The Maine Law School recently held a groundbreaking conference about Maine’s post-conviction review process.

About 100 attorneys and academics, the attorney general, law court justices and Carl Bradford, the original Dennis Dechaine trial judge, were given a critical look at the process faced by defendants claiming innocence.

Descriptions of the post-conviction review process as far away as Finland emphasized the difference between places such as Maine, where the focus is often on procedural details (Dechaine’s re-trial motion is unresolved after more than three years) and those where the emphasis is on fact-finding.

Christopher Johnson, professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, described how Finland imposed no limits about the nature of admissible evidence. Dechaine’s attempt to bring before the court time-of-death opinions supporting his claim of innocence, plus the possibility of alternative suspects, would fare better in Finland than here.

Mary Kelly Tate, of the Institute for Actual Innocence at the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia, described “wrongful convictions from the point of view of the harm they do to public confidence in the judiciary.”

Until the 1990s, Maine typically assigned post-conviction reviews to new judges instead of the original trial judge, presumably to avoid a conflict of interest like that faced by Bradford.

The attorney general mentioned the possibility of changes to Maine’s post-conviction review process, as contained in recent recommendations from the Criminal Law Advisory Council.

Maybe there’s hope for Dechaine, who I believe was wrongfully convicted, and others in his situation.

Bernie Huebner