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Deah v. Cuthbert

Supreme Court of Maine

March 15, 2018

JENNIFER L. DEAH
v.
TRISTAN CUTHBERT

          Argued: February 15, 2018

          John H. Branson, Esq. (orally), Branson Law Office, P.A., Portland, for appellant Tristan Cuthbert

          Benjamin P Campo, Jr., Esq. (orally), Douglas McDaniel & Campo LLC, PA, Westbrook, for appellee Jennifer L. Deah

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

          PER CURIAM

         [¶l] Tristan Cuthbert appeals from an order for protection from abuse entered in the District Court (Portland, Oram, J.) following a hearing on a complaint filed by Jennifer L. Deah. See 19-A M.R.S. §§ 4002(1), [1] 4007(1) (2017). Cuthbert contends that the court erred and disregarded substantial evidence in its ultimate finding that he abused Deah. Cuthbert also challenges the court's application of the best evidence rule, M.R. Evid. 1002, when it required him to allow Deah to review either printed copies or the electronic versions of emails and texts prior to his cross-examination of her. Because the court did not err in its findings or abuse its discretion in its evidentiary rulings, we affirm the judgment.

         I. CASE HISTORY

         [¶2] Deah filed a petition for a protection from abuse order against her boyfriend, Cuthbert, in July 2017. The court held a final hearing on the complaint on August 11, 2017. Both parties were represented by counsel. During the hearing, Deah testified about several incidents of Cuthbert's aggression towards her-two of which involved Cuthbert kicking her, pushing her, and hitting her.

         [¶3] Deah also testified that a third incident occurred on July 5, 2017. While staying at a home that Cuthbert used in western Maine, Deah and Cuthbert had a disagreement. Cuthbert began "slamming things around, " and the situation escalated. Cuthbert kicked Deah and threw a bookcase at her. He then took a bottle of charcoal lighter fluid, sprayed it over Deah, grabbed a lighter, and threatened to kill her.

         [¶4] Deah left the house and went to her car. Cuthbert followed. Deah began backing her car out of the driveway when Cuthbert reached through her open driver's side window with the lighter and started clicking it, attempting to produce a flame. Deah tried to defend herself through the window, during which time Cuthbert caused significant damage to her vehicle. Deah testified that she was terrified that Cuthbert was going to light her on fire and kill her.

         [¶5] During cross-examination of Deah, Cuthbert sought to have Deah look at "a whole stack" of printouts of text messages and emails that he claimed were sent by Deah. Citing the best evidence rule, M.R. Evid. 1002, counsel for Deah argued that he and Deah had a right to view the originals to determine whether the printouts were accurate.

         [¶6] The court ruled that Cuthbert must either (1) show Deah the original texts and emails from Cuthbert's phone itself or (2) provide the printouts of the texts and emails to Deah, prior to his cross-examination of her, so that she could review them and determine whether there were any disputes about their authenticity. The court then took a brief recess so that Cuthbert could show Deah the original texts and emails or the printouts.

         [¶7] After allowing Deah to review the printouts of the text messages and emails, Cuthbert questioned her about certain messages. During questioning, Cuthbert read some of the texts aloud, and Deah testified as to whether she sent the messages. After reading the messages and having Deah acknowledge that she sent the messages, Cuthbert sought to enter the documents in evidence. Because Cuthbert had not had Deah authenticate all of the messages in one exhibit, the court sustained Deah's objection to admitting that exhibit. The court noted that some of the messages were already in evidence, having been read by Cuthbert and acknowledged by Deah.

         [¶8] At the conclusion of the hearing, the court found that Cuthbert had abused Deah and issued a two-year protection order. Cuthbert ...


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