Twenty-one years ago, in Weeks v. State, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, adopted a rule to prevent judicial vindictiveness when resentencing defendants who had successfully appealed their conviction and been reconvicted. The Weeks court adopted as a state due process protection the United States Supreme Court's rule laid down the preceding year in North Carolina v. Pearce. The Pearce rule provides that harsher resentencing of such defendants creates a presumption of constitutionally prohibited vindictiveness unless the harsher sentence is explicitly based on some identifiable misconduct by the defendant since the prior sentencing. Thus, the Law Court recognized under Maine's due process guarantee exactly the same resentencing protection described in Pearce under the federal due process guarantee. The Pearce rule created a presumption of vindictiveness that seemingly arose whenever a harsher sentence was given, but the rule proved more complicated to apply than the language in Pearce suggested. The Supreme Court has since explained and narrowed the rule. Specifically, the Supreme Court in revising Pearce has required a likelihood of vindictiveness before applying the presumption and has recognized broader ground for rebutting the presumption. Until this year, the few cases giving the Law Court the opportunity to apply Weeks revealed no detectable differences between Maine's due process protection and the federal due process protection under Pearce. The Law Court's recent decision in State v. Violette, however, raises a question whether the Weeks rule and the revised Pearce rule coincide. The significance of Violette is unclear because of the competing tones in the Law Court's decision and because there are no Supreme Court cases procedurally on point with Violette. Possibly, the Law Court hesitated in Violette to try to mirror a revised Pearce rule when operating in unexplored procedural waters. A bolder interpretation of Violette is that the Law Court declined to take notice of the Supreme Court's emaciation of the Pearce rule and has begun a process of distinguishing the state due process protection from federal due process. In addition, the Law Court raised the issue of sentencing disparity in Violette in noting that the two sentencing judges sentenced the same defendant differently using the same facts. Thus, the Law Court may have been motivated in ruling as it did by a desire for sentencing consistency. This Note will track the erosion of the Pearce rule, compare the pillars of Violette to the principal federal revisions of Pearce, and draw upon the language and context of Violette to explore the Law Court's motivation and the future of the Weeks rule.
Thomas C. Bradley,
State v. Violette: Harsher Resentencing Encounters A Bolder Resumption of Vindictiveness,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol43/iss2/10