Misdemeanor Charges? In Maine You Might Never Need to go to Court

Maine’s criminal rules allow many defendants facing misdemeanor charges to avoid ever setting foot in a courtroom if they hire a Criminal Defense Attorney. These procedures are available to anyone but can be especially useful for clients who live outside of the state and have misdemeanor charges pending in Maine courts. This applies to most driving charges such as operating under the influence, operating after suspension, and any other misdemeanor such as drug possession and domestic violence assault.

Arraignment, the Date on the Summons or Bail Form

The first court date is called the arraignment. In a misdemeanor case, the normal process requiers that the defendant go to court, watch a video explaining their rights and wait as the judge calls through a list of cases. Eventually, your name will be called and you will then stand up at the front of the court room. The judge will read the charges against you and ask what you want to do. It is then that you can say “Not Guilty.” The proceedings usually start at 8:30 am and end by noon.

A defendant who hires an Attorney can avoid all of that, including actually going to the arraignment date. Instead, thier lawyer can file paperwork with the court that serves to enter a not guilty plea. Rule 10 of the Maine Rules of Criminal Procedure allows for this in misdemeanors:

When the crime charged is a Class D or Class E crime, a represented defendant may enter a plea in writing without the necessity of an arraignment in open court unless the court requires the defendant to appear personally.

Entering a written not guilty plea is my standard practice for misdemeanors cases. People facing felony charges must attend their arraignment, but an attorney can streamline that process by “waiving a reading” of the charge in open court, and orally entering a not guilty plea on the client’s behalf.

Dispositional Conference, Motion Hearing or other Pre-Trial Court Date

An attorney can attend many pretrial proceedings on the client’s behalf. In most courts, it’s best to file a request to excuse the client and have that granted by a judge prior to court. The attorney can then attend court and confer with the prosecution and judge in attempts to negotiate a resolution. They can even hold testimonial proceedings such as a hearing on a motion to suppress evidence.

Resolving the Case by Trial, Plea or Other Agreement

In order to resolve the case, an attorney can attend court on the client’s behalf and enter a guilty plea, sign a filing or deferred disposition agreement, or even have a trial. The most common senario is that the defense attorney and prosecutor discuss the case and reach some agreement for a plea to lesser charges or a reduced sentence. The attorney can then go to court with a signed “authorization to plea form” where the client waives their right to appear, to contest the case, and agrees to plead guilty. Rule 43 of the Maine Rules of Criminal Procedure provides:

In any criminal prosecution for a Class D or Class E crime, the court may permit arraignment, plea, trial and imposition of sentence of a represented defendant in the defendant’s absence.

Some judges and courts are more accommodating of such plea authorizations but they are allowed under the rules and are widely accepted.

Proceedings a Misdemeanor Defendant Must Attend

There are times when a client must attend court. The court will only accept plea authorizations where there is no jail sentence, so in many cases the defendant must be there to plead guilty. In fact, while the rules do allow a lawyer to attend many dates without the defendant, these situations are the exception to rule 43. The first sentence reads:

The defendant shall be present at the arraignment, at every stage of the trial including the impaneling of the jury, and the return of the verdict, and at the imposition of sentence, except as otherwise provided by these rules.

The rules carve out exceptions as discussed above and a criminal defense attorney can use those rules to save a defendant a lot of time and hassel. I have entered not guilty pleas, done testimonial motion hearings, entered guilty pleas, executed filing agreement and even picked juries with my client’s authorization and in their absence. This process is especially useful for out of state clients but is available to many facing misdemeanors charges.

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