Maine laws on jail visits, drugs, rape, harassment & driving may change

Changes proposed to Maine Criminal law

Turn and face the strange

Every session, Maine lawmakers propose changes to our criminal law. Many of these proposals shape who is prosecuted for what crimes and what penalties they can face. Current draft legislation would impact jail visitation, Maine’s drug trafficking laws, punishment for text messages of genitals, Maine’s sex offender registry, treatment of juvenile marijuana possession and enforcement of Maine’s driving laws. Here is an overview of some of the significant LDs on the docket.

LD 1782, An Act To Provide for In-Person Visitation of Incarcerated Persons

Maine’s county jails hold both prisoners accused of crimes and awaiting disposition of a case, and prisoners serving sentences of less than nine months to a year depending on the seriousness of the crime. Some Maine jails have recently eliminated in person visits citing budgetary and security concerns. Companies like Securus and other providers of inmate telecommunications have been happy to install video visit equipment at jails nationwide. While in-person jail visits are free, these companies can charge for calls and video visits. At least some of the Securus jail contracts required sheriffs to ban in-person visits and mandate the use of the video system. Luckily, that policy appears to have softened recently.

Last year’s LD 1414 sponsored but Susan Talbot-Ross was a “concept draft” which simply raised the issue of in person jail visits being eliminated. That draft just proposed the legislature take action to preserve in-person visits. Today’s LD 1782 would actually make those changes to the law requiring sheriffs to provide in-person visitation unless doing so would “jeopardize the safety and security of the the jail.” The proposed legislation is here and the bill is set for public hearing Monday, Feb 5, 2018.

LD 1783, An Act To Amend the Laws Regarding Aggravated Trafficking of Scheduled Drugs

Here’s a link to LD 1783, set for public hearing monday Feb 5. This bill would add a new subsection to Maine’s Aggravated Drug Trafficking law  making trafficking fentanyl in quantities of 6 grams or 270 bags or more “aggravated drug trafficking.” This change would equate the treatment of fentanyl with that of  heroin. Heroin trafficking can already be increased to aggravated trafficking with the 6 gram and 270 bag quantities. Aggravated trafficking in any drug is a class A crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a minimum sentence of 4 years. The bill comes from the Governor’s office.

LD 1788, An Act To Enhance Safety for Victims of Sexual Assault and Stalking and To Amend the Laws Governing Harassment and Protection from Abuse

The bill is found here, it’s set for public hearing February 8, 2018 and would do two main things:

First it would expand the definition of Harassment by Telephone or Electronic Means by making it a misdemeanor crime if a person “sends an image or video of a sexual act…; of sexual contact…; or of the actor’s or another person’s genitals…without the consent of the person called or contacted”. This would criminalize the conduct of those like Oxford County sheriff Wayne Gallant or Criminal Defense Attorney Paul Letourneau who sent unwanted pictures of their genitals to others.

Second, the bill would make it unnecessary for people who receive such images to first have the sender served with a cease harassment notice before filing a complaint for a protection from harassment order with a Maine District Court.

LD 1795, An Act To Amend the Maine Criminal Code and Related Statutes as Recommended by the Criminal Law Advisory Commission

This bill is set for public hearing Monday, February 12, 2018. It does three significant things:

It makes a technical change that clears the way for admissibility of internet service provider records under the business records exception using a written certificate of authenticity rather than a live witness who is a custodian of records for the company subpoenaed.

The proposal would also fix a problem created when Maine legalized recreational marijuana. Legalization modified Maine law to permit possession for people over 21 and made clear that those “aged 18, 19 or 20 year of age” commit only a civil violation for possessing the drug. This accidentally meant that those under 18 would commit a criminal offense for possessing marijuana. LD 1795 would fix this by replacing the “18, 19 or 20” language in 22 MRSA §2383, sub-§1-A with the term “under 21”.

The bill would also fix a bit of a gap in Maine’s sex offender registration law. Last year, the legislature expanded Maine’s sexual assault law by making it a class C felony sex offense to engage in a sexual act where “The other person has not expressly or impliedly acquiesced to the sexual act.” That language is now found at 17A §253(2)(M). But the sex offender registration statute was never updated to include the new sub paragraph M. LD 1795 would make clear that a conviction for Gross Sexual Assault under §253(2)(M), does subject the defendant to sex offender registration under Maine’s sex offender registration and notification act or, SORNA. The crime would be a tier II offense triggering a 25 year sex offender registration. Prior to the proposed change, those convicted of this new sexual assault, would not have needed to register as a sex offender.

LD 1048, An Act to Reclassify Certain Offenses and Increase the Efficiency of the Criminal Justice System

This bill is designed to streamline the way Court’s process certain civil violations, especially those under title 12 fish and game regulations. The draft would require game wardens to use the standard violation summons and complaint forms rather than other citation forms. The bill would also make clear that the District Attorney’s Offices are not responsible for prosecuting non-criminal violations of fish and game laws.

A proposed committee amendment to LD 1048 would go much further than the language originally included in the LD. That amendment would decriminalize a number of title 12 fish and game violations and make them civil offenses but it would decriminalize many driving offenses.

Major changes to Maine driving laws

As amended by committee, LD 1048 reduces a number of motor vehicle offenses that are currently class E crimes to civil infractions. These include:

  • Motor vehicle not registered or registration expired by more than 180 days.
  • Operating a motor vehicle without a license or in violation of a license condition or restriction.
  • Failing to surrender a suspended license to the secretary of state.
  • Displaying a revoked, suspended, fictitious or fraudulently altered driver’s license or state ID.

Operating After Suspension reduced to civil infraction?

Very significantly, the LD would change Maine Operating After Suspension law to make most OAS offenses civil violations and not crimes. Driving while suspended for an Operating Under the Influence offense would still be a crime but those offenses make up only a small percentage of Maine OAS prosecutions. If this law passes as amended, OAS would most commonly be a civil infraction with a $250 fine. The offense could still be charged as a crime for those who have two prior OAS violations.

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