Maine soon may be the only state without a felony exoneration for a wrongful conviction in modern times. William Stokes, former deputy attorney general and now judge, reportedly explained the lack of such exonerations in Maine by stating, “In Maine, we’re different.”

Mainers are not so convinced of our system’s infallibility. In September 2014, a Critical Insights poll of 371 voters claiming familiarity with the Dennis Dechaine case found that 57 percent favored a new trial, with 29 percent opposed, while 14 percent had no opinion. These results closely matched those of a 2005 poll run by former congressman David Emery.

Dechaine’s is not the only Maine case of alleged wrongful conviction now vetted and accepted by an innocence project. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, during the 26 years of Dechaine’s imprisonment more than 1,500 convicted persons have been exonerated in the United States. Maine’s proportional share would be six.

Maine’s criminal justice rules appear weighted more toward conviction and finality than truth and justice. Maine should do what progressive states and prosecutors elsewhere are doing: investigate where “reasonable doubt” exists, and make a sincere effort to seek justice. North Carolina has established an Innocence Commission, which makes recommendations to the judiciary regarding individual claims of innocence.

Fair-minded Mainers would be shocked to learn that our state has a two-year limit on considering new evidence of innocence. Massachusetts, which puts no limit on the period during which new evidence can be argued, has had 40 exonerations since 1989.

In Maine, discussions of such reforms have reportedly been put on hold until Dechaine’s case has been put to rest. But Trial & Error will work for as long as it takes for Dechaine to be given the fair trial he was first deprived of in 1989.

Carol Waltman, president

Trial & Error


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