On December 9, 1991, professional ethical and moral considerations prompted heated litigation in Department of Corrections v. Superior Court. Justice Donald G. Alexander of Maine's Superior Court displayed considerable foresight while sentencing two borderline mentally retarded child sex offenders. Although both defendants had committed repugnant crimes, Justice Alexander anticipated that they would be subjected to impermissible abuse if incarcerated in the Department of Corrections. He believed that preventive measures were necessary to ensure the safety of the defendants being sentenced and to avoid the potential that conditions of their incarceration would amount to cruel and unusual punishment. Justice Alexander subsequently imposed special conditions upon the Department of Corrections. The Department of Corrections sought an injunction through a writ of mandamus or prohibition. The Department argued that the Superior Court had exceeded its statutory authority by imposing these special conditions. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court granted extraordinary relief. Chief Justice Wathen relied on statutory language stating that the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections has “complete discretion” and is responsible for the supervision, management, and control of offenders in the Department. On appeal, the Superior Court contended that it had the duty and authority to uphold the Constitutions of the United States and Maine and that the Department was limited by those considerations. The Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, held unanimously that a superior court has supervisory power over the Department of Corrections only when the appropriate vehicle is invoked. The Law Court concluded that since no such vehicle had been invoked, the special conditions must be deleted. The case raised the question of what could be done with defendants who suffer from either physical or mental disabilities. Could they be protected or would they remain powerless until actual violations of rights occur? This Note will analyze the decision in Department of Corrections v. Superior Court and the viability of existing options at the appellate and trial court levels that enable courts to address conditions of confinement.
Aaron T. Morel,
Department of Corrections v. Superior Court: Hear No Evil,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol48/iss1/6