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State v. Leon

Supreme Court of Maine

May 22, 2018


          Submitted On Briefs: April 25, 2018

          Peter W. Leon, appellant pro se

          Kathryn M. Slattery, District Attorney, and Susan J. Pope, Asst. Dist. Atty., Prosecutorial District 1, Alfred, for appellee State of Maine


          HJELM, J.

         [¶l] Peter W. Leon appeals from a judgment of conviction of assault (Class D), 17-A M.R.S. § 2O7(1)(A) (2017), entered by the trial court (York County, Cashman, J.) after a jury trial. Leon contends that he was denied a fair trial because one of the jurors reported that she had felt pressured to return a guilty verdict.[1] Because the juror's report did not fall outside of the general prohibition against consideration of a juror's statement regarding the dynamics of the jury's deliberations, there was no error, and we affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] When the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the State, "the jury could rationally have found the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Hall, 2017 ME 210, ¶ 2, 172 A.3d 467.

         [¶3] On October 24, 2016, a mother drove her fifteen-year-old daughter-the victim-to a fast-food establishment in Sanford. While the mother waited in the car, the victim entered the establishment and placed her order. The victim stepped away from the counter and used her cell phone as she waited. Moments later, sixty-five-year-old Leon entered the store to fill his water bottle and make a purchase while his wife waited in the car. After Leon filled his water bottle, he walked over to the victim, placed his hand on the victim's back, and told the victim that her "jeans looked nice ... nice and tight in all the right places." The victim testified that Leon's conduct "really grossed [her] out and made [her] very uncomfortable." As a result, she immediately sent a text message to her mother, who proceeded to enter the store as her daughter was leaving. The mother encountered Leon and called 9-1-1. The incident was recorded on the store's surveillance equipment.

         [¶4] In January of 2017, Leon was charged by complaint with one count of assault (Class D), 17-A M.R.S. § 2O7(1)(A), and entered a plea of not guilty. At a one-day jury trial held in August of 2017, the surveillance video was admitted in evidence and played for the jury. After also hearing from several witnesses including the victim, her mother, and Leon, [2] the jury returned a guilty verdict. Upon inquiry by the court, all of the jurors affirmed collectively that this was their verdict. Because of the late hour, the court continued the matter to the next day for sentencing.

         [¶5] As the jury was leaving the courtroom after it was discharged, Leon spoke briefly to one of the jurors. After that interaction, the juror told a judicial marshal that she had "gone against all of her morals in convicting this man" and that "the State had not proven the case but she could not make her fellow jurors continue with their deliberations and come back [the following day]." Although the marshal told the juror that she could contact the court the following morning to express any concerns, the juror did not so do.

         [¶6] That next morning, when the parties were back in court for the sentencing hearing, the court informed the parties of the juror's statement to the marshal and appropriately provided them with the marshal's report about the matter. When the court invited the parties to be heard, the State expressed its view that the report could not affect the verdict. Leon's attorney then stated that she wanted to hear from the court first but "then might be heard if it seems appropriate." The court announced its conclusion that there was no evidence of juror misconduct and that the guilty verdict would stand. Leon then requested a continuance of the sentencing hearing in order to research the jury issue. The court denied that request, proceeded to hold the sentencing hearing, and imposed the minimum mandatory $300 fine, see 17-AM.R.S. § 207(3) (2017), and a fully suspended sixty-day jail term, subject to one year of administrative release with conditions that include no contact with the victim or her family, and psychological and sexual harassment counseling. Leon filed a timely notice of appeal. See 15 M.R.S. § 2115 (2017); M.R. App. P. 2B(b)(1).


         [¶7] Leon contends that the conviction should be set aside because, during deliberations, a juror reportedly felt some pressure to find him guilty. In support of this contention, Leon relies on the juror's statements to the marshal.[3] Leon failed to preserve this argument because he chose to defer making any argument to the court until after the court would consider the issue, thereby effectively waiving his right to be heard. Consequently, we review for obvious error, which Leon has the burden to establish. See M.R.U. Crim. P. ...

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