No one plans to need a lawyer, and you probably have a lot of questions. While everyone's case is unique, below you may find some of the answers you're looking for.
Disclaimer: This article is intended to provide general information about Maine law. It does not constitute legal advice or an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader(s).
Can I talk to you about my case before I pay you?
Yes. Please contact us for a free consultation to discuss your case and how I can help you.
What is attorney-client privilege?
Attorney-Client Privilege means that private communications between a lawyer and a client are confidential. What you say to your lawyer will remain confidential unless you give your lawyer permission to share it. This allows you to speak openly with your attorney so that she will have all of the information she needs to help you.
Does the attorney-client privilege cover my initial consultation with a lawyer?
Yes, the attorney-client privilege covers your initial free consultation with an attorney, even if you end up not hiring that attorney to represent you. It also covers any consultation you may have with a “Lawyer of the Day” in court.
What is an Initial Appearance?
A person arrested on a Felony charge (a Class A, B, or C Crime in Maine) begins the criminal process with an “Initial Appearance.” After you are arrested and “booked,” if you are not released on bail, you must be brought before a judge within 48 hours for an initial appearance. At the initial appearance, the judge will explain your rights, make sure you understand the charges against you, give you an opportunity to apply for a court-appointed attorney, and address any issues regarding bail. The court will not accept a guilty plea at the initial appearance because it occurs before there is a felony indictment. You do not enter a plea until you are arraigned, which happens after the Grand Jury returns an indictment.
What is an Arraignment?
If you have been charged with a misdemeanor (a Class D or E Crime in Maine), then the arraignment is the initial court appearance following your arrest or summons. If you have been charged with a felony (a Class A, B, or C Crime in Maine), then the arraignment takes place after your initial appearance and after the Grand Jury has returned an indictment.
On the day of arraignment for a misdemeanor charge, you will watch a video that explains your rights, and you will receive a copy of evidence (“Discovery”) that the State has against you. The judge will ask the prosecutor whether there is a “risk of jail” for your charge, and if so, will explain your right to a court-appointed attorney if you cannot afford one. A financial screener will be available to determine whether you are eligible for a court-appointed attorney. The judge will also invite you to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty (or nolo contendere, which must be approved by the court and will result in a finding of guilt).
You should initially plead not guilty at arraignment and take the opportunity to speak with a defense lawyer located at the court and available to advise you. This “Lawyer of the Day” offers a free legal consultation to you – he or she is a local, private defense attorney paid by the State to review your case and give advice for that day only. Your communications with the Lawyer of the Day are covered by attorney-client privilege, and you should speak freely about your case and your concerns. They are there to help.
If you hire a criminal defense lawyer before Arraignment, your attorney can appear on your behalf, and you will likely not be required to appear at the court that day.
What is Bail?
Bail can be money, property, or a promise given to the court to secure your release from jail while you wait for your case to proceed. Unless you are charged with murder, you have a right to bail under Maine law.
First Party Bail: Money presumed to be owned by you. First party bail is rarely returned to you, as it can be automatically forfeited if the judge finds you violated bail conditions in any way, and can be taken by the court at the end of your case to be used to pay fines and fees.
Defendants who don’t violate their bail often expect their bail money to be returned to them at the close of the case; however, this rarely happens. First party bail can be automatically taken by the court once the case concludes to be used to pay fines, court-appointed counsel, or any other debt owed anywhere in the state, such as back taxes, child support, or fines for matters unrelated to your case.
Third Party Bail: Money designated as belonging to someone else, posted on your behalf. Third party bail is usually returned to its owner, even if you violate bail conditions.
Judges will sometimes order “no third-party bail” so that the bail can be more easily forfeited in the event of a violation. This does not mean that someone else cannot post bail on your behalf, but rather that the bail cannot be designated as belonging to someone else, and is therefore available to be taken by the court if you violate conditions, and to pay fines and other debt.
Personal Recognizance Bail (“PR Bail”): A promise that you will return for future court dates, and that you will not engage in any new criminal behavior. No money is required for your release when PR bail is authorized.
What if I can't post Bail?
If you can’t raise bail, contact Maine Pretrial Services, a non-profit agency that offers assistance to people who are charged with crimes or probation violations who might otherwise have to wait in jail until trial.
Can I just plead guilty and make this go away?
You think you’re guilty, and you just want to get on with your life. Should you plead guilty and get it over with? No.
Always remember that the State must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If you plead guilty at arraignment, you will miss the opportunity to negotiate a lesser charge with the prosecutor, to identify possible defenses with a defense attorney, and to fully consider how a conviction will affect other parts of your life.
A lawyer can review issues in your case to determine whether the State is likely to prove its case. Was it a legal stop by the police? Was there an illegal search? Additionally, a lawyer can discuss weaknesses in the State’s case with the prosecutor and possibly negotiate a lesser charge against you, with a more favorable offer in exchange for your guilty plea.
Remember: A guilty plea is a conviction.
