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State v. Legassie

Supreme Court of Maine

October 5, 2017

STATE OF MAINE
v.
ANDREW J. LEGASSIE

          Argued: February 8, 2017

          Alan F. Harding, Esq. (orally), Hardings Law Office, Presque Isle, for appellant Andrew J. Legassie.

          James Mitchell, Assistant District Attorney (orally), Prosecutorial District 8, Caribou, for appellee State of Maine.

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

          HUMPHREY, J.

         [¶1] In this appeal, we address the intersection of the digital world of social media and our criminal statutes and rules of evidence.

         [¶2] The victims of the charges at issue here are five teenage girls, designated in the trial courts order as Victims A, B, C, D, and E.[1] At the time of the alleged offenses, the victims ranged in age from fourteen to seventeen years old. Each victim received from the defendant explicit digital images, which were admitted in evidence as States Exhibits 2, 5, 6, and 7, and digital messages. The trial court found that the defendant confessed to creating those digital images and sending them by social media to many young girls, including the victims. There is no evidence of any in-person contact that formed the basis of the alleged crimes.

         [¶3] We must decide if the crime of indecent conduct (Class E), 17-A M.R.S. § 854(1)(B) (2016), can be committed solely through the electronic transmission of images of ones genitals. We must also decide if M.R. Evid. 1002, requiring introduction of original writings, recordings or photographs, when available, requires the exclusion of the victims testimony about digital messages that they received from the defendant.

         [¶4] Andrew J. Legassie appeals from a judgment of conviction of three counts of attempted sexual exploitation of a minor (Class C), 17-A M.R.S. § 152(1)(C) (2016); 17-A M.R.S. § 282(1)(A) (2014), one count of sexual exploitation of a minor (Class B), 17-A M.R.S. § 282(1)(A), [2] one count of attempted sexual abuse of a minor (Class E), 17-A M.R.S. § 152(1)(E) (2016); 17-A M.R.S. § 254(1)(A) (2016), and five counts of indecent conduct (Class E), 17-A M.R.S. § 854(1)(B), following a bench trial in the Superior Court (Aroostook County, Hunter, J.). For the reasons set forth below, we affirm in part and vacate in part and remand for further proceedings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶5] In December 2013, Legassie added Victim A as a "friend" on the social media platform Facebook and began sending her messages through Facebook Messenger.[3] At that time, Legassie was twenty-one years old and Victim A was fifteen. Legassie purported to know her from working as a referee for her high school teams basketball games. In the beginning, the messages concerned basketball, but Legassie gradually steered the conversation toward sex. He began by complimenting Victim A on her appearance, moved to asking whether she had ever had sex, and then progressed to implying and eventually stating explicitly that they should have sex. He stated in several messages that they should meet. Legassie asked Victim A for pictures of herself, asking her to put on a jersey "and have nothing else one [sic] and send me a pic" and "let me see them legss [sic] and behind." Legassie later sent Victim A a picture of himself in his bedroom exposing his genitals. A computer printout of the Facebook messages exchanged between Legassie and Victim A was produced and admitted in evidence.[4]

         [¶6] Legassie also added fifteen-year-old Victim B as a Facebook friend and sent her messages. Legassies messages advanced to sexual topics; Legassie asked Victim B for "naked pictures" of herself and told her he wanted to have sex with her. Legassie sent her the same picture of himself exposing his genitals. After Victim B received the nude picture of Legassie, she removed him as a friend on Facebook and deleted the messages that they had exchanged.

         [¶7] Legassie continued a similar pattern of behavior on Facebook with other teenage girls during the same period. Legassie added seventeen-year-old Victim C as a friend on Facebook and sent her four nude photos of himself through Facebook Messenger. He added fourteen-year-old Victim D as a friend, sent her messages asking for pictures and eventually for sex, and sent her the same nude photos. Legassie also added Victim E as a friend, sent her messages, and asked her for nude photos, and she sent him two photos: one of her breasts and one of her genitals. Victim E was sixteen at the time. After Victim E sent photos of herself, Legassie sent her three of the nude photos of himself, including the photo of him exposing his genitals in his bedroom.

