Brine v. State

Decision Date23 April 1970
Citation264 A.2d 530
PartiesRichard A. BRINE v. STATE of Maine et al.
CourtMaine Supreme Court

Neil D. MacKerron, Bridgton, Charles W. Smith, Saco, for plaintiff.

John W. Benoit, Jr., Deputy Atty. Gen., Augusta, for defendants.


POMEROY, Justice.

On October 7, 1958, Lewis C. Chandler, Jr., was found dead in a taxicab which he was employed to drive. A Cumberland County jury declared there was no reasonable doubt but that he died of a wound made by a bullet fired into his body by Richard A. Brine and the circumstances left no reasonable doubt but that Brine was guilty of the crime of murder.

Judgment that Brine remain in the custody of the Warden of the Maine State Prison for the remainder of his natural life was entered on the verdict on February 7, 1959. No appeal from this judgment was ever perfected.

Several post-conviction proceedings were instituted. Many issues flowing from Brine's conviction in 1959 have been presented to this Court. Brine v. State, 160 Me. 401, 205 A.2d 12 (1964); Brine v. State, Me., 232 A.2d 88 (1967).

The matter is presently before us on appeal from the denial of a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus post-conviction filed April 29, 1966.

The Petitioner advances a total of 11 claims of error. Some, he says, were made by the Justice who presided at his trial in 1959 and some, he says, were made by the Presiding Justice who denied the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus now before us. In his words, the errors claimed are:

I. The Presiding Justice denied to Petitioner a fair trial by the erroneous charge to the jury which as a matter of law called for a verdict upon numerous faulty premises all in violation of the due process of law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

II. The Trial Court erroneously made reference to a conclusion of guilty as supporting a verdict.

III. The Trial Court shifted the burden of proof from State to Petitioner in an essential element of the offense charged.

IV. The Trial Court failed to charge that intoxication could bar the forming of intent as contained in malice.

V. The Trial Court violated the Petitioner's constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States by admitting into evidence admissions obtained from the Petitioner involuntarily and under coercion; and further, the Trial Court failed to independently hear testimony as to the admissions without the presence of the jury and made findings of fact explicit on the record that such admissions were voluntary.

VI. The Trial Court committed prejudicial and reversible error.

VII. Failure of counsel to perfect appeal for then indigent defendant.

VIII. Newly discovered evidence.

IX. The State of Maine knowingly used false evidence in violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

X. That the officials of the State of Maine knowingly suppressed material evidence in favor of the Petitioner to obtain a conviction in violation of due process of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

By the terms of 14 M.R.S.A. § 5502, alleged trial errors are not reviewable on post-conviction habeas corpus, Bennett v. State, 161 Me. 489, 214 A.2d 667; Lemieux v. State, Me., 240 A.2d 206; Papolas v. State, Me., 235 A.2d 533.

In the instant case one of the complaints made by Petitioner is, his counsel, who was court appointed, failed to perfect his appeal. He says such failure was without his knowledge and against his wishes. At the hearing before the single Justice on his present petition he failed to offer any evidence in support of his claim. The finding by the single Justice that Petitioner had failed to establish his burden of proof by a fair preponderance of the evidence is not clearly erroneous. Bennett v. State, 161 Me. 489, 214 A.2d 667.

Having arrived at the conclusion that the single Justice's finding must be sustained, it follows Petitioner has no right to have these alleged trial errors reviewed.

We are mindful, as this Court was in Papolas v. State, Me., 235 A.2d 533, the Petitioner is serving a mandatory life sentence. All the points which he raises have been thoroughly briefed and argued by able and experienced counsel representing the Petitioner by court appointment and by the Attorney General. We have the entire trial transcript before us. Without in any way intending to enlarge the scope of post-conviction habeas corpus by the precedent set in Papolas and this case, we propose to examine the claims of error here raised to determine whether or not there were any prejudicial trial errors which would have availed the Petitioner if an appeal had been seasonably prosecuted. 1

The first claim of error relates to the instructions to the jury given by the Presiding Justice.

