Sentenced for a 2011 armed robbery, he now has 21 days to appeal his loss of right to counsel.
Joshua Nisbet, who may have been the first defendant in Maine to be stripped of his constitutional right to an attorney and ordered to represent himself at trial, was sentenced Tuesday to seven years in prison for an armed robbery in 2011.
Nisbet’s sentencing clears the way for him to file an appeal within 21 days to challenge Justice Thomas Warren’s ruling in March that Nisbet had been so uncooperative with five court-appointed lawyers that he had “forfeited his right to counsel.”
Warren said during the sentencing at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland that he ordered Nisbet to represent himself not to punish him for his behavior but to start the trial without yet another delay.
Nisbet, 37, of Scarborough, has no legal training and said before and during his four-day trial that he didn’t want to represent himself.
Legal analysts have said that the judge’s action could make the appeal interesting.
Jamesa Drake, an adjunct professor at University of Maine School of Law who has a private law practice in Auburn, said she feels it’s important that an appeal be filed in Nisbet’s case.
“It is a very important case for Maine, and it is a very important case for Mr. Nisbet personally,” Drake said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Another professor at the UMaine School of Law, Jim Burke, said before Nisbet’s trial that he knows Warren as a judge who considers his decisions carefully. “I guess the court just hit its limit,” Burke said in April. “Whether that’s correct will be for the appellate court to decide when it gets up there.”
Nisbet has spent nearly three years in the Cumberland County Jail in Portland since being charged with using a knife to rob the Mobil Mart on Main Street in South Portland on July 15, 2011.
Each of his attorneys sought to withdraw after citing serious breakdowns in the attorney-client relationship. Nisbet said that each of the lawyers had begun to work against him.
Warren issued his order in March, after Nisbet’s last attorneys, Jon Gale and Neale Duffett, said Nisbet had threatened Gale when they met with him in the jail on Feb. 26.
According to the motion, Nisbet told them, “I don’t care if I get 15 years, when I get out, I will be outside your house with a high-powered BB gun and I will take your eye out.” Nisbet denies making the threat.
Warren said that in sentencing Nisbet, he weighed Nisbet’s tendency toward “intensity and explosiveness on occasion, as exemplified by his threats to prior counsel.”
“We saw a very different Mr. Nisbet at trial. We saw something we suspected before, that he is very smart and also that he could ratchet down his intensity and handle himself well,” Warren said. “The Mr. Nisbet that society does not want to see is the angry Mr. Nisbet.”
Warren said that Nisbet was a relapsing drug addict when he robbed the Mobil Mart. Three years later, Nisbet is drug-free.
Warren imposed a sentence of 14 years, with seven years in prison and seven years suspended. The judge also ordered Nisbet to stay away from the Mobil Mart and have no contact with the clerk, among other conditions.
Warren assigned two standby attorneys, Luke Rioux and Mark Peltier, to work with Nisbet during the trial to help him represent himself. They were also assigned to represent Nisbet during his sentencing. Rioux told the judge that their interactions with Nisbet were calm. “He was not disagreeable toward us. He was not threatening toward us,” Rioux told the judge. “He seems to be a pleasant man, an intelligent man.”
Rioux asked the judge for a six-year prison term for Nisbet or a split seven-year sentence with some time in prison and some on probation. Assistant District Attorney Bud Ellis called for a 20-year split sentence with 15 years in prison.
Since Rioux and Peltier played a role during the trial and sentencing, they cannot represent Nisbet in the appeal.
Ellis, in his sentencing arguments, cited Nisbet’s criminal history dating back to when Nisbet was a teenager, and mentioned his claims before the trial that the lead investigator had conspired with other police to falsify reports.
Nisbet, dressed in an orange jail uniform, had not planned to speak at his sentencing but asked to be heard after Ellis’ argument.
“It’s not a conspiracy,” Nisbet told the judge. “Something happened here, and I’m asking you to look into it.”
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: