In general, there are four options available to resolve your criminal case in Maine. They include:
- Diversion Programs
- Plea Negotiations
Which Option is Best to Resolve Your Criminal Case?
These are some of the ways to resolve your criminal case. In a criminal case, while your attorney can offer you sound legal advice and can recommend one or more of these options, what direction your legal case takes is ultimately up to you. Therefore, at the beginning of your case, it is important to ask yourself one question, “Am I willing to risk going to jail?” Often, your answer will depend on how risk-averse you are.
It sounds like a harsh question, but in a criminal case when the charge might result in jail time, you need to be honest with yourself, because it will affect your quality of life both during your case and after the case has been resolved. Therefore, the discussion about which direction their case will take is often the most difficult for clients. While I might feel strongly about taking the matter to trial, the client might have no stomach for confrontation. Or, a client might be insistent that they want their day in court, but as their lawyer I might not recommend putting their case in front of a jury. Ultimately, it is the client’s decision which direction to take.
Typically, I will outline many different outcomes for the client to consider. For many clients, the answer is easy – take a plea. For some, the answer is more difficult because of the facts in their case might conflict with their own desires whether or not to have a public trial. And for a few, the answer is obvious; anything short of an outright dismissal or acquittal at trial is unacceptable.
Also please keep in mind that you and your attorney will navigate this road together, and I provide clients with the benefit of my 10 years of Maine Criminal Law experience. First, I might explore with the District Attorney what type of resolution can be reached without the necessity of a trial. If you did not favor the State’s offer, you have the right to a trial.
In general, diversion programs are like probation programs in that you are under strong supervision, except that pretrial programs take place before your case has been resolved. You might be asking yourself “How do I get into a pretrial diversion program?”
Maine Pretrial Services
Generally, first you are arrested and are in custody for committing a crime. If the crime contains strong elements of illegal drug or substance abuse as a driver for committing the crime, during your time in custody you might come into contact with someone from Maine Pretrial Services, a nonprofit organization in Maine who supervises offenders while they are out on pre-conviction bail.
If after your meeting with Maine Pretrial Services, they may extend to you a Maine Pretrial Services Contract, which will become a required part of your bail, allowing for your release. Some of the services provided by Maine Pretrial Services include:
- Required regular check-in meetings
- Mandatory random drug testing
- Guidance in assuring your compliance with your Maine Pretrial Services contract.
Such a program is beneficial in that you do not have to admit guilt at this stage, and the program gives you an opportunity to make significant improvements in yourself and your behavior, which could have a positive impact on your case outcome down the road.
A diversion program would not benefit a person who is either unwilling or unable to follow directions and adhere to requirements as agreed, or whose substance abuse problem is severe. For those with an entrenched substance abuse problem, a different diversion program might be needed.
Drug Court is a diversion program for offenders with an intense drug addiction. The purpose of Drug Court is to attempt to address criminal defendants’ substance-related problems in order to reduce instances of repeat offenses driven by a person’s drug addiction. How does a defendant end up in Drug Court? Usually, your attorney and the District Attorney both agree that your case would be appropriate for Drug Court.
For treatment, the Drug Court defendant is required to
- Attend regular substance abuse treatment meetings, such as the self-help program Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous
- Attend all scheduled Drug Court dates in front of the Judge
- Maintain employment or attend school
- Being subject to frequent random drug testing
For a Drug Court defendant, there are several parties whose job it is to keep them honest, similar to the role of a probation officer. If the defendant violates any of the Drug Court requirements, the Judge can issue sanctions, including jail time.
If you are ineligible for (or choose not to enter) a diversion program, chances are we can still resolve your case in a favorable way, such as in a plea deal. Types of plea arrangements can include:
- Plead Guilty to a less severe crime.
- Accept a Filing Agreement
- Accept a Deferred Disposition Agreement
For example, you could plead to a misdemeanor crime instead of a felony. Another example is a charge for Criminal Speeding being reduced to a civil speeding ticket.
A Filing Agreement is when the State sets aside the case for a period of time, and you are required to exhibit good behavior and stay out of trouble for that time frame. If you are successful, then the State would dismiss the charge at the end.
A deferred disposition is when the State accepts a guilty plea, and then revisits the issue of sentencing at a later date, usually in a year. In the meantime, the State sets out a number of requirements for you to complete, such as anger management or substance abuse evaluation and/or treatment. If you are successful in meeting the deferred disposition requirements, then the charge you are sentenced to is a lesser charge, or the charge is dismissed.
In a deferred disposition, you are required to enter a guilty plea, often to the crime as charged, and whether or not you get the benefit of the deferred disposition agreement depends on your success in meeting the requirements outlined by the State.
If you (or the State) is not open to negotiation, we will litigate your case fully. If the facts of the matter support the following pretrial Motion, I would utilize them to work towards the best result possible.
Motion to Suppress
In conducting their criminal investigations, the police must respect your Constitutional civil rights. Police must have probable cause and a warrant to search and seize anything pertaining to you or your property. Pay attention to police when interacting with them, as law enforcement can be notorious for attempting to convince you to speak to them or allow them to investigate without a warrant.
Even though you might think the police “got you” because they found something incriminating, this evidence must have been obtained legally. If it is possible that the evidence was obtained in a way that might have violated your Constitutional civil rights, then I can file a Motion requesting that this evidence be kept out of (Suppressed from) evidence at trial.
If this questionable evidence was the State’s “smoking gun,” then this can change the dynamic of negotiations. Ultimately, the Judge rules on the Motion deciding whether the potentially questionable evidence can be used against you at trial.
Motion to Dismiss
If the facts of a case are such that it really should not be litigated at all, I can argue that the case needs to be dismissed (dropped). Cases can be dismissed for a number of reasons:
- The criminal conduct was so slight that it should not be prosecuted
- The State waited too long to bring criminal charges against you
- In facts do not support that criminal conduct took place
When a Motion is filed, a hearing is heard in front of the Judge, who makes a final determination whether or not the case can be dismissed or if the case continues to move forward.
When all other attempts to resolve the criminal case outside of a trial have been exhausted, or if you are unwilling to accept anything less than an acquittal, it would then become necessary to present your case to a jury or to a Judge to prove your innocence. If your case is going to a trial, you might want to consider whether you want a trial in front of a jury or a trial in front of a Judge.
In a jury trial, the jury makes the determination whether you are guilty or not guilty. If the facts of your case can be understood easily by an average person, and if there are important emotional factors in the case, then you might want to consider a trial in front of a Jury.
Judge based Trials
In a trial held in front of a Judge, known also as a Bench Trial, just the Judge determines whether you are guilty or not guilty. If the facts of your case are not easily understood or might be potentially dry or boring to the average person, and if the case is “technical” in nature, then you might want to consider a trial in front of a Judge.
Also, your lawyer will have some input as to whether the case should be placed in front of a jury or a judge. I have tried criminal cases, and I have the experience to take your case to a trial. Review my proven case results so that you can see the types of cases I have tried and the results I have obtained.
Contact Criminal Defense Lawyer Chris Nielsen
If you or a loved one have been arrested or charged with a crime in Maine, please contact Maine Criminal Defense Attorney Nielsen today for the criminal defense you deserve. We will answer your questions and put your mind at ease.
The initial consultation is free and I am always available to advise you on the proper course of action that can be taken.