Maine's Bail System: A 19th Century Holdover

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Dexter tragedy brings bipartisan focus to domestic violence bail decisions

Purple balloons were launched by the attendees at a gathering in remembrance of Amy, Coty and Monica Lake who were murdered by Amy's husband Steven Lake, the father of their children. Photo Diana Bowley, BDN

Sometimes it takes a death. Sometimes it takes four deaths: a mother, her two children and the man who killed them and then killed himself. The deaths of Amy, Monica and Coty Lake at the hands of their husband and father, Steven Lake, may be the tragedy that brings major reform to how the criminal justice system handles dangerous domestic violence cases. The June 13 triple murder-suicide is becoming a rallying point for changes in the system from an unofficial coalition of domestic violence groups, leading Republicans and Democrats and the state’s top judge and top cop. “Change will occur,” said Brian Gagan. Continue Reading →

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‘Broken’ bail system freed man who went on to murder family

Steven Lake   Photo Piscataquis County Jail

“These four people died needlessly …”

— From a psychological autopsy of the triple murder and suicide in Dexter, June 13, 2011

The study rests on a shelf deep in the documents room at the state library. It has been sitting there since September 2006, most of its recommendations going the way of the hundreds of government blue ribbon studies that fill the other shelves – waiting for action. Among the report’s findings: a strong critique of Maine‘s archaic bail system, a system that entrusts to minimally trained bail commissioners the decision of whether potentially dangerous men and women can be free on bail. The people who asked for the study – with the bland title, “Pretrial Case Processing in Maine” – are the same people who could implement the recommendations: the state legislators. If they had taken the findings to heart, turned them into legislation and funded them, they might have saved lives. Continue Reading →

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Improvements incremental for bail system problems

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, photo BDN

Final story of a four-part series

Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget restores to the state judicial system a position that in the past helped to improve the hiring and training of state bail commissioners. According to Leigh Saufley, chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, the governor has

agreed to fund a criminal process manager, a position left vacant by the Baldacci administration since January of last year. The budget is subject to the approval of the Legislature. The salary range is $47,000 to $61,500 and the job requires a law degree. After the previous criminal process manager left the position, the selection and training of bail commissioners became the responsibility of the deputy chief judge of the district courts, Robert Mullen, who also has bench and administrative duties. Continue Reading →

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Maine’s bail system: best state can afford or a threat to due process?

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Part three of four

Jon Gale, a Portland attorney, periodically serves as “lawyer of the day” in District Court, representing defendants in arraignments. The defendants already have had their bail set by one of the state’s bail commissioners, independent contractors whose position was created by the Legislature 128 years ago. What Gale sees in those bail decisions demonstrates one of the problems in the state’s system for setting bail for most defendants — an inconsistency that concerns some legal experts. “You see people with similar backgrounds and similar facts get different bails set, but you don’t know why,” Gale said. “There are times when a bail commissioner sets personal recognizance [a promise to appear in court] on an OUI, with a high blood alcohol content. Continue Reading →

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Officials may set bond amounts without full criminal history

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Part 2 of 4

In December 2010, police in Cumberland County tried to stop a speeder. He led them on a chase and ended up crashing on an I-95 exit ramp. The local bail commissioner was told the charges were driving at a criminal speed and operating with a suspended license. He set the bail at $300. When the man appeared in court two days later, the judge reset his bail at $25,000. Continue Reading →

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Maine’s bail system: A 19th century holdover

Part one in a series

If you are arrested in Maine, everyone you deal with — with one exception — will be a professional. The police officer who arrested you is certified and has at least 100 hours of training. The prosecuting attorney, your own lawyer and the judge all went to law school and passed a rigorous bar exam. But the amateur link in the criminal justice chain is the person who will make the on-the-spot decision about both your immediate liberty and the community’s safety. Will you be released on little or no bail and be back on the street in a matter of hours? Continue Reading →

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