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State v. Ouellette

Supreme Court of Maine

May 21, 2019

STATE OF MAINE
v.
BRUCE OUELLETTE

          Submitted On Briefs: February 20, 2019

          Toby D. Jandreau, Esq., Fort Kent, for appellant Bruce Ouellette

          James Mitchell, Asst. Dist. Atty., Prosecutorial District No. 8, Caribou, for appellee State of Maine

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

          HUMPHREY, J.

         [¶1] Bruce Ouellette appeals from a judgment of conviction for aggravated criminal mischief (Class C), 17-AM.R.S. § 805(1)(A) (2018), entered by the trial court (Aroostook County, Stewart, J.) following a two-day jury trial. The State purports to cross-appeal from the denial of its motion to correct the sentence because the court did not order restitution pursuant to 17-A M.R.S. §§ 1323(2), 1325 (2018). M.R.U. Crim. P. 35(a), (g). We affirm the judgment of conviction and do not reach the State's challenge to the denial of its motion to correct the sentence because the State failed to file a notice of appeal from that order and failed to provide the written authorization of the Attorney General. 15 M.R.S. § 2115-A(2-B), (5) (2018); M.R. App. P. 2A(f)(2), 21(a)-(c).

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, the jury rationally could have found the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Perkins, 2019 ME 6, ¶ 3, 199 A. 3d 1174.

         [¶3] In October 2016, the Town of Frenchville began preparing a rural section of Pelletier Avenue to be paved. The Town graded the existing gravel roadway, laid geotextile fabric on the graded surface, and then applied a base layer of gravel (larger stone) and a surface layer of gravel (smaller stone). The next step would have been the installation of an asphalt surface.

         [¶4] On October 31, 2016, Ouellette drove a tractor along a section of Pelletier Avenue using a harrow that tore the geotextile fabric and mixed the two sizes of gravel together with dirt, rendering that section of Pelletier Avenue unsuitable for paving. The cost to repair the damage was estimated to be approximately $52, 000.

         [¶5] Ouellette was charged by indictment with aggravated criminal mischief, [1] pursuant to 17-A M.R.S. § 805(1)(A), which provides that "[a] person is guilty of aggravated criminal mischief if that person... [i]ntentionally, knowingly or recklessly damages or destroys property of another in an amount exceeding $2, 000 in value, having no reasonable ground to believe that the person has a right to do so."

         [¶6] Prior to trial, the court granted Ouellette's motion in limine to exclude any lay witness testimony about the "title or ownership" of Pelletier Avenue.[2] During the trial, the jury heard testimony that Ouellette did not own any land along the stretch of Pelletier Avenue that he damaged, that Pelletier Avenue was posted with traffic control and road signage, and that the road was maintained, graded, and plowed by the Town. Further, in accordance with the parties' stipulation, the court instructed the jury that "the property allegedly damaged was the geotextile fabric, base gravel, and surface gravel applied by the Town... upon Pelletier Avenue." The jury found Ouellette guilty of aggravated criminal mischief.

         [¶7] After the jury's verdict, Ouellette filed a motion for a judgment of acquittal[3] and argued-for the first time-that the geotextile fabric and gravel had become "fixtures" of the real property of Pelletier Avenue and, because the State did not establish who owned Pelletier Avenue, the State failed to prove that Ouellette damaged the "property of another" within the meaning of 17-A M.R.S. § 805. The court denied the motion, concluding that the parties' stipulation "sufficiently defined" for the jury that the damaged property was the geotextile fabric and gravel; that it was "appropriate for the jury to conclude" that ownership of the road was still in dispute; and that the jury could have concluded that, regardless of who owned the road, the damaged property-the geotextile fabric and gravel, as defined by the parties' stipulation-did not belong to Ouellette.

         [¶8] The court sentenced Ouellette to one year in jail with all but ten days suspended, a year of probation, and a $3, 000 fine. The court declined to order Ouellette to pay restitution, stating on the record that its decision was based on the need to end the contentious litigation surrounding the paving of Pelletier Avenue and that the Town's decision to accept a deed of property from Ouellette in lieu of formal restitution constituted a "a bargain[ed] for exchange" that sufficiently compensated the Town. Because the Town voluntarily declined restitution, the State sought restitution on behalf of Aroostook County pursuant to 17-A M.R.S. § 1324(2) (2018). The court denied the State's request. The State filed a motion to correct the sentence ...


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