Convictions can carry serious consequences you may not have considered. Certain convictions carry a lifetime ban on the possession of firearms or ammunition. Other convictions can result in driver’s license suspensions or revocations imposed by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles after your plea. If you were not born in the United States, a guilty plea may result in immigration consequences. If you are a U.S. citizen, a guilty plea may prevent your international travel, including to Canada.
At the very least, you should initially plead not-guilty at arraignment and discuss your case with the Lawyer of the Day before pleading guilty to any criminal charge.
What if I can't afford an attorney?
If your charge carries a risk of jail, the first time you appear at court you will have the opportunity to meet with a financial screener who will determine whether you are eligible for a court-appointed lawyer. If you meet the financial qualifications, the court will appoint an attorney to represent you. Court-appointed attorneys in Maine are private lawyers paid by the State to represent clients who otherwise could not afford an attorney to represent them. If you choose, you may request that the court appoint a specific attorney to your case.
What is Discovery?
Discovery is evidence the State has against the accused. In a criminal case, discovery includes police reports, and may include witness reports, recordings of jail interviews with the accused, Intoxilyzer (“breathalyzer”) machine test results, dashboard camera recordings of traffic stops, and other evidence collected by the prosecutor.
What is a Dispositional Conference?
Assuming you plead not guilty at your arraignment, your next hearing date will be for a dispositional conference. The dispositional conference is a meeting where the prosecutor and the defense attorney discuss their best offer in your case. The prosecutor and defense attorney often meet with a judge to get an idea about how the court may view certain aspects of the case, and the judge may provide suggestions to fairly resolve certain matters. Although you will have little direct participation in the dispositional conference, you must be present at the court. Many cases are resolved on this day, but if there is no agreement, the court will schedule a trial.
Will I have a jury trial?
In the District Court, which handles misdemeanor crimes (Class D or E), trials are held by a judge, and there is no jury. In the Superior Court, which handles all felony crimes (Class A, B, or C), jury trials are held. If you are charged with a misdemeanor offense and you would like a jury trial, you must file a written request with the court to have your case moved to the Superior Court. There is a short deadline, so ask for the form at your arraignment if you wish to have the right to a jury trial. Be aware that the overwhelming majority of cases in Maine, and nationwide, end in an agreement before a trial begins.
What is Probation?
Following a conviction, probation allows you to be out in the community instead of being in jail. You must follow certain court-ordered rules and conditions under the supervision of a probation officer, and if you violate those conditions, you may be returned to jail. Conditions are extensive and vary by case. They may include restrictions on travel, restrictions on firearms possession, avoiding certain people, random search and testing for alcohol or illegal drugs, substance abuse treatment, and counseling services. In many cases, police can knock on your door and search your home and person at any time while you are on probation.
Conditions can be restrictive enough that some people feel being on probation is worse than being in jail. These people may wish to do all their time and be done with it, with no conditions upon their release. This is something you should discuss with an attorney.
What is the Alternative Sentencing Program?
Jail sentences for some crimes, such as OUI, may be served through an Alternative Sentencing Program (“ASP”). This is offered through the Sheriff’s Department to first- and second-time non-violent offenders as an alternative to jail. A judge must sentence you to the ASP, often upon request by your attorney. You must pay a fee for the program, and then perform community services for the equivalent of your jail sentence while staying on-site, under supervision, at a safe location like a school or community center. We can help you determine whether you might qualify for ASP, and whether it is the right option for you.
What is a Deferred Disposition?
A Deferred Disposition is a plea deal in which you plead guilty or “no contest” to a criminal charge, but the court does not enter a conviction at that time. After a certain amount of time (usually a year), if you have met all of the conditions imposed by the court, then your case may be dismissed entirely or your charge may be reduced to a less serious offense. Conditions are likely to include, for example: a promise to return for all future court dates, restrictions on firearms possession, random search and testing for alcohol or illegal drugs, substance abuse treatment, and counseling services. If you have not met all of the conditions, you will likely be convicted of your original charge and you may face additional sentencing. In many ways, a deferred disposition is a reward for good behavior. Ask us if this may be an option for you.
How should a dress for my court appearance?
You should dress in neat, clean, non-revealing clothing. You should not wear clothing with graphic images. You should hide any tattoos that display images of drugs, sex, violence, or alcohol. You will be instructed to remove hats and sunglasses while in the courtroom. Being in court is a formal occasion, and you should dress respectfully, but you do not need to wear a suit if you are not comfortable wearing one. Additionally, metal detectors and screeners are frequently in use; do not carry anything that may be considered a weapon.
Can I secure your services for a friend or family member?
In cases of criminal law, family law and juvenile law, it is common for friends or family to pay legal fees. If the client does not qualify for a court-appointed attorney, the financial assistance of a friend or relative may be the only way to ensure the client’s interests are represented. In cases where a friend or relative pays legal fees, attorney-client privilege is still in place – the lawyer will not discuss any aspects of the case with that friend or family member without the client’s explicit consent.
How much should I expect to pay for services?
The truth is, every case is different. Some cases are long and complicated; some are short and simple. How much you have to pay ultimately depends on your type of case, how complicated it is, and how long it takes. What we can tell you on this website is that before you decide to hire us, we will have an honest discussion about what you can expect to pay, and how.