OUI, shoplifting cases to be handled differently in Knox, Lincoln, Waldo and Sagadahoc counties

District attorney details new way criminal cases will be handled

By Stephen Betts | Feb 05, 2019
Photo by: Stephen Betts District Attorney Natasha Irving

Rockland — Local police say they are taking a wait-and-see attitude on new policies being used by the District Attorney's Office concerning criminal cases.

District Attorney Natasha Irving — who oversees prosecution of cases for Knox, Lincoln, Waldo and Sagadahoc counties — detailed to police departments and the judiciary how she will handle criminal cases in memos sent out last month. Irving also met last month with police chiefs and sheriffs in the four counties.

Irving said the biggest pushback she has received is on the way her office plans to handle cases involving driving under the influence, as well as theft cases in which the suspect has multiple prior convictions for theft.

She said, however, she has received significant support from law enforcement.

"This is a goal-oriented approach, recognizing that the majority of non-violent repeat offenders have mental illness and/or substance misuse disorder," Irving stated in her policy memo.

She said this approach to non-violent offenses will give prosecutors more time to focus on protecting the community from violent and dangerous offenders.

Knox County Sheriff Tim Carroll said he completely respects what the district attorney is aiming to accomplish with her policies.

"It is a different approach to a recognized major problem that we have in Knox County with persons suffering with substance use disorders, mental health disorders, and her wishes of a 'just outcome' relating to the offense," Carroll said. "She has been very receptive to further discussions as different cases come up. I believe we will work together well."

The sheriff said he has instructed his officers to continue to do their job as they have learned it and have been trained.

"A law enforcement officer's experience and training and ability to be fair and have discretion are their most valued assets to provide reasonable and responsible law enforcement. It is law enforcement's function to hold people accountable for their actions and the courts' to provide fair sentencing and punishment," the sheriff said.

Carroll said he and the district attorney have similar thoughts on crimes of violence; especially on domestic violence. Irving maintains that crimes of violence will generally require incarceration or commitment in a locked mental health facility.

Camden and Rockport Police Chief Randy Gagne said he has instructed his officers to continue to do their jobs as they always have and issue appropriate violations.

"The decision to issue a complaint or not on violation(s) is the decision of the district attorney. I made the district attorney aware of my instruction to the Camden and Rockport officers at the meeting. She has not asked us to do anything any different than we have done all along. I do not agree with all the changes in the new policy. I do, however, want to take a wait-and-see approach and give our new district attorney some time in office. I believe that we will all work together to address issues that may come up regarding the new policies changes."

He declined to say what specific portions of the policies he disagrees with, saying he wants to give the new policies a chance.

Rockland Police Chief Christopher Young also said his officers will perform their jobs in the same way and he will take a wait-and-see attitude.

The new prosecution policy on dealing with OUI cases involves the use of deferred dispositions In cases of low impairment (less than a 0.11 blood alcohol level), if a person undergoes substance abuse counseling, the case will be dismissed in six months. If the test comes in at 0.11 to as much as 0.14, there will be a 12-month deferred disposition and the charges will be reduced to the lesser offense of driving to endanger if the person undergoes substance abuse counseling and performs 40 hours of community service.

The state law sets 0.08 as the limit for when a person is considered to be under the influence.

For OUI cases in which the test is 0.15 or greater and there is either an accident or a passenger younger than 21, the driver will be placed on an 18-month deferred disposition, during which time he or she must undergo substance abuse counseling and perform 60 hours of community service. If successful, the person would be convicted of OUI with a fine of $500 and a 150-day license suspension, as well as the alternative sentencing program in which they spend a weekend performing community service work under the supervision of jail staff.

In terms of shoplifting cases, the district attorney is also offering a change.

"Repeat shoplifting offenses are a sign of serious mental illness, and should not be treated with incarceration and felony convictions unless all other avenues have been completely exhausted," the policy states.

The policy calls for those cases to be referred to restorative justice whenever possible. Theft charges that are at felony level because of prior theft convictions should be charged as misdemeanor offenses and deferred, either through restorative justice, or when not available, through a deferred disposition with the requirement of the person's receiving mental health treatment, paying restitution and performing community service.

Restorative justice will also be used for defendants who are 25 or younger in nonviolent cases. She said her office will work to increase the capacity of existing restorative justice programs to handle the additional cases they will receive.

"Current brain science indicates that the frontal lobe, where decisions are made and consequences appreciated, is not fully formed until the age of 25 on average," the policy states.

The new policies include declining prosecution of non-dangerous traffic offenses; declining prosecution of possession or use of marijuana or alcohol by people 18 through 20 years old; and to impose the lowest reasonable class of crime for nonviolent, non-dangerous offenses.

Prosecution of cases may also be deferred for nonviolent offenses if it could have dire collateral consequences for military service, child protective cases, immigration status, professional license status or out-of-state school enrollment.

Prior convictions should not be used to seek jail time for nonviolent, non-dangerous offenses.

The district attorney also said cash bail should only be sought for violent crimes, high-cost theft, high-quantity trafficking offenses and crimes against the judicial process. Irving said cash bail disproportionately results in poor and working people being detained prior to trial.

She also will decline to prosecute cases in which people are caught for operating motor vehicles after suspensions when the suspensions are only for not paying fines or reinstatement fees. The district attorney said operating after suspension and revocation cases disproportionately affect the poorest members of the community who have no other alternatives to get to work.

In addition, the chief prosecutor said cases from the Maine State Prison consume an inordinate amount of time and resources. She said assaults in which there are no injuries requiring medical attention, trafficking in prison contraband cases, and cases in which a significant lapse of time has occurred should not be prosecuted if disciplinary action has already been taken against prisoners by the prison.

Irving maintains that possession of illegal drugs should not result in jail time.

Most cases handled by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency are prosecuted by the Maine Attorney General's Office. An email was sent to the AG's Office on how it will handle drug cases. No response was immediately received.

The complete memos from the district attorney are attached below.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Deborah Clarisse Morrison | Feb 09, 2019 16:14

It is the DA's job to apply the LAW not rewrite it to her feelings.  It's the judge that passes the sentence, not her.  If the law seems to harsh towards lower income people then change to law - but you can't (or shouldn't)  apply it as YOU see fit.  That is not how it works.  Lady justice has a blindfold for a reason....equal application of the law for everyone.

In her defense, this was all for tolled before she was elected in November.  Get ready for the revolving door to go full speed.  I just feel bad for the police and the correction officers...seeing the same criminals over and over must make it very hard to keep moral up.



Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Feb 05, 2019 09:05

This is a start.  With the input from law enforcement, corrections and Restorative Justice there will be revisions. Looking forward to watching this develop. It will definitely need teamwork. Kudos to ALL involved.



Posted by: Heidi Ruth Locke | Feb 05, 2019 07:33

Totally on board with non-violent, mental illness needing  psychological help!

However, they already don’t have enough beds or staff to handle the overload at PARC-at PenBay. People end up being sent all over the State.

More people workers and a bigger facility is a must with this approach. Already, most patience’s of one of their psychiatrist, only gets to see them for a half an hour every two months, because they are so overbooked and overloaded with patients!

Please think about everybody in your decisions not only not only habitual drug addictions  and alcoholics!

Not a good scene in PARC having armed guards at each of the rooms! Other patients are scared by this when dealing with rape, sexual abuse and suisidal ideation-not Fair!

There are other mental illnesses besides just these two groups-think about this please! Talk to the staff at PARC! They will tell you the same thing.

Please don’t turn PARC into a prison, they already have locks doors to the outside world, for the safety of the patients, criminals and habitual offenders need their own separate unit!!

 



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