February 11

Former Vassalboro man wins new trial on OUI charge

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that there were not enough warnings about the risks of proceeding to trial without a defense attorney.

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

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Silver’s order notes that in the earlier instance when Hill’s attorney withdrew at his client’s request, “Hill’s response to the court’s question of whether Hill understood ‘how a trial works’ was ‘Well, yeah, but not — not exactly, you know.’”

Silver concludes, “Because the record does not reflect — and we cannot infer — that Hill knew of the pitfalls of proceeding to trial without counsel, we must vacate Hill’s conviction and remand for a new trial.”

Saufley’s opinion says this decision does not change the current practices in cases in which defendants proceed to trial without attorneys.

“The difficulty in this case arose, I believe, as a result of what may have been a gap in the record or a simple misunderstanding among judges. ... (T)here never came a point at which a judge made the explicit determination that Hill understood what was necessary to represent himself in a trial.”

She said a trial judge should question a defendant and make a record of the findings when a defendant opts to proceed without an attorney. “In the future, that should eliminate the problem identified in this case,” Saufley said.

Alexander disagreed, saying that Hill had been advised of his right to counsel, opted against it “and now seeks to reverse his course, the result not being to his liking.”

He cited a possible “unintended consequence” of this ruling could be an increased number of appeals from defendants who represented themselves and now say they were wrongly convicted because of insufficient evidence they were properly advised of their rights.

Alexander said he would have preferred that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court “follow our past precedent and remand for findings to learn the totality of circumstances of what Hill knew and what he was advised by counsel and others regarding the risks and consequences of self-representation.

He said he would have affirmed the convictions “or, in the alternative, I would remand for findings so that the totality of the circumstances of Hill’s choice to proceed without counsel could be deferentially reviewed on appeal.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631 badams@centralmaine.com Twitter: @betadams
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