The lethal impacts of domestic abuse rocked Maine once again this month, when a man convicted of domestic violence terrorized a neighborhood in Auburn.

According to news reports, Leein Hinkley had been held in county jail for three weeks, charged with felony domestic violence assault and with violating his probation from a prior conviction for stabbing his former partner, for which he’d served more than a decade in prison. When an attorney couldn’t be appointed for his case, his bail was substantially lowered last week, over the vigorous objection of the Androscoggin District Attorney’s Office; he made bail and was released. Days later, he set off a chain of events that ended in a deadly standoff with police.

The crisis of indigent legal defense in Maine is real and serious.

Equally so is the need for some domestic violence offenders to remain in jail, for the sake of their victims and safety of the communities they live in.

Maine’s courts are starting to respond to the staggering lack of attorneys by releasing those who are awaiting trial without appointed counsel. The outcome in Auburn was not unpredictable; prosecutors anticipated lethal violence would result from Hinkley’s release. There are approximately 50 other defendants also being held without appointed counsel on serious domestic violence charges in jails across Maine, either for felony violence or for violation of prior court orders. Several of these cases involve the use of deadly weapons, and some offenders who were, like Hinkley, already on probation. These are cases in which incarceration truly does save lives – cases about which Maine judges will be called upon to make release decisions in the coming weeks.

We appreciate that judges and others working in the criminal legal system face hard choices. However, these choices need not be uninformed. Maine uses the ODARA (Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment), an evidence-based tool that has been studied and validated for use in our state, to help identify the level of risk an individual poses. The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence has been offering training and technical assistance regarding response to high-risk offenders for over a decade, and we are available to help.


Every day in Maine, there are people weighing whether calling for help will make them – and their children – more or less safe. What message do we send to victims when our legal system is unable to hold to account the people who terrorize them? People who are so clearly a continued, recognized risk to their safety?

Maine has recently taken steps to mitigate the critical shortage of attorneys for indigent defendants, and we hope these will eventually help.

However, in the meantime, we expect to see more people being released. The decisions made by the criminal legal system in the coming weeks and months will affect the decision-making and safety of domestic violence victims for years to come. Our systems must do better and use the tools available to make evidence-informed decisions that balance continued pretrial detention without representation with the often significant danger posed to the victim and their community by each individual. Otherwise, we fear we will see more of what happened in Auburn, and with it an even stronger message to victims that they are on their own.

Three of Maine’s last four homicides – two of which involved men killing their current or former partners – took place in the tri-county area of Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford, which is still recovering from last October’s deadly mass shooting. No community should have to endure any part of this, to say nothing of all of it together.

Our hearts go out to the good people of western Maine, and in particular our friends at Safe Voices, the region’s Domestic Violence Resource Center; we continue our daily work to end domestic violence with you in mind.

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