will stay with you for life. The most serious problem might be that the conviction bans you from owning guns, receiving federal financial aid, entering Canada, triggers a driver’s license suspension or habitual offender revocation. These penalties are not imposed by the court, but by other agencies that learn of the conviction and take action.
Maine’s Criminal Court Process
Understanding the criminal process means more than knowing when the next court date is. An experienced criminal defense attorney will use the procedure and rules to your advantage.
- Rules of Criminal Procedure: A criminal defense attorney will know the procedural rules and can use them to make your life easier and to gain tactical advantage. The law has safeguards that limit the prosecutor’s discretion and may force a judge to dismiss the case.
- Maine Rules of Evidence: The best criminal defense lawyers are thinking about how a trial will play out form the first moment you contact them. That means that they know the rules of evidence and can predict what information will make it to the jury and what won’t.
Setting, Reducing or Modifying Bail
One of the most stressful parts of the criminal process is being arrested, charged with a crime and held in jail. If a person can’t make bail, the law requieres that they be brought before a judge within two business days. At that hearing, the judge will decide whether there is enough evidence to proceed and what the bail should be. This can be a turning point in the process. It is essential to have a defense lawyer who can position the defendant to get the best possible bail. Defendants who are free on bail have a much better chance at a favorable outcome. Click here for more information about bail in Maine, and the process for setting and reducing bail.
Negotiating with the Prosecution
The majority of cases are resolved with some kind of an agreement that might reduce the sentence or allow the defendant to avoid a conviction all together. An experienced criminal defense attorney will know what options are available and how a particular prosecutor or judge is likely to treat any given case.
Pre-Trial Motion Hearing
In some cases, the most important litigation is not at trial, but at a pre-trial motion hearing. These can be motions to suppress, motions to dismiss, or maybe motions for discovery. They seek to somehow influence the way that the case will proceed by limiting the evidence the state can present, or controlling other aspects of the case. A criminal attorney must undertand the law and evidence, draft the motions and conduct a hearing. Winning at motion hearing can sometimes force the district attorney to dismiss the charges.
For a real criminal defense attorney, a jury trial is the most exciting, interesting and gratifying part of a case. For a defendant, it can be the most horrifying thing they ever have to endure. If your case goes to trial you need a defense attorney who has real experience and the skills to win. At trial, the district attorney must prove all elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Even cases with no defense can be won and cases with the best defense can be lost. While going to trial is a risk, sometimes it is the best option. You would be surprised how many lawyers lack the skills and experience to properly try a case. You can click here to read about a few of my not guilty verdicts.
In some cases, the most important work a defense attorney does is to put together a high quality sentencing presentation. If the defendant decides to plead guilty or losses at trial, they don’t have to agree with the prosecutor’s sentencing recommendation. The judge is the one who determines the sentence and they may order a more lenient sentence than the district attorney offers. More information about Maine Sentencing Law.
Appeal and Other Post Conviction Proceedings
Even after the trial level proceedings are resolved, the defense still has some options. A criminal defense lawyer can help you explore all post conviction options that might reverse a conviction or reduce the sentence. These include:
- Appeal to the Maine Supreme Court
- Request for sentencing review
- Motion for new trial
- Motion to correct or reduce sentence
- Petition for post conviction review
- Writ of Habeas Corpus
- Petition for Governor’s Pardon