The number of criminal cases referred to Maine courts dropped considerably in 2020 and continued to fall in 2021 as well, according to Prosecutorial Data in Maine: Themes and Trends from 2017-2021 a report compiled by the University of Southern Maine’s Maine Statistical Analysis Center (SAC) for the Maine Prosecutors Association (MPA). “Understandably, the pandemic impacted the number of cases referred to Maine courts in 2020,” says Shira Burns, Executive Director for the MPA. “While the number of cases referred to the courts dropped 13% in 2020, this pattern continued into 2021 though the decline was not as dramatic as the previous year,” explains Burns.
The report also found that motor vehicle cases are the most common type of case referred for prosecution at 39%. “Over half of motor vehicle cases—or 22% of all cases— were for operating after suspension (OAS) and operating under the influence (OUI),” mentions lead author Tara Wheeler of USM’s Maine Statistical Analysis Center. “In addition, 17% – or 1 in 6 cases referred to the courts – were for property offenses,” offers Wheeler. The report reveals that while most charge types were down in large part because of the declining number of referred cases, the number of violation charges were up. This increase was driven largely by release violations (e.g., cases in which the individual did not follow their conditions of release).
Maine district attorneys (DAs) and their teams work together to prosecute individuals and organizations involved in criminal activity and serve victims of crime. However, while the DAs seek to address serious crime and protect and serve Mainers through data-informed decision-making, prosecutorial data (i.e., case data by year) has never been easily accessible even to prosecutors. To address this issue, the MPA partnered with the Maine SAC to establish statewide and district level baseline figures and trends that could be detailed in an annual report and shared with key stakeholders and the public.
Maine has eight prosecutorial districts, covering anywhere from one to four counties, that are each led by a popularly elected district attorney who serves a four-year term. The eight districts’ populations and geographic areas vary greatly, with the largest district having 295,000+ people in an 835 square mile area (District 2 – Cumberland County) and the least populated district having approximately 67,000 people spread out over 6,671 square miles (District 8 – Aroostook County).
“This report will be very helpful to the eight district attorneys and their respective offices,” states the MPA’s Burns. “Each DA can explore in detail the number of cases and associated charges that they handled over the five-year study period and make adjustments, if necessary, in how their respective offices manage their workloads,” adds Burns.
In the coming year, the Maine SAC and the MPA will make some of the data included in the report available at a data dashboard site that is currently under construction. Users will be able to access data at the state and district level. Once the dashboard is released later next year it will have data for 2022 as well. It is the MPA’s hope that the dashboard can be updated annually.
The Prosecutorial Data in Maine report was funded by State Justice Statistics Program, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Department of Justice (DOJ). The full report can be accessed at the Maine Statistical Analysis Center website: https://justiceresearch.usm.maine.edu/