         [¶8] On July 11, 2014, the State charged Legassie by indictment with seven counts of attempted sexual exploitation of a minor (Counts 1-7), one count of attempted sexual abuse of a minor (Count 8), twelve counts of indecent conduct (Counts 9-18, 26, 28), seven counts of violating a condition of release (Counts 19-25), and two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor (Counts 27 and 29).

         [¶9] The court held a bench trial on October 13, 2015. During the trial, Legassie objected to testimony by each victim about the content of the Facebook messages on the basis that the evidence contravened M.R. Evid. 1002, the "Requirement of the Original" rule, also referred to as the "best evidence" rule. In a memorandum submitted after trial, Legassie also argued that the evidence of photographs was insufficient to support his convictions for indecent conduct because the statute requires that the exposure of genitals occur in the physical presence of another.

         [¶10] In a written decision dated February 25, 2016, the court determined that the best evidence rule did not apply because the specific content of the messages was not material to the charges; rather, the court found that the States proof relied on "the general import" of what Legassie wanted from the victims and what he sent to them. The court further found that Legassie exposed his genitals while in a private place, took a picture, and sent that picture to the victims with the intent that they see his genitals. It concluded that he was therefore guilty of the indecent conduct charges. The court noted that the indecent conduct statutes plain language does not "restrict or limit the manner in which [indecent conduct] can be committed." The court thus found Legassie guilty of three counts of attempted sexual exploitation of a minor, one count of sexual exploitation of a minor, one count of attempted sexual abuse of a minor, and five counts of indecent conduct. The court found Legassie not guilty of the remaining counts charged in the indictment.

         [¶11] On March 24, 2016, the court sentenced Legassie to the following:

• four years, all but nine months and one day suspended with three years of probation, on Count 27;
• thirty days on Count 26, ninety days on Count 6, and thirty days on Count 12, to be served concurrently with each other and consecutive to the other sentences;
• sixty days on Count 1, thirty days on Count 8, and thirty days on Count 9, to be served concurrently with each other and consecutively to Counts 26, 6, and 12;
• sixty days on Count 2 and thirty days on Count 10, concurrent with each other and consecutive to the other sentences; and
• thirty days on Count 11, to be served consecutively with the other sentences.

         Following the entry of the judgment, Legassie timely appealed. See 15 M.R.S. §2115 (2016); M.R. App. P. 2.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Indecent Conduct

         [¶12] Legassie argues that the court erred in interpreting the indecent conduct statute, 17-A M.R.S. § 854. The statutory provision pursuant to which Legassie was convicted provides that "[a] person is guilty of indecent conduct if... [i]n a private place, the actor exposes the actors genitals with the intent that the actor be seen from a public place or from another private place." 17-AM.R.S. §854(1)(B).

         [¶13] The interpretation of 17-AM.R.S. § 854 is a question of law that we review de novo. State v. Pinkham, 2016 ME 59, ¶ 14, 137 A.3d 203. We first look to the statutory language to discern the Legislatures intent. Id. "We look to legislative history and other extraneous aids in interpretation of a statute only when we have determined that the statute is ambiguous." Carrier v. Sec'y of State, 2012 ME 142, ¶ 12, 60 A.3d 1241 (quotation marks omitted). "A statute is ambiguous if it is reasonably susceptible to different interpretations." Id. (quotation marks omitted). "[W]e must construe a statute to preserve its constitutionality, or to avoid an unconstitutional application of the statute, if at all possible." Nader v. Me. Democratic Party, 2012 ME 57, ¶ 19, 41 A.3d 551. In the context of criminal statutes, our interpretation is also "guided by two interrelated rules of statutory construction: the rule of lenity, and the rule of strict construction .... Pursuant to each of these rules, any ambiguity left unresolved by a strict construction of the statute must be resolved in the defendants favor." State v. Lowden, 2014 ME 29, ¶ 15, 87 A.3d 694 (citations omitted) (quotation marks omitted).

         [¶14] Title 17-A M.R.S. § 854 ...


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