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Middleton v. State

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

December 24, 2015

JED R. MIDDLETON
v.
STATE OF MAINE

Argued May 13, 2015.

Page 963

On the briefs: Thomas J. Connolly, Esq., Portland, for appellant Jed R. Middleton.

Geoffrey A. Rushlau, District Attorney, and Patricia A. Mador, Asst. Dist. Atty., Office of the District Attorney, Bath, for appellee State of Maine.

At oral argument: Thomas J. Connolly, Esq., for appellant Jed R. Middleton.

Patricia A. Mador, Asst. Dist. Atty., for appellee State of Maine.

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

OPINION

Page 964

HJELM, J.

[¶1] In 2010, after a jury trial, Jed R. Middleton was convicted in the Superior Court (Sagadahoc County, Horton, J. ) of one count of gross sexual assault and fifteen counts of unlawful sexual contact. He later filed a petition for post-conviction review alleging that he was deprived of his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel. Middleton claimed in part that trial counsel was ineffective by failing to seek a continuance of the sentencing hearing when Middleton was allegedly incompetent or, if he was competent, unable to exercise his right of allocution due to his emotional state. After a hearing, the court ( Horton, J. ) concluded that Middleton had not proved a constitutional deprivation and denied his petition. On this appeal, we affirm the judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

[¶2] In its judgment, the post-conviction court made the following findings of fact, which are based on competent evidence in the record. See Heon v. State, 2007 ME 131, ¶ 5, 931 A.2d 1068.

[¶3] In January 2010 Middleton was indicted for one count of gross sexual assault (Class A), 17-A M.R.S.A. § 253(1)(B), (4) (Supp. 1996),[1] and fifteen counts of unlawful sexual contact (Class C), 17-A M.R.S.A. § 255(1)(C), (2) (Supp. 1993).[2] Middleton committed these offenses in the mid-1990s when the victim was between ages seven and eleven. Throughout the case, Middleton was represented by experienced defense counsel, Donald Lawson-Stopps. At the end of a three-day trial held in June 2010, a jury found Middleton guilty of all sixteen charges.

[¶4] Following trial, the court continued sentencing pending a psychological evaluation conducted by the State Forensic Service. The resulting report was filed, and in September 2010 the court held a sentencing hearing. At the hearing, Attorney Lawson-Stopps told the court that Middleton was " not in any emotional condition . . . to even be able to address the [c]ourt." Attorney Lawson-Stopps did not

Page 965

request a continuance and proceeded to present a number of character witnesses, including Middleton's sister, who spoke of Middleton's positive contributions and loving relationships with friends and family members. None of the witnesses questioned Middleton's mental status. Attorney Lawson-Stopps then presented an argument that the court found to be well reasoned and supported by the law. When the court gave Middleton an opportunity to speak on his own behalf, Attorney Lawson-Stopps stated, " I'm not sure Mr. Middleton would be very coherent at this point."

[¶5] The court then sentenced Middleton on the charge of gross sexual assault to a prison term of twenty years, with all but eleven years suspended, and six years of probation. On each of the charges of unlawful sexual contact, the court imposed concurrent sentences of five years to be served concurrently with the twenty-year sentence. After pronouncing sentence, the court asked Middleton if he understood, and Middleton responded, " No, . . . I don't understand a thing." Expressing appropriate concern about this response, the court recessed the hearing to allow Attorney Lawson-Stopps to consult with Middleton. Immediately after the recess, Attorney Lawson-Stopps assured the court that Middleton understood ...


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