Earlier this month Natasha Irving, the District Attorney for Prosecutorial District 6 (Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox, and Waldo Counties) released a statement naming career prosecutor Chris Fernald as her new Deputy District Attorney. Fernald has spent his career prosecuting criminal cases in Knox county and is known throughout the regional Defense Bar as the most inflexible prosecutor in the State. The move represents a milestone for Irving, who ran for the position of District Attorney on the promise of implementing progressive policies focused on “restorative justice” aimed at reducing incarceration rates and recidivism. Irving has recently drawing attention to herself by declaring that her office would aggressively prosecute sexual assault and domestic violence cases even when unable to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. If that statement doesn't shock you, consider the implications involved with your government saying that they will try to take away your liberty and ruin your life even if they know that they do not have evidence that you committed a crime. A prosecutor filing charges when he does not think he can win is no longer concerned with his duty to the Constitution, the people, or the truth; he is only concerned with winning for the sake of winning. Ms. Irving may cloak herself in the guise of a champion for true victims, but really, she is a political zealot. Any attorney who has spent more than five minutes practicing criminal defense in Maine knows that most cases read more like a passage from the Crucible than a case file. Accusations fly around freely, and charges are often filed when there is more evidence undercutting the accusations than supporting them. To think that District 6 will now be doubling down on that approach is disconcerting to say the least.
In her April 15 press release where she announced Fernald's ascension, Irving tried to walk back her comments regarding pursuing charges without evidence while reaffirming her dedication to the scorched earth approach. While in January she stated that all she would require of her prosecutors to press charges was a “credible allegation” (whatever that means), now in attempt to appear measured and fair says that “Now, more than ever, it is important to build strong, evidence based cases from the first 911 call, so when we are back in the court room, we can prove our cases with more than a witness statement or a victim's testimony months from now, but with video, audio and photographic proof.” To the thoughtful reader, this statement raises a few questions. Like why “now, more than ever?” If the value of a sexual assault or domestic violence victim ebbs and flows with the tides of Irving's political needs, then what pray tell are the real priorities at work here? Not to mention, was the District Attorney's Office not already building “evidence based” cases? If so, then what were these cases based on, if not evidence? Empty platitudes do little good to any citizen living under the thumb of Irving's jurisdiction who stand to be burned as witches on nothing more than someone's word. Crimes of sexual assault and domestic violence are among the most serious offenses plaguing our society today, but DA Irving's wanton disregard for evidentiary considerations will put innocent people in jail or prison. Of this I have no doubt. Irving, and the prosecutors that work for her, would do well to remember that their first responsibility is to the truth regardless of what hashtag is trending on twitter.
For our part in all this, Conley & Wirick will continue to provide competent, compassionate, and aggressive representation of all our clients. We will protect your Constitutional rights, and we will continue to reject and stand in the way of policies that charge the innocent along with the guilty and say “let God sort ‘em out.”