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State v. French

Supreme Court of Maine

February 6, 2018

STATE OF MAINE
v.
BETTY L. FRENCH

          Submitted On Briefs: November 29, 2017

          Robert Van Horn, Esq., Van Horn Law Office, Ellsworth, for appellant Betty L. French.

          Toff Toffolon, Dep. Dist. Atty., Prosecutorial District VII, Ellsworth, for appellee State of Maine.

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

          HJELM, J.

         [¶1] Betty L. French appeals from a judgment convicting her of hindering apprehension (Class D), 17-A M.R.S. § 753(1-B)(A)(3) (2017), obstructing government administration (Class D), 17-A M.R.S. §751(1) (2017), and refusing to submit to arrest (Class D), 17-A M.R.S. § 751-B(1)(B) (2017), entered by the court (Hancock County, R. Murray, J.) after a jury trial. French argues that the court's instructions to the jury on the justification of defense of premises, see 17-A M.R.S. § 104 (2017), were incorrect. Because a citizen is not justified in using nondeadly force against a law enforcement officer for the purpose of defending one's premises, see 17-A M.R.S. § 108(1-A) (2017), French was not entitled to that instruction, and we affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the State, entitled the jury to find the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt. See State v. Lajoie, 2017 ME 8, ¶ 2, 154 A.3d 132.

         [¶3] On March 18, 2016, Maine State Trooper Jacob Ferland arrived at French's residence in Verona to execute a search warrant as part of an investigation into thefts in which French's stepson was a suspect. During the search of the residence, Ferland found personal property bearing the stepson's name. Ferland informed French and her husband that if the stepson did not turn himself in, Ferland would apply for an arrest warrant. Later, Ferland did that and obtained an arrest warrant for the stepson.

         [¶4] Just more than a week later, on March 27, 2016, Ferland, in uniform and driving a marked police vehicle, returned to French's residence. On arrival, Ferland knocked on the door, thereby pushing the door open completely, announced his presence, and stepped into the kitchen. Ferland informed French and her husband that he now had the arrest warrant for the stepson. After French's husband went upstairs to get the stepson, French told Ferland to leave the house. Ferland stepped outside the residence to call an assistant district attorney, but when he tried to reenter the house the door was locked. Ferland announced that he would break down the door if he were not permitted to enter.

         [¶5] Shortly thereafter, the stepson exited the house and was taken into custody by another officer. Ferland then informed French that he was arresting her for hindering apprehension, but as he walked towards her, French backed into the house and put her hands in her sweatshirt pocket. Ferland followed her into the house, pulled French's hands out, and attempted to place her in handcuffs. French pulled away from Ferland, retreating into the kitchen where the two became engaged in a physical struggle that lasted roughly eight minutes, with occasional intervention by French's husband and daughter in support of French, until Ferland ultimately was able to handcuff French.[1]

         [¶6] French, her husband, and her daughter were charged with various offenses as a result of the incident. For her part, French was charged with hindering apprehension, obstructing government administration, and refusing to submit to arrest. She pleaded not guilty to each charge, and in March 2017, the court held a one-day jury trial encompassing all charges against each of the three defendants.

         [¶7] Without objection from any party, in its instructions that pertained to the charges against French, the court instructed the jury on the justifications of self-defense and defense of a third person, and defense of premises.[2] The jury[3] found French guilty of all three charges.[4] The court later sentenced her to concurrent jail terms of three days for refusing to submit to arrest and forty-eight hours on each charge of hindering apprehension and obstructing ...


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