First among these is that the Court said to the jury, 'It could not be presented to a higher Court if the case were reviewed.' The record reveals the Presiding Justice did use those words. The fact is that he made this statement while explaining that a view in a criminal case is not evidence. He had just completed telling the jury that they were the sole factfinders but they must accept the law as he gave it to them. He said they need not concern themselves with the correctness of his instructions, because if he did make an error of law, there existed an orderly procedure for the correction of such error.

Read in the context of what preceded the statement of which complaint is made, it cannot be fairly concluded he informed the jury a judicial review of their findings of fact was possible. This claim of the Petitioner is without merit.

Claim is made that the jury could have been misled because during the course of his charge the Court used the expression 'conclusion of guilt.' We have carefully examined the record and find that the Court did use these words. However, they were used during the course of his explanation of the requirement that when circumstantial evidence is relied upon for conviction, not only must each circumstance in the chain of circumstances be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, but the chain itself must be negatively tested to ascertain that the proved circumstances are not only consistent with a conclusion of guilt, but are inconsistent with any other hypothesis save guilt.

The actual language employed by the Court was as follows:

'To do this to warrant your drawing a conclusion of guilt from proven facts the State must first prove all of the necessary facts beyond a reasonable doubt, but this is not all of the story by any means. Before a conviction may be had upon circumstantial evidence alone in a criminal case, that is, a conclusion of guilt from facts all proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the accuracy and soundness of the conclusion of guilt must be negatively tested by inquiring whether the circumstances proven exclude every other rational hypothesis than that of guilt. It is not sufficient that the circumstances are all consistent with the respondent's guilt and raise a strong probability of it, but they must also exclude beyond a reasonable doubt the hypothesis of his innocence and be incapable of any other reasonable hypothesis than that of guilt.'

In our view this was an excellent, accurate, clear and understandable explanation of the rule as to the burden of the State when it seeks to convict by means of circumstantial evidence alone. This claim of error is entirely without merit.

Petitioner says one part of the instructions of the Presiding Justice had the effect of informing the jury the burden of proof was shifted from the State to the defendant. The exact language of which complaint is made is as follows:

'* * * and if the accused would reduce the crime below the degree of murder, the burden is on him to rebut the inference of malice which the law raises from the act of killing, by evidence in defense.'

What the Petitioner does not tell us in his petition is that the words which preceded those quoted are:

'Malice is implied by law from any deliberate, cruel act, committed by one person against another, suddenly, without any or without a considerable provocation. And all homicide is, as a general rule, presumed to be malicious, until the contrary appears from circumstances of alleviation to be made out by the respondent, unless they arise out of the evidence produced against him. Or, as the Court has said in another way, in all cases where the unlawful killing is proved beyond a reasonable doubt and there is nothing in the circumstances of the case as proved to explain, qualify or palliate the act, the law presumes it to have been done with malice aforethought, * * *'

The language complained of is an almost exact quotation from State v. Neal, 37 Me. 468 at 470, and State v. Knight, 43 Me. 11 at 137. 2

The quotations from State v. Neal and State v. Knight, supra, about which complaint is here made, have been used by Justices presiding in practically every murder case tried in Maine since 1857. In Knight the Court examined this instruction. Of it, Chief Justice Tenney, speaking for the Court, said:

'The doctrine enunciated in these instructions has been much examined by courts of the highest standing, and jurists of great respectability, within a few of the last years. Uncommon learning, research, and power of ratiocination have been exhibited in support of the principle; and those who have denied its soundness have maintained the denial in arguments of distinguished ability and force. An attempt to discuss the question again cannot be expected to throw much additional light upon it. The instruction is a doctrine of the English common law, of Massachusetts, as recognized in the case of Com. v. Knapp, 9 Pick., 496; Com. v. Knapp, 10 Pick., 484; Com. v. York, 9 Met., 93; Com. v. Webster, 5 Cush. 295. It is not known to have been...

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    • United States
    • Maine Supreme Court
    • September 11, 1973
    ...issue now before us was not present in any of these cases, we find it somewhat ironic that the Federal Court did not cite Brine v. State, 264 A.2d 530, 533 (Me.1970), where the jury instruction approved in State v. Knight, 43 Me. 11, 137 (1857), was reaffirmed, namely, 'if the accused would......
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