High court withdraws proposal to increase time defendant can be held before seeing judge

Posted Sept. 04, 2013, at 2:32 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 04, 2013, at 7:04 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Wednesday announced that it has withdrawn a proposal to increase the time a defendant can be held in jail before appearing before a judge from 48 to 72 hours.

As a result of the withdrawal, the court canceled a hearing on the proposal set for Sept. 12.

Efforts to reach a representative of the court system were unsuccessful Wednesday.

The change was proposed in response to complaints from at least one sheriff that he was having to release defendants after 48 hours because a judge was not available, Special Assistant Attorney General Charles Leadbetter, who headed the committee that proposed that change and others to the Maine Rules of Criminal Procedure, said in July.

The Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers opposed the change.

“We believe this is too long a period to hold a person — who has the benefit of the presumption of innocence — before they are advised of the substance of the charges against them, their right to retain counsel and their right to remain silent,” George “Toby” Dilworth, president of the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, wrote in a letter to the court dated July 8.

The Portland lawyer also said Wednesday that if the proposed change had been implemented, defendants charged with misdemeanor crimes might have spent more time in jail waiting to see a judge than they would have been sentenced to serve if they had been convicted of the crime.

Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith in April threatened to sue the court system if it did not start bringing prisoners at his jail before a judge in a timely manner. He said earlier this year that he had to release several prisoners because a judge was not available within 48 hours of their arrests.

Smith said Wednesday that he has not had to release a defendant since June after he contacted Michael Cianchette, Gov. Paul LePage’s former legal counsel.

Cianchette, a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve, last month left the job because he has been deployed to Afghanistan.

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