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Maine Prisoner’s Contraband Conviction Vacated

On May 29, 2012, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court reversed a prisoner’s conviction for trafficking in contraband. The Court found it was proper for the trial court to allow a guard to testify about details not contained in her written report of the incident, but held reversal was required due to the improper admission of an investigator’s testimony that additional charges would have been brought had another prisoner cooperated with the investigation.

The conviction stemmed from an altercation that occurred at the Maine State Prison on November 11, 2010. Guard Angela Smith yelled “fight” and ran with another guard to a cell where prisoners Timothy Mooney and Michael Brine were brawling. After they were separated, the other guard went to an adjacent cell to handle another incident.

Moments later, Mooney pulled Brine’s cell door open and made a forward motion. Smith quickly grabbed Mooney and saw “something went flying.” Brine was bleeding from his left shoulder and left hand from injuries that required stitches. Later, Smith found two shanks in the area but did not write a supplemental report on her discovery of the weapons.

Mooney was charged with trafficking in prison contraband for possession of a shank, and tried in Knox County Superior Court. At trial, Smith was allowed, over the objections of the defense, to testify as to finding the shanks. The trial court held there was no discovery violation and that the evidence was properly admitted for the jury to determine its credibility. Mooney was convicted and sentenced to three years, to be served consecutive to his existing thirty-five year prison term.

On appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld the trial court’s admission of Smith’s testimony. However, the Court found error in the admission of testimony from John Scheid, a criminal investigator for the Maine Department of Corrections. Scheid had testified that Brine’s failure to cooperate with the investigation prevented the filing of “aggravated assault or elevated aggravated assault” charges against Mooney.

The Court held that “This testimony did not tend to prove or disprove the charge that Mooney trafficked in prison contraband.” Therefore, the admission of Scheid’s testimony constituted error, which was not harmless due to the circumstantial nature of the prosecution’s case against Mooney. Accordingly, his conviction for trafficking in contraband was vacated. See: State of Maine v. Mooney, 43 A.3d 972 (Me. 2012).

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Related legal case

State of Maine v. Mooney