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State v. Brown

Supreme Court of Maine

April 4, 2017

STATE OF MAINE
v.
DUSTIN BROWN

          Argued: March 3, 2017

          Jamesa J. Drake, Esq. (orally), Drake Law, LLC, Auburn for appellant Dustin Brown.

          Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Donald W. Macomber, Asst. Atty. Gen. (orally), Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee State of Maine.

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

          GORMAN, J.

         [¶1] On January 2, 2013, Dustin Brown was indicted for manslaughter (Class A), 17-A M.R.S. 203(1)(A) (2016), to which he pleaded not guilty. The trial court (Penobscot County, Anderson, J.) held a three-day jury-waived trial in November of 2015. Brown appeals from the judgment of conviction for manslaughter entered after that trial. He challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction. We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The following facts, all of which are supported by the record, were found by the court after trial. On November 25, 2012, Brown was in his bedroom at his residence in Bangor along with his three-month-old son and the infants mother. Sometime before 4:00 p.m. that day, during the infants afternoon feeding, the mother gave their son to Brown to care for and left the room to use the bathroom. During the time that Brown was alone in the bedroom with the infant, both the infants mother and his grandmother, who was in another room in the home, heard the infant "fussing" or crying slightly. Within minutes, Brown came out of the bedroom carrying the infant, who was limp, and told the grandmother there was "something wrong" with the infant. Brown called 9-1-1, and he and the grandmother attempted to resuscitate the infant while they waited for help to arrive. When paramedics arrived at 4:05 p.m., the infant had no pulse and was not breathing. The infant was taken to the hospital, where he was declared dead at 5:30 p.m.

         [¶3] Initially, Brown told everyone he spoke with that he had been feeding the infant when the infant suddenly "went limp." Later, Brown told both the infants mother and his new girlfriend that the infants head had bumped into his chin and he had instinctively pushed or jerked the infant away from him.

         [¶4] By judgment dated January 29, 2016, the court convicted Brown of manslaughter, finding:[1]

[Brown] caused this traumatic brain injury to his son, most likely by pushing him away very, very aggressively in a way that fits the definition of criminal negligence in that it would involve a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable and prudent person would observe in the same situation. . . . [T]he gross deviation finding [is] based on primarily the expert testimony concerning the degree of force, the amount of force that would be needed in order to cause this result. This isnt the type of treatment that a child gets on a daily basis, because this doesnt happen on a daily basis. This was somewhat unique and it was too forceful and too traumatic to the child and caused the childs death.

         [¶5] On February 26, 2016, the court sentenced Brown to twelve years in prison with all but four and a half years suspended and four years of probation. Brown appealed.[2]

         II. DISCUSSION

         [¶6] Brown argues that the court erred in convicting him of manslaughter because there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt how he injured the infant and, therefore, insufficient evidence to establish that his actions were voluntary and met the statutory definition of criminal negligence.[3] In support of his argument, he points to the courts statements that "the State has ...


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