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Coffill v. State

Superior Court of Maine, Sagadahoc

March 4, 2014

THOMAS G. COFFILL, III, Petitioner
v.
STATE OF MAINE, Respondent; STATE OF MAINE
v.
THOMAS G. COFFILL, III, Defendant

ORDER AND JUDGMENT

A. M. Horton, Justice, Superior Court.

The post-conviction review proceeding captioned Coffill v. State , SAGCD-CR-13-0250, brought under 15 M.R.S. § § 2121 et seq ., came before the court for hearing March 3, 2014. Petitioner Thomas Coffill and his counsel, James Lavdey, Esq., and the State's attorney, Assistant District Patricia Mador, participated. The sole witness was Petitioner's former counsel, Benjamin Tucker. The hearing was recorded. All pleadings, transcripts, trial exhibits and other material filed in both of the underlying criminal proceedings as well as this post-conviction proceeding were admitted into the record.

Prior to the hearing, the Defendant made an oral motion to correct sentence under M.R. Civ. P. 35 in his underlying criminal case, State v. Coffill , SAGSC-CR-13-045. The Rule 35 motion was prompted by uncertainty about whether the ground asserted in the post-conviction case--the State's failure to disclose materially exculpatory information during its sentencing presentation--is a cognizable basis for relief under the post-conviction statutes.[1] To assure that his effort to raise the issue is not defeated on jurisdictional or similar technical grounds, the Defendant asserts Rule 35 as an alternate avenue for obtaining the relief he seeks. The State agreed that the Defendant's oral Rule 35 motion could be treated as relating back to the date on which he filed his petition for post-conviction review, meaning that both the petition and the Rule 35 motion are timely. Accordingly, the court now treats this proceeding as being one under both Rule 35 of the Maine Rules of Criminal Procedure and the post-conviction review statutes, 15 M.R.S. § § 2121 et seq . The case caption accordingly reflects the docket numbers for both the post-conviction case and the underlying criminal case.

Based on the entire record, the court hereby adopts the following findings of fact and conclusions of law, and renders judgment as set forth below.

Background

In the underlying case, Thomas Coffill, III was charged with three misdemeanor criminal offenses and one felony offense--Assault on an Officer, Class C. He pleaded guilty to the three lesser charges, and the felony charge went to trial before a jury on September 11-12, 2012. The jury convicted Mr. Coffill of Assault on an Officer, and he was sentenced September 12. At sentence, the State argued for a straight sentence, contending that the defendant was not a good candidate for a split sentence including probation. Mr. Coffill argued for a split sentence.

During its presentation at sentencing, the State presented information about an incident that had occurred in Lisbon just three days previously, on September 9, 2012. Just prior to the sentencing, the State provided the court with a copy of an affidavit recounting an encounter between Mr. Coffill and Officer Estes of the Lisbon Police Department. The affidavit appears to have been prepared for Officer Estes's signature but it is unsigned. However, another Lisbon officer, Detective Bernard McAllister, signed an affidavit attesting to the truth of the contents of the Estes affidavit to the best of his knowledge and belief. See State v. Coffill Sentencing Transcript [" Transcript" ] at 19 (court's reference to the Estes affidavit and McAllister attestation).

During its sentencing argument, the State made reference to a witness statement regarding the September 9 incident but the court did not review the witness statement before pronouncing sentence. See Transcript at 13-14.

The State's argument at sentencing summarized the September 9 incident as follows: " The defendant was aimed with a firearm, the defendant made a threat to put a bullet in the head of Officer Darren Estes [who coincidentally was also involved in the criminal trial], and he also threatened to go to Bath and put a bullet in each of the other officers' heads there." Transcript at 8.

In the course of determining the sentence, the court made reference to the September 9 incident as recounted in the Estes affidavit, but considered it only for purposes of step 3 of the Hewey analysis, which focuses on the suitability of suspending some or all of the period of incarceration. See 17-A M.R.S. § 1272-A. Specifically, the court incorporated the September 9 incident in Lisbon as follows into its analysis:

His behavior in this case . . . reflects a significant hostility to members of law enforcement and a significant level of disregard for the court process beginning with his refusal to accept service of his protection order and ending with his kicking out the window of the police cruiser. [T]he threats that he made against, according to the affidavit, against Officer Estes is simply more of the same. [H]e seems to have what is sometimes referred to as an attitude and not a good one regarding I will say the law enforcement community and perhaps the justice system generally which is highly relevant in my view to his amenability to probation as he is requesting." Transcript at 19-20.

The court then went on to clarify that it would consider the September 9 incident only for step 3 purposes, and not in its determination of the basic sentence or aggravating and mitigating factors at steps 1 and 2 of the Hewey analysis. Id. at 20.

In his petition for review and in his oral Rule 35 motion, Mr. Coffill alleges that he is entitled to post-conviction relief and relief under Rule 35 because the State at sentencing failed to apprise the court of what he labels as material exculpatory, or at least mitigating, information concerning the September 9 incident recounted in the Estes affidavit and in the State's sentencing argument. He does not accuse the prosecution of any actual misconduct or breach of ethics; rather he says that the State, considered as a whole, was aware of information that should have been presented at sentencing, and that the missing information was such as to render what the State did present at sentencing materially misleading and unfairly prejudicial.

Specifically, in a Description of Claim he filed in order to clarify the issues he was raising, Mr. Coffill points to two areas in which he says the State's presentation of the September 9, 2012 Lisbon ...


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