What People are Reading
- What a very sad and shocking
2 years 29 weeks ago
- Smart Meters
2 years 32 weeks ago
- 100 year old house burns
2 years 32 weeks ago
- Column 2-10 re Treason
2 years 42 weeks ago
- Radical Difference
2 years 42 weeks ago
- This activity is such a
2 years 51 weeks ago
- Okay Great we got a sign!
2 years 51 weeks ago
- Hate Crime a Sad Moment Indeed
3 years 5 days ago
More in News
High court hears arguments in West Paris teen's manslaughter case
PORTLAND — The state’s highest court heard arguments Monday on both sides of a trial judge’s decision not to allow statements made by a West Paris teenager about texting while driving at her trial on two manslaughter charges.
Justices on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court also heard from a prosecutor and defense attorney as to why and why not Kristina Lowe’s statements to a Maine State Police trooper should be considered voluntary, as the trial judge ruled.
In December, Active-Retired Justice Robert Clifford threw out statements Lowe, then 19 years old, made while at Maine Medical Center in Portland after a motor vehicle accident in which two teenagers died. She was recovering from crash-related injuries and was treated with several medications for a broken back, among other injuries.
Lowe was in the courtroom Monday listening to her attorney, James Howaniec, argue in favor of upholding Clifford’s ruling that Lowe's statements should be inadmissible after she was considered to be in custody.
Lowe is charged with manslaughter in the deaths of Rebecca Mason, 16, of West Paris and Logan Dam, 19, of Norway.
Lowe also faces two charges of operating under the influence, causing death, and one count of aggravated leaving the scene of an accident on Jan. 7, 2012. In June last year, she pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Police say Lowe was driving 75 mph in a 55 mph zone, had been drinking and smoking marijuana, and was texting on her cellphone when she crashed her car on Route 219 in West Paris. According to police, Lowe, who was 18, and her passangers were returning to an underage drinking party in West Paris when the crash occurred around midnight on Jan. 6, 2012.
At some point during a 32-minute interview with Lowe, a trooper left the room, then returned. Statements made by Lowe after that break won't be allowed at her trial, including incriminating statements about her texting, Clifford had ruled.
Chief Justice Leigh Saufley told Assistant District Attorney Richard Beauchesne that the trooper had likely determined when she returned to Lowe's hospital room that Lowe had been the driver of the vehicle in which two teens died. The trooper didn't remind Lowe that she could remain silent and didn't read her the Miranda warning.
"Why is it wrong then for the trial judge to determine at that point (that) she is the focus of the investigation, she would not be allowed to leave if she could and she's in custody," Saufley said.
"What the finding has to be is whether a person in the shoes of (Lowe) would have thought she was free to terminate the interview or leave . . . and Justice Clifford found that she was not — or the person in her shoes — would not feel they were free to terminate the interview at that point. And how can we find that that finding is in error?" Justice Donald Alexander said. "The record supports that finding."
Justice Jon Levy asked the same question: "Where is the error, in this record, in that conclusion? Tell me which factors required the opposite conclusion should be drawn from these facts."
Beauchesne said he believed that Clifford placed too much importance on the fact that the trooper returned to Lowe's room after learning two of the teens in the vehicle had died and "drew a line in the sand."
Justice Joseph Jabar said Lowe became the focus of the investigation after the trooper returned from her break.
"One of the factors that the court can consider . . . is whether or not the person is the focus of the investigation," Jabar said. "That was a big change before and after the break."
Beauchesne said before and after the trooper learned that two of the teens had died, Lowe's likelihood of being the driver — and ultimately responsible — hadn't changed.
Justices questioned Howaniec's conclusion that his client's mental abilities were impaired during the interview with the trooper and, therefore, the entirety of the interview should be suppressed. Clifford had ruled that the first part of the hospital interview — up until the trooper left the room — should be allowed at trial because Lowe was speaking voluntarily.
Howaniec said Lowe, a top student in her Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School class, was smart enough to have known not to speak to police about the accident had she not been drugged.
Justice Ellen Gorman interrupted Howaniec, reminding him that he has been defending people in criminal cases for roughly 25 years and many of those defendants are "sober-minded."
"Most of them still speak to police," she said.
"Correct," Howaniec agreed.
"We can't really look at that as lack of sober-mindedness here, can we?" she said.
If the court were to uphold Clifford's rulings favoring Lowe in suppressing her statements to the trooper after the break and favoring the state in allowing Lowe's statements before the break in the interview, prosecutors will have an uphill climb in making their case.
"I'll be honest with you," Howaniec told the justices Monday. "We will be content if the court keeps things as they are."
Billed early on as a texting and driving manslaughter case, Howaniec said Monday it was a misnomer from the start: "The fact of the matter is, my client wasn't texting," he told the court.
Chief Justice Saufley reminded him that Lowe said she had been reaching for her phone because she had gotten a call or a text.
Howaniec said there's no evidence that she actually read any text sent to her phone.
He said after the hearing that Clifford's favorable ruling on Howaniec's motion to throw out any of Lowe's statements about texting will "severely impair" prosecutors' ability to prove that Lowe was breaking the state's "distracted driving" law and make it difficult to make a manslaughter charge stick.
Lowe made statements during the first part of her interview with the trooper admitting that she had been drinking, but her blood-alcohol level showed she was not legally intoxicated, testing at less than half of the legal driving limit, Howaniec said. Those statements will be allowed at trial.
Howaniec said he expects the state to dismiss the case or seek lesser charges than manslaughter, if Clifford's ruling is upheld by the high court.
"We're pretty confident that's going to happen," he said.
Beauchesne said after the hearing Monday that the small amount of alcohol, trace amounts of marijuana, speeding and the text sent to Lowe's phone could add up to criminal negligence to support the charge of manslaughter.
His office would re-evaluate its case against Lowe if the high court were to uphold Clifford's ruling to support Lowe's suppression motion, Beauchesne said.
Beauchesene agreed with Howaniec that the media's interpretation that the Lowe case centered on texting and driving was "not an entirely accurate portrayal of this case."
Deborah Sande, mother of Logan Dam, one of the teenagers who was killed, interrupted media interviews with Howaniec outside the Cumberland County Courthouse on Monday.
"She needs to take responsibility for her actions," Sande said of Lowe.
"She didn't mean to do it, but it happened," Sande said. "She said she was texting. She said she killed Logan."
A decision from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court is expected this fall.