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Laws have a unique way of evolving as time goes on. When the legislature – whether the Maine State Legislature or the U.S. Congress – creates a law and passes it, the words that they put in that law are always going to have a certain amount of ambiguity. Inevitably, this ambiguity will come to the forefront when a case hinges on exactly how those specific words are interpreted. As time passes and more and more cases are decided, you can look back to the original words in the law and see that what it said, and what it now means, are two completely different things.
Unfortunately, this is just the case with a crucial part of the Maine State Constitution dealing with unanimous jury verdicts.
Section 7 of the Maine Constitution guarantees that any indictment or conviction given by a jury in the state of Maine will be made unanimously. This means that you can’t be convicted for a crime by a jury that doesn’t completely agree that you did the deed. Everyone on the jury has to agree, or else you can’t be convicted.
But as time has passed, holes have been put in that guarantee.
The Supreme Court of Maine has determined that Section 7 of the Maine Constitution only requires the jury to be unanimous in its verdict. Jurors do not have to agree on every fact leading up to the verdict, however.
For example, in Maine, killing someone is considered murder if one of a handful requirements are met. Two of these requirements are that the killer “manifested a depraved indifference to the value of human life.” Another requirement is that the killer “acted knowingly or intentionally.” Even if half of the jury thinks that the depraved heart requirement was met, with the other half convinced that the killing was done knowingly or intentionally, the jury is still considered unanimous – everyone agrees that one of the requirements was met for murder.
The implications of having a jury that only has to agree on the final decision, rather than on the underlying facts that make up that decision, is serious. It lets the prosecutor succeed even without focusing on one version of the story, and instead lets them pursue several different possibilities. This forces your defense attorney to protect against multiple interpretations of what happened.
Even though your right to a unanimous jury verdict is not all that it is made out to be, that doesn’t make it any less important of a right. Additionally, it is not a reason not to take a case to trial if there is any doubt that you committed the crime you’re being charged for. Solid criminal defense attorneys like William T. Bly defend your rights and interests both in and out of court, before, during, and after the trial. Contact the law office of William T. Bly online or at (207) 571-8146.
If you are facing criminal charges in Maine, the attorneys at The Maine Criminal Defense Group are here to help. Call our office to speak with
one of our team members, who will discuss your case with you and set up a consultation with one of our attorneys
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