Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly are essential parts of our First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. While these rights are protected, they do have limits. Big crowds can get out of control. When this happens, law enforcement can order the people in the crowd to break up. In legal terms, this is called an “order to disperse.” But, what happens when there are people in the crowd who refuse to listen to the order from law enforcement?
If you or someone you know is facing a criminal charge for Failure to Disperse or Disorderly Conduct in Maine, we encourage you to contact The Nielsen Group for your free legal consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
- What is an example of Failure to Disperse in Maine?
- What is Failure to Disperse in Maine?
- How can a Criminal Defense Attorney Help?
- What is the court process for Failure to Disperse?
- What are the possible outcomes for a charge of Failure to Disperse under Maine Law?
What is an example of Failure to Disperse under Maine Law?
Here is a fictional example of Failure to Disperse charges in Maine:
Evan feels strongly affected by recent issues in the news. Evan has written letters to his Maine Congressperson, but he feels that his communications have been ignored. With groups of people going into Portland to protest, Evan had to be there. He was sucked into the energy of the event, raising his voice and tensions elevating. When law enforcement came through, they ordered that the group of protesters break up and go home. Even did not want to go home. He felt like the group was just starting to get their point heard. Staying around after the police told him to disperse, he was arrested and charged with an offense called Failure to Disperse, a misdemeanor.
What is Failure to Disperse under Maine Law?
Under Maine Law, a criminal charge of Failure to Disperse is located in 17-A M.R.S.A. section 502. The statute reads that when a person knowingly fails to comply with an order to disperse, then it is a Class D misdemeanor. Under this statute, a law enforcement officer may give the order to disperse when “6 or more persons are participating in a course of disorderly conduct likely to cause substantial harm or serious inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm…”
Here, “Disorderly Conduct” is a legal word. “Disorderly Conduct” is defined as, “intentionally or recklessly causing annoyance to others.” Depending on the circumstances, Disorderly Conduct can be charged as a criminal offense all on its own. Examples of types of Disorderly Conduct include, but are not limited to the following:
- Making unreasonably loud noises after being told by law enforcement to stop
- Fighting in the street
- Challenging others to engage in fighting or assault
A criminal charge for Failure to Disperse can be charged as either a Class D misdemeanor or a Class E misdemeanor. In the example here, if Evan had participated in the Disorderly Conduct, such as making the loud noises and failing to stop, then a charge of Failure to Disperse is considered to be a Class D misdemeanor. If convicted as charged for a Class D misdemeanor, the maximum penalties include up to $2,000.00 in fines, and up to 364 days jail time.
If Evan had just been in the vicinity with other people in the crowd who were making the loud noises, then the charge of Failure to Disperse is considered to be a Class E misdemeanor. A Class E misdemeanor is the least severe class of crime in Maine. If convicted as charged, the maximum penalties for a Class E misdemeanor can be up to $1,000.00 in fines, and up to six (6) months jail time.
How can a Criminal Defense Attorney Help?
Regardless of facing a criminal offense because of Failure to Disperse, it is important to have a criminal defense attorney in your corner. If you try to go to Court alone, the District Attorney’s Office is unlikely to want to negotiate with you. A criminal defense attorney knows the law and knows how to best present your interests to the District Attorney’s Office.
What was your State of Mind at the time of the incident? A requirement of the statute is the state of mind whether the person accused meant to do what they did.
For instance, if Evan did not mean to stick around after being told to leave, then the criminal defense attorney can make a point of this in defending the case.
Did law enforcement identify the defendant correctly? Evan was in a big crowd. A criminal defense attorney will make sure that the police identified the right individual who was accused of Failure to Disperse.
Are there any mitigating circumstances to the offense? Here, let’s say that Evan has no prior criminal record and his driving record is spotless. The fact that he has no other criminal history can be emphasized and argued as an exception to the rule for the way he usually conducts himself.
What is the Court Process for Failure to Disperse under Maine Law?
All criminal counts go through the Unified Criminal Docket in Maine, which is the process for all County Courts in Maine. A misdemeanor charge begins with Arraignment. If you have a criminal defense attorney, then your attorney can take care of Arraignment for you. At Arraignment, the formal charges are read to you, and you respond with an answer of Not Guilty.
After being Arraigned, the next Court date on a misdemeanor is a Dispositional Conference. The purpose of the Dispositional Conference is for the District Attorney’s Office and Criminal Defense Counsel to see if a resolution can be reached by agreement. If no agreement is reached that is acceptable to the Defendant, then the case proceeds to potential Motion Hearings and Jury Selection/ Trial.
If your criminal defense attorney filed any pretrial motions in your case, then the pretrial Motion Hearing would go forward. An example of a pretrial motion is a Suppression Motion, which tries to limit the scope of evidence allowed to be admitted into evidence at any potential trial. If no pretrial motions are filed, then the next Court date after the Dispositional Conference is Jury Selection and Jury Trial.
What are the possible Outcomes for Failure to Disperse under Maine Law?
Here are the possible outcomes for a charge of Failure to Disperse in Maine:
- Dismissal– in a Dismissal, the District Attorney dismisses the criminal charge in its entirety. A dismissal is the best possible outcome in a criminal case.
- Plea Arrangement– in a Plea Arrangement, the Defendant can agree to a lesser charge, or to a different charge of the same degree of severity. For example, instead of pleading guilty to a Class D charge of Failure to Disperse, the defendant might be offered to plead guilty to a charge of Disorderly Conduct, which is a lesser Class E misdemeanor.
- Jury Verdict– if a case goes all the way through a Jury Trial, then the Jury decides whether or not the defendant is Guilty or Not Guilty. The Jury determination is the final say on guilt or innocence. If convicted, then the Judge will determine the sentence imposed.
For More Information
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- Criminal Mischief
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