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Fahnley v. State

Supreme Court of Maine

July 5, 2018

JOHN FAHNLEY
v.
STATE OF MAINE

          Argued: June 12, 2018

          Andrew S. Robinson, District Attorney, Joshua W. Robbins, Asst. Dist. Atty., and Michael B. Dumas, Asst. Dist. Atty. (orally), Office of the District Attorney, Farmington, for appellant State of Maine

          Luke S. Rioux, Esq. (orally), and Valerie A. Randall, Esq., Rioux, Donahue, Chmelecki & Peltier, Portland, for appellee John Fahnley

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

          JABAR, J.

         [¶1] The State of Maine appeals from a judgment of the trial court (Franklin County, Mills, J.) granting John Fahnley's petition for post-conviction review and, pursuant to 15 M.R.S. § 2130 (2017), vacating his conviction of sexual abuse of a minor (Class C), 17-A M.R.S. § 254(1)(A-2) (2017). The court found that Fahnley had been deprived of the effective assistance of counsel during his criminal trial. Because we conclude that the court's factual findings are supported by competent record evidence, we affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The post-conviction court made the following factual findings, which are supported by competent evidence in the record. See Middleton v. State, 2015 ME 164, ¶ 2, 129 A.3d 962.

         [¶3] In 2013, Fahnley was indicted for one count of gross sexual assault (Class A), 17-A M.R.S. § 253(1)(A) (2017), and two counts of sexual abuse of a minor (Class C), 17-A M.R.S. § 254(1)(A-2). In 2014, a jury found Fahnley guilty of one count of sexual abuse of a minor and not guilty of the other two counts. We affirmed Fahnley's conviction in 2015, State v. Fahnley, 2015 ME 82, ¶ 1, 119 A.3d 727, after which Fahnley filed a petition for post-conviction review in the Superior Court, alleging that he was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel at trial. In his petition, Fahnley asserted that he received ineffective assistance because trial counsel (1) failed to present exculpatory evidence, including medical records and credit card records; (2) failed to present witnesses for the defense; and (3) notified him in a letter shortly before trial that certain evidence would be presented, but then failed to present the evidence and failed to discuss that decision with him.

         [¶4] After a hearing, the court granted Fahnley's petition for post-conviction review and vacated the conviction of sexual abuse of a minor because it found that Fahnley had been deprived of the effective assistance of counsel. In its order, the court made the following findings, all of which are supported by evidence presented at the post-conviction hearing.

         [¶5] Fahnley, a musician and photographer, was once in a band with the alleged victim's father. The allegations against Fahnley involved sexual contact with the alleged victim in Fahnley's Maine home. At trial, the alleged victim testified that he, his brother, and Fahnley drove to Fahnley's house in Madrid, Maine, from the alleged victim's family home in western Massachusetts in mid-August of 2008, sometime between August 9th and September 3rd. Fahnley then drove the boys back to Massachusetts, where the alleged victim got into an argument with his mother, so he returned to Maine alone with Fahnley. He testified that it was at this point-when he was alone with Fahnley in Maine during the middle of August of 2008-that the sexual abuse underlying the Class C conviction occurred.

         [¶6] During the two years before trial, Fahnley "performed considerable legwork" in the preparation of his case. He obtained his medical and financial records and identified potential witnesses, all of which would have been relevant to establish his whereabouts during August of 2008-the time period that was primarily relevant to the charges against him. In the weeks leading up to trial, Fahnley "became distressed because trial counsel was not doing what [he] had requested" and ultimately engaged the services of another attorney, who was unable to represent Fahnley due to his inexperience in the area of criminal law.

         [¶7] In January of 2014, a few weeks before the trial was set to begin, trial counsel addressed Fahnley's concerns in a letter. Among other things, trial counsel wrote that he intended to address the alleged victim's inconsistent statements, intended to use Fahnley's medical records, intended to introduce photographs to show that the alleged victim had not been alone in Maine with Fahnley, and intended to introduce Fahnley's credit card billing records to undermine the alleged victim's timeline of events. He also wrote that he was attempting to speak to Fahnley's doctor in order to determine what potential testimony she could offer on his behalf.

         [¶8] During the alleged victim's testimony at trial, he made statements that significantly contradicted the statements he had made during his initial interview with a Massachusetts detective, when he first reported the abuse in 2011, and those statements he made during a subsequent interview conducted by a Franklin County detective in Maine. Although trial counsel had concluded that the State's case would be based entirely on the alleged victim's credibility because of the absence of forensic evidence or witnesses to the alleged abuse, counsel merely refreshed the alleged victim's recollection with the inconsistent statements. Despite the pronounced ...


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