The Maine Supreme Judicial Court this week will hear oral arguments in 20 cases, including two from people incarcerated in state prisons.
Miranda Hopkins, 33, of Troy, who is serving a 13-year manslaughter sentence at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, and Horace W. Salley III, 46, of Smyrna, who is incarcerated at the Maine State Prison for assaulting and raping his ex-wife, have filed unrelated appeals.
Hopkins is asking that her manslaughter conviction in the death of her 7-week-old son be overturned. Salley is asking the state’s high court to adopt a rule that would consider a document sent to a court by an inmate as “filed” when given to prison officials to be mailed rather than when it arrives at the clerk’s office.
Laura P. Shaw, Hopkins’ attorney for the appeal, argued in her brief that there was not enough evidence for the jury to find Hopkins responsible for her son Jaxson’s death. She said that one of Hopkins’ non-verbal, autistic sons, “known for being aggressive and destructive were up during the night while Hopkins slept.”
“In this case, the state presented no evidence to show that Hopkins, as opposed to the other two individuals present in the house, caused the injuries that caused the death of the victim,” Shaw said in her brief. “No murder weapon was identified. No crime scene was identified. No theory as to how or when the crime took place was identified. The other individuals present in the house were not excluded as having committed the crime.”
Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber argued in his brief that there was sufficient evidence for jurors to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Hopkins was guilty of manslaughter. Because of her admission that she repeatedly lied to investigators, Hopkins’ testimony was suspect, the prosecutor argued.
“Hopkins’ life was ‘stressful,’ and she was impaired by drugs and alcohol on the night of the death,” he said in the brief. “Her older autistic boys — the only other occupants of the trailer — were sound asleep when the police arrived in response to the 911 call.
“According to Hopkins, the boys made loud noises when stressed, yet Hopkins heard no noises coming from her small trailer,” Macomber continued. “The inflicted injuries suffered by Jaxson required significant force, and it was unlikely that either of Hopkins’ older boys could have engaged in the series of steps necessary for Hopkins’ trial testimony to be true.”
Hopkins’ attorney also claims a portion of jury instructions were incorrect and some of Hopkins’ statements should have been suppressed.
Salley was sentenced to 25 years with all but 10 suspended for a 2008 gross sexual assault. When he completes that sentence next August, he must serve an additional sentence of more than five years in federal prison for illegally possessing a gun.
While incarcerated on the state charge, Salley has appealed prison-imposed disciplinary measures but had them dismissed because prison employees misplaced his mail and it did not arrive at the courthouse until after the deadline to appeal had passed. Salley, who is being represented by the Cumberland Legal Clinic at the University of Maine School of Law, is asking the court to impose what is known as the “prisoner mailbox rule” in Maine.
That rule states that court filings sent by prisoners representing themselves are deemed filed when they are given to prison authorities for forwarding to the court, the brief said.
“Holding Mr. Salley responsible for the vagaries of the prison mail system creates an unconstitutional obstacle,” Michael Walker, who graduated from law school last month, argued in his brief. “Even assuming no bad faith on the part of the Department [of Corrections] such a requirement does not stand constitutional muster because it puts Mr. Salley at the mercy of his adversary, which this court has noted is ‘abhorrent to the very nature of constitutional government.’”
Assistant Attorney General Jason J. Theobald argued in the state’s brief that if the court adopted the “prisoner mailbox rule,” it would change the legal meaning of word file. He also argued that Salley had not proven prison officials deliberately misplaced his mail so that it would arrive at the clerk’s office after the deadline passed.
“This court has previously held that the plain and ordinary meaning of the term ‘file’ as used by the Legislature means ‘delivery to court clerk or record custodian,’” Theobald said. “Creating a prison mailbox rule in this case would contravene the plain and ordinary meaning of the term ‘file’ under Maine law.”
The justices originally were scheduled to convene Tuesday, June 12, through Thursday, June 14 at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor but technical problems in the courtroom they use forced them to move oral arguments to the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta.
Julia Finn, spokeswoman for the court system, said last month that the audio visual system in Courtroom 202 is obsolete. The system could not be relied upon to allow for the live audio webcast of oral arguments.
“There is a plan in place to repair/replace the system in Bangor and we anticipate that the repairs will be completed over the summer,” she said.
Other cases the justice will consider in Augusta include:
— The appeal of a Stockton Springs woman accused, with her husband, of killing her 11-year-old daughter, Marissa Kennedy, in February. Sharon Carrillo is seeking to overturn the decision of Superior Court Justice Robert Murray who refused to remove prosecutors from the case for alleged misconduct. Carrillo’s attorney, Christopher MacLean of Camden, claims the Maine attorney general’s office should be removed from the case for improperly subpoenaing Carrillos’ out-of-state school records.
— A 16-year-old from Skowhegan is seeking to overturn his commitment to Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, claiming that the state corrections system is incapable of rehabilitating young people. Last fall, the teen was sentenced to the facility until he turns 18 for a series of non-violent crimes. His attorney, Tina Heather Nadeau of Portland, asked the justices to declare the incarceration of young people for such minor crimes “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the Maine and U.S. constitutions and to release her client.
— An appeal by the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar that is seeking to disbar rather than suspend Portland attorney Gary Prolman, who was suspended previously after a federal conviction for money laundering. Prolman was accused of sexual misconduct by a female client in March 2017 who sought to stay with him to escape an abusive relationship. She accused Prolman of seeking sexual favors in return. He denied the allegation but was suspended for six months. That suspension ended April 30.
There is no timetable under which justices must issue decisions.
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