June 17, 2018
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Maine’s high court outlines how to set sexual predators’ supervised release

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday outlined for the first time the factors a judge must consider before imposing supervised release on a convicted sex offender.

In a 20-page opinion written by Justice Andrew Mead, the court adopted the federal approach to imposing supervised release, which requires a judge to consider the same factors used to impose a defendant’s sentence.

Those factors include the nature of the crime, its impact on victims, the defendant’s criminal record and character, sentences imposed in similar cases, the deterrent effect of prison terms and the need to send a message to citizens that crime will be punished justly and appropriately.

The Legislature in 2000 adopted a statute allowing judges to impose terms of supervised release on the individuals considered to be sexually violent predators. It can be imposed for any period of years, including life. It also can be revoked if conditions are violated.

The difference between probation and supervised released, Evert Fowle, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, said Thursday, is that probation is intended to be a punishment and is imposed as part of a defendant’s sentence. The purpose of supervised release is supervision and rehabilitation, said the longtime prosecutor, who is president emeritus of the Maine Prosecutors Association.

The original legislation did not tell judges what factors they should consider when imposing supervised release. So when Superior Court Justice Jeffrey Hjelm a year ago sentenced Benjamin S. Cook, 24, of Union to 30 years of supervised release after completing a 12-year prison term, the judge had little guidance from lawmakers, Mead said.

The state supreme court upheld Cook’s prison term but ordered that the lower court reconsider the term of supervised release imposed.

Cook pleaded guilty in August 2010 in Knox County Superior Court to 12 gross sexual assault charges and two counts of unlawful sexual contact, according to previous reports. The remaining 25 sex charges were dismissed in a plea agreement with the Knox County District Attorney’s Office.

The charges stemmed from events that occurred from 2005 to 2009, according to police. Cook was convicted of abusing two female relatives who were 10 years old and 18 years old in 2009 when the crimes were reported.

Cook’s attorney, Jeremy Pratt of Camden, appealed his client’s 12-year prison sentence and the 30-year term of supervised release in November. Justices heard oral arguments in the case in May in Portland.

“We’ll have to wait and see what happens,” Pratt said in a telephone interview Thursday. “He could end up getting the same amount of time, but I’m pleased the Law Court chose to adopt the federal rule for imposing terms of supervised release.”

Fowle predicted that prosecutors would welcome the court’s guidance in the matter.

“Some very serious offenders warrant longer periods of supervision to protect the public and to rehabilitate the offender,” he said. “I don’t think it’s bad idea to have some ground rules and consistency with how terms of supervised release are arrived at.”

Efforts to reach prosecutors in Knox County were unsuccessful Thursday.

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