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State v. Peck

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

June 10, 2014

STATE OF MAINE
v.
JULIA PECK

Argued April 9, 2014.

Tawny L. Alvarez, Esq., Verrill Dana, LLP, Portland, for appellant Julia Peck.

Andrew S. Robinson, Dep. Dist. Atty., Franklin County District Attorney's Office, Farmington, for appellee State of Maine.

Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, SILVER, MEAD, GORMAN, and JABAR, JJ.

OPINION

Page 257

SAUFLEY, C.J.

[¶1] Julia Peck appeals from a judgment entered in the District Court (Franklin County, Carlson, J. ) after a bench trial finding that Peck committed the civil violation of cruelty to animals, see 7 M.R.S. § § 4011(1)(E), 4016(1) (2013); prohibiting Peck from owning, possessing, or having on her premises any animals except two spayed or neutered cats, see id. § 4016(1)(C); requiring Peck to pay a fine of $500 plus surcharges, see id. § 4016(1)(A), and $18,000 in restitution to the State, see id. § 4016(1)(B); 14 M.R.S. § § 3141(1), (4), 5602 (2013); and requiring her to post a bond of $6,400 to support during the appeal process the cats that were seized from her home by the State,

Page 258

see 17 M.R.S. § 1021(6)(D) (2013). Peck contends that the court abused its discretion in quashing a subpoena that would have compelled one of her witnesses to testify; that the cruelty-to-animals statute is unconstitutionally vague, see 7 M.R.S. § 4011(1)(E); and that the record contains insufficient evidence to sustain a finding of cruelty to animals and to support the court's restitution order. We affirm the judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

[¶2] On March 22, 2012, the State charged Peck with one count of the civil violation of cruelty to animals. See id. § § 4011(1)(E), 4016(1). Although the facts would have permitted the State to charge Peck with numerous counts of cruelty to animals, the prosecutor reached an agreement with Peck whereby only one charge would be filed, but evidence regarding the twenty-six cats seized by the State would be admissible. The agreement represents a compassionate exercise of prosecutorial discretion because it exposed Peck to only one mandatory fine of $500 while enabling the court to address each incident of alleged cruelty to animals. See id. § § 4011(1)(E), 4016(1)(A). Had Peck been charged with and found to have committed the number of counts of cruelty to animals commensurate with the number of cats the State seized, the mandatory minimum fine would have totaled $25,500, rather than $500. See id. § 4016(1)(A).[1]

[¶3] The court held a three-day bench trial in which Peck was unrepresented by counsel. The State presented evidence of its substantial efforts to assist Peck and her eventual decision to cease cooperating with the State. From the extensive and detailed evidence regarding the very poor health of the twenty-six cats and kittens seized from Peck, the court made the following findings of fact, which are fully supported by the record.

[¶4] In July 2011, local officials became aware that Peck was keeping a substantial number of cats at her home. Peck was unable to keep up with the outbreak of illnesses and infections among the cats, and only took her cats to a veterinarian when they were very ill or near death. Although State and local officials attempted to help Peck reduce her cat population over a period of months, the State ultimately seized twenty-six of the cats. Each of the seized cats suffered from one or more medical problems such as mycoplasma, toxoplasmosis, tapeworm, ringworm, an upper respiratory disease, conjunctivitis, fleas, and ear infections; some were so ill that they bore stillborn litters. The State spent approximately $36,800 to treat, house, and care for the cats.

[¶5] On September 4, 2012--one day before the final day of trial--one of Peck's witnesses, a doctor of veterinary medicine, sent a letter to the court asking to be excused from testifying. The court treated the witness's request as a motion to quash Peck's subpoena to testify. In his request, the witness stated that he received Peck's subpoena on Sunday, September 2, 2012, leaving him " one business day" to prepare and clear his schedule. He asserted that complying with Peck's subpoena on such short notice would cause him to cancel meetings with " twenty-five to thirty clients," inconveniencing each client, impoverishing his business, and ...


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