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Maine Supreme Judicial Court Vacates Conviction on Double Jeopardy Grounds

The Supreme Judicial Court of Maine vacated one of Ronald Paquin’s convictions for gross sexual misconduct on double jeopardy grounds and ordered the trial court to enter a judgment of acquittal on three additional counts.

Paquin served as the priest at the Roman Catholic Church in Haverhill, Massachusetts, when he allegedly engaged in sex acts with two boys under the age of 14. Paquin was indicted on 15 counts of gross sexual misconduct against Victim Number 1 (Counts 1-13 and Counts 30-31) and sixteen counts of gross sexual misconduct against Victim Number 2 (Counts 14-29). The indictment to Count 5 charged that Paquin, “[o]n or about between [sic] November 1, 1986 and February 28, 1987, in Kennebunkport, YORK County, Maine ... did engage in a sexual act with [the victim] ..., not his spouse, who had not in fact attained his fourteenth birthday.”

The indictment charging Count 30 read identical to Count 5 but with the dates changed to December 1, 1986, and December 31, 1986, and with the additional language “To wit: Engaging in a sexual act in the form of direct physical contact between the genitals of [the victim] ... and the mouth of Ronald Paquin.”

At trial, the State advised the trial court that it would be dismissing Counts 27-29 “based on [Victim Number 2’s] testimony of not recalling.” Paquin’s counsel raised the question of whether Paquin’s consent to the dismissal was required, and the trial judge said he “would be dismissing those counts on a judgment in response to [a motion for judgment of acquittal] anyway, so it’s sort of moot. I’ve already indicated I’m likely to grant the motion for judgment of acquittal on those counts anyway. Whether [Paquin] agrees or not, the evidence is not in the record at this point.”

After the State rested its case-in-chief, Paquin moved for judgment of acquittal on all counts. The trial court granted the motion as to Counts 10 through 13. After the court indicated it was also inclined to grant the motion with respect to Counts 27 through 29, the State interjected that the motion as to those counts was moot because those counts were previously dismissed by the court on the State’s motion.

The trial judge then said the motion for judgment of acquittal was “moot with respect to [Counts] 27, 28, and 29 and those counts have been dismissed by agreement.” (The State later filed a written dismissal for the stated reason that “[p]robable cause established but insufficient evidence to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt on those counts.” At no time did Paquin consent to the dismissal of those counts.) The jury then found Paquin guilty of the remaining counts as to Victim Number 1 but not guilty of all remaining counts as to Victim Number 2.

Paquin appealed, arguing, inter alia, that the trial court erred when it (1) failed to rule sua sponte that double jeopardy barred convictions on both Counts 5 and 30 and (2) when it allowed the State to dismiss Counts 27 through 29 during trial without his consent rather than entering a judgment of acquittal on those counts.

Because the double jeopardy claim was not raised in the trial court, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court reviewed for obvious error that required Paquin to show: (1) there was an error (2) that was obvious and (3) affected his substantial rights. State v. Williams, 225 A.3d 751 (Me. 2020).

If those three conditions are satisfied, the Court would set aside the jury’s verdict only if the error seriously affected the fairness and integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings. Id.

The Double Jeopardy Clause bars multiple punishments for the same offense. State v. Martinelli, 175 A.3d 636 (Me. 2017). When one act violates multiple statutes, courts use the test enunciated in Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299 (1932), to determine if those multiple statutes are the same offense for purposes of double jeopardy protections. Id. The test asks whether each statute requires proof of a fact that the other does not, and if so, there is no double jeopardy violation for multiple prosecutions or punishments. Id.

In the instant case, Count 30 required proof of a specific sexual act; whereas, Count 5 required proof of any sexual act. A jury could convict on Count 30 and on Count 5 based on the same acts and facts. Each of the two counts, therefore, did not require proof of a fact that the other did not.

Because the jury could have convicted Paquin of both counts based on the same acts, convictions on both counts violate the Double Jeopardy Clause, and the Court concluded the error was obvious.

As to the trial court dismissing Counts 27 through 29 instead of granting the motion for judgment of acquittal, “a dismissal may not be filed during the trial without the consent of the defendant.” M.R.U. Crim. P. 48(a). A “dismissal of charges after jeopardy has attached without consent of the defendant raises a serious double jeopardy problem.” 2 Cluchey & Seitzinger, Maine Criminal Practice § 48.2 (Gardner ed. 1995). Once a defendant is acquitted, he may not again be subjected to trial without violating the Double Jeopardy Clause. United States v. Scott, 437 U.S. 82 (1978). A defendant is acquitted when the ruling of the judge actually represents a resolution in the defendant’s favor of some or all of the factual elements of the offense. Id.

In Paquin’s case, the trial court granted the State’s motion to dismiss Counts 27-29 due to insufficient evidence. Consequently, the trial court’s dismissal was actually an acquittal.

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