A man in Farmington, Maine, has been accused of having unlawful sexual contact with an underage girl. The way the media reported the story, however, shows how little news organizations understand the complexities and nuances of sex crimes in Maine.
A Farmington man was arrested on June 26, 2019, for allegedly sexually abusing an underage girl. News reports indicate that she was “under age 16.”
According to the police, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services received a tip that the girl was abused multiple times by the man during the summer of 2018. They investigated the tip, referred their investigation to the police, and the police arrested the 42-year-old suspect.
He is now being charged with what news outlets are describing as a “felony charge” of unlawful sexual contact, as well as a “misdemeanor charge of the same.”
There are several problems with how the media has reported this particular incident, offering a valuable example of a trend in beat reporting.
First, and least importantly, Maine doesn’t use the misdemeanor and felony classifications for crimes. Instead, it classifies crimes by letter – from Class A crimes, which are the most severe, to Class E crimes, which are the least severe.
Classes A through C are what other states would consider to be a “felony” – criminal offenses that can carry more than one year in jail. Classes D and E are what would be a “misdemeanor” outside of Maine, with potential jail terms under one year.
On the same note, the news report claims that the defendant could face up to “364 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000” if convicted of the felony-level charge of unlawful sexual contact, but only up to “six months in jail and a $1,000 fine” if convicted on the misdemeanor offense.
This is wrong. A 364 jail term and $2,000 fine are the maximum penalties for a Class D conviction, which is a misdemeanor, not a felony. 6 months in jail and $1,000 in fines are the maximum penalties for Class E convictions, which are also misdemeanors.
As a result, it’s unclear whether the man is being alternatively charged with Class D and E offenses, or with Class C and D offenses. Without that information, it’s impossible to tell which of the 29 possible situations of unlawful sexual contact outlined in 17-A Maine Statute § 255-A is at issue, here.
One thing that could have helped resolve these questions would have been the alleged victim’s age: Some of the situations elucidated in the unlawful sexual contact law are based on the ages of the alleged victim and the defendant.
However, the news report only says the alleged victim was “under 16,” which doesn’t help. The law draws the line of legality in various situations at age 12, 14, 15, and 18, but never at age 16.
In the end, this particular news report is just another example of how unreliable they can be, especially when they cover an alleged sex crime.
The criminal defense lawyers at Maine Criminal Defense Group represent those who have been accused of a sex crime in Portland, Saco, or Biddeford. Contact them online or call their law office at (207) 571-8146.
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