The state’s highest court has upheld the sexual assault conviction of a Belgrade man.

The case involves Travis R. Gerrier, now 24, of Belgrade, who was convicted of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl in June 2015 in a portable outhouse in North Belgrade.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, has determined firmly who has the burden of proof when there is a question of the defendant’s competency and what standard must be met. The ruling in Gerrier’s appeal comes after two oral arguments, one in July and a second in October.

“The party seeking the determination of incompetence must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is incompetent to proceed,” Associate Supreme Court Justice Thomas Humphrey wrote on behalf of the seven-member court.

The preponderance standard is essentially a greater weight of evidence and is the standard used in civil trials. This is a lower standard than used in criminal jury trials. In order to convict a defendant there, juries must be convinced of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Humphrey says that the preponderance standard “is the standard that is best suited to determinations of competency, which involve complex questions of cognitive ability, and it is the standard that appropriately balances the interests of the state and the due process rights of the criminal defendant.”

The Law Court’s ruling says that in Gerrier’s case, the “trial court correctly allocated the burden of proof, applied the appropriate evidentiary standard, and did not err in finding Gerrier competent to stand trial.”

Humphrey notes that the trial court considered reports from numerous psychological evaluations of Gerrier as well as testimony from a psychologist before concluding that indicated Gerrier understood his charges, the consequences, plea deals and the consequences of being on the sex offender registry.

“As we have held on many occasions, ‘a defendant may be both mentally ill and competent to stand trial,'” Humprey says.

Gerrier had entered conditional guilty pleas Aug. 21, 2017, to charges of gross sexual assault, unlawful sexual contact and furnishing liquor to a minor in connection with the events the night of June 3-4, 2015. The guilty pleas were conditional, dependent on the result of his appeal of earlier rulings in which he was found competent to stand trial and in which a judge refused to suppress a confession Gerrier made to a state police detective that night.

Gerrier was sentenced to seven years behind bars and is serving that at the Maine State Prison. That term is to be followed by 20 years of supervised release.

In a brief prepared for the October oral argument session, Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin noted that the issue of competency arose late in Gerrier’s case and only after he had been scheduled to plead to lesser charges with a recommended sentence of nine months in prison. On Aug. 11, 2016, after learning he would be required to register as a lifetime offender under the state’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, Gerrier acted up in a courtroom at the Capital Judicial Center — kicking, screaming and cursing at officers — and had to be removed forcibly. The hearing was canceled and the state withdrew the plea offer.

Robbin argued in her brief that “the defendant should have the burden by a preponderance of the evidence to demonstrate that he is not competent to proceed to trial or disposition of his criminal charge.”

Attorney Harold Hainke, who represented Gerrier in the appeal, had argued that the state had the burden to prove competence by a preponderance of the evidence once the question of a defendant’s competency is raised.

Gerrier was found competent to stand trial in December 2016 by Justice Robert Mullen, who wrote that he had “no concerns that the Defendant in this case is competent to stand trial in this matter, having demonstrated an ability, although admittedly imperfect, to understand the nature and object of the charges against him, comprehending his own condition in reference thereto, and cooperating with counsel to conduct a defense in a rational and reasonable manner.”

Separately, Judge Evert Fowle judge refused to suppress a confession Gerrier made to a state police detective shortly after Gerrier was found on the floor of the outhouse.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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