Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

State v. Hassan

Supreme Court of Maine

February 6, 2018


          Argued: December 14, 2017

          Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Leanne Robbin, Asst. Atty. Gen. (orally), Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellant State of Maine

          Jamesa J. Drake, Esq. (orally), Drake Law, LLC, Auburn, for appellee Abdi A. Hassan.


          GORMAN, J.

         [¶1] The State of Maine appeals from a judgment of the trial court (Androscoggin County, Oram, D.C.J.) denying its motion to reconsider the court's order dismissing, with prejudice, thirteen of the State's fifteen counts against Abdi A. Hassan as a sanction for the State's alleged discovery violation. The State argues that the court erred as a matter of law by concluding that it violated its discovery obligations. We agree that the State did not commit a discovery violation, vacate the judgment, and remand the case for trial.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] A grand jury indicted Hassan on December 4, 2013.[1] The indictment consisted of two counts of theft by deception (Class B), 17-A M.R.S. § 354 (2017); seven counts of aggravated forgery (Class B), 17-A M.R.S. § 702 (2017); one count of negotiating a worthless instrument (Class C), 17-A M.R.S. § 708 (2017); and five counts of unsworn falsification (Class D), 17-A M.R.S. § 453 (2017). Thirteen of the fifteen counts involved assistance programs administered, in part, by the Department of Health and Human Services.

         [¶3] Because Hassan and his co-defendant needed interpreters to assist their attorneys and to participate in the proceedings, and because the discovery in the case involved hundreds of pages of documents, Hassan's case presented timing and staffing challenges for the parties and for the court. Apparently due to these challenges, the case lingered on the docket for nearly three years. In November of 2016, the court issued an order that scheduled the trial to begin in May of 2017. Pursuant to this schedule, a jury was selected over the course of three days during the first week of May. Although originally scheduled to begin on May 8, the start of the trial was postponed until May 15, 2017.[2]

         [¶4] On May 11, 2017, the State conducted a second pretrial interview with one of its potential witnesses, a former Department employee who purportedly processed some of Hassan's claims for benefits back in 2005. During this second interview, the former employee-for the first time- expressed doubt about some signatures and handwriting on three "standard" Department forms that the State planned to introduce against Hassan. Those forms were identified as Exhibits 57, 60, and 61. Specifically, the former employee expressed uncertainty about whether one form contained her signature and which other employees at the Department may have completed or processed the forms.

         [¶5] The State had provided Hassan with copies of the exhibits in question about three years earlier. "Within hours" after learning the information, the State disclosed to Hassan what it had learned from the former Department employee. Upon receipt of this information, Hassan asserted that the State had violated Rule 16 of the Maine Rules of Unified Criminal Procedure, and he moved to dismiss the indictment-or in the alternative to continue the case-as a sanction for what he claimed was a violation of the State's discovery obligations. The State objected to the motion to dismiss but took no position on the request for a continuance. The court held a nontestimonial hearing on the motion to dismiss or continue on May 12, 2017.

         [¶6] In an order dated May 14, 2017, the court stated that "both the nature of the information, and the timing of the disclosure, cause the court grave concern." The court referred to the information obtained from the former Department employee as "potentially exculpatory material, " and, in one portion of the order, noted that it "potentially calls into question the integrity or reliability of the documentation and witnesses as to all the counts ... related to the Department of Health and Human Services." In another portion of its order, the court stated, "Perhaps neither the documents nor the witness is central to the State's case. However, the potentially exculpatory information is significant to the defense."

         [¶7] The court also noted that "[m]uch earlier in the life of this case, it would have been reasonable for the prosecution to look at a document that appears to be a standard [Department] form, appears to be signed by a [Department] employee, appears to be signed by [Hassan], and conclude that the document is what it appears to be." The court went on to acknowledge that "[n]othing on the face of Exhibit 61, standing alone, is initially suspicious" and that Hassan "is not surprised by information about his signature."

         [¶8] Despite these findings, the court determined that the State's failure to uncover the information from the former employee earlier in the life of the case was a discovery violation. Referencing Rule 16 of the Maine Rules of Unified Criminal Procedure and Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), the court held that the State had failed to meet its obligation of "reasonable diligence, " and that "the State should have known the information" that it obtained from the former employee, "at the very latest, . . . when the State submitted its proposed jury voir dire."

         [¶9] Although the court stressed that the late disclosure was not the "result of any bad faith or improper effort to conceal information on the part of the [State], " it determined that dismissal was the appropriate sanction because the "case ha[d] been pending for far too long, " "[approximately 180 residents of Androscoggin County devoted three days of their lives to the jury selection process, " and "a delay of a day or two [would] not give [Hassan] an adequate opportunity to prepare his case." See M.R.U. Crim. P. 16(e). Ultimately, the court ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.