What Protection Do I Have Under Maine Law?
If someone is harassing you and you cannot get that person to stop, there is a Maine law that may help you. It is called the "Protection from Harassment" law.
What Does The Law Cover?
This law applies in any of these situations:
- You (or your family or business) has been intimidated, confronted, or threatened with physical force three or more times by the same person, and you were afraid, intimidated or suffered damage to your property as a result.
- Your harasser has committed one of several serious criminal acts against you, such as criminal assault, terrorizing, gross sexual assault, criminal restraint, arson, stalking, or violation of privacy (as defined by the Maine criminal code).
- Free exercise of your Constitutional rights have been threatened. (In this case, you may want to consult with the ACLU of Maine.)
If you are being abused by a spouse, former spouse, partner or former partner, you can get protection under a different law. That law is called the "Protection from Abuse" statute. You can look at our Protection From Abuse articles, call your local Pine Tree office, or get information from any District Court Clerk.
If you are being harassed because of your race, color, religion, sex, ancestry, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation, you can contact the Maine Attorney General's office at 626-8800 ext.4 to make a complaint under the Maine Civil Rights Act. If they cannot help you, you can still bring a Protection from Harassment complaint.
How And Where Do I File A Complaint?
Before filing a court complaint, you must first report the harassment to a law enforcement agency in your area. For example, report the harassment to your local police or sheriff's department. You will need evidence that you have done this when you file your court complaint. So ask the officer to give you some sort of written statement that you made the report.
If this doesn't settle the problem, you can file a court complaint with the Maine District Court where you live or where the defendant (the person harassing you) lives. If you had to leave home to escape the harassment, you can go to the court where you are now. If your District Court judge is not available and you need an immediate "temporary order," you can go to any other District Court or to a Superior Court judge. The courts of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and Penobscot Nation also hear Protection from Harassment cases.
The Court Clerk's Office has Complaint forms. Tell the clerk that you want to file for Protection from Harassment and ask for the forms. The clerk must help you but cannot give you legal advice or fill out the forms for you. Or you can get the form on-line.
When filling out your Complaint, write down the facts of your case in story form, giving specific details about what has happened. Unless the harassment was also a criminal act, the Complaint must show that the defendant has harassed you at least three times.
The clerk may also ask you to fill out a Protection Order Service Information form. The sheriff's office uses this information to find the other party, to give him a copy of the Complaint. Get the on-line form.
After you have completed the forms, give them back to the clerk for "filing." The clerk will charge you a filing fee.
CAUTION: The court can order you to pay court costs and the Defendant's attorney's fees if it finds that you filed a "frivolous" complaint. So, before filing, ask yourself: Do I need this court order to be safe?
What If I Can't Afford The Filing Fee?
If you cannot afford the fee, the Court may let you file for free. To apply for a fee waiver, you must complete two more forms: an Application to Proceed Without Payment of Fees and an Indigency Affidavit. Again, get these two forms from the clerk or from our on-line forms page. Fill them out and file them with the other papers. The clerk will "notarize" your signatures on the Affidavit form and on the Complaint form. The judge will read your Affidavit and decide whether you will have to pay the filing fee. (If you need more help with filling out these forms, go to our page on Court Fee Waivers.)
What If I Don't Want The Defendant To Find Out Where I Am Staying?
Where the Complaint form asks for your name and address, write your name only. Then ask the clerk for an Affidavit for Confidential Address form, or get our on-line form. State in the affidavit why you think this information must be kept private, for the safety of you or your children. Give your affidavit to the clerk along with your other papers. The clerk will then "seal" this information, so that the other party can't get it. If the other party objects to this in writing, the Court could hold a hearing to decide whether the clerk must still keep the information secret.
Let the clerk know if your address changes before your case is done.
What Happens After I File The Complaint?
The clerk will schedule a date and time for a hearing. In the meantime, you must have the Summons and Complaint "served" on the defendant. The hearing cannot be held until the defendant has been served.
To have the defendant "served," take a copy of the Complaint and the original and one copy of the Summons to the Sheriff's Department. There will be a fee for service unless the judge has granted your Application to Proceed Without Payment of Fees. If the fee has not been waived, the service cost will include a basic fee plus mileage. The typical total cost is between $15 and $30.
If the judge has waived fees, the Court will pay the service fee. Ask the Clerk's Office if they will send the papers to the sheriff's department for service. If you have to arrange for service yourself, take a copy of the fee waiver order with you to show the Sheriff's Office that you should not be billed for the service fee.
The hearing will not be held until the "Return of Service" on the back of the original Summons is filled out and filed with the Court to prove that the defendant has been served. Once the defendant has been served, you need to get the completed Summons back from the Sheriff's Office. File it in the Clerk's Office immediately.
If the clerk has sent the papers out for service, check with the Clerk's Office before the hearing to find out if the Sheriff's Office has sent the "Return of Service" (Summons) back to the Court. (If you are still waiting for service on the hearing date, ask for a new hearing date. This will give you some more time to get the Complaint and Summons served.)
What If I Need Emergency Protection Before The Hearing Date?
Ask the court to issue a "Temporary Order" on the day you file the Complaint. Just fill out the section on the back of the Complaint called "Motion for Temporary Order."
What Do I Need To Show To Get An Immediate Temporary Order?
You need to show that you (or your family or employees) are "in immediate and present danger of physical abuse or ... extreme emotional distress" because of what the defendant has done to you or that your business property is in "immediate and present danger of suffering substantial damage." Be sure to write down all the facts that show your immediate and present danger when filling out your Motion.
Do I Need To Serve The Defendant Before I Get A Temporary Order?
No. However, the judge may require you to make a good faith effort to tell the defendant that you are asking for an immediate order. If the judge thinks that prior notice to the defendant is not reasonable, he will waive the usual notice requirement. The judge will make this decision based on how dangerous the situation seems to be and how hard it is to reach the defendant.
If the judge issues a Temporary Order, the Court will have the Order, Summons and Complaint served on the defendant, instead of requiring you to have the papers served.
What Happens Next?
The judge may hold a "case management conference" to:
- identify witnesses and exhibits,
- explore settlement options, and
- enter a pre-trial order about hearing conduct and scheduling
The judge may also require you to try mediation, or some other out-of court process, to see if you can settle your issues without a full court hearing.
What Happens At The Final Hearing?
One of two things can happen. First, you and the defendant can agree to ask for a specific court order. This is called a "consent agreement." When all parties agree to the terms of an order, the judge will usually approve your agreement and make it into a court order.
Second, if you cannot agree to an order, the court will hold a hearing, following formal rules of evidence and procedure. At the hearing, you must explain to the judge, under oath, exactly what has happened. Tell when each event happened to the best of your memory, what the defendant did and said, what emotions he was displaying, and how you felt and responded. You can also bring witnesses who saw or heard the harassment.
The judge will listen to your story and to the defendant's story and then make a decision. If the defendant does not appear, some judges will still ask you to tell your story briefly under oath.
If the judge finds that you have proven "harassment", as defined by the statute, she will give an order. An order entered after hearing, or after approval of a consent agreement, can include any or all of the following terms:
- The defendant is prohibited from harassing, threatening, assaulting, molesting, attacking, or otherwise abusing you or your employees.
- The defendant is prohibited from going on your property or residence.
Note: This cannot be used to evict a tenant.
- The defendant is restrained from interfering with or destroying your property.
- The defendant is restrained from following you repeatedly and without reasonable cause.
- The defendant is restrained from, repeatedly and without reasonable cause, being at or near your home, school, business or place of employment.
- The defendant is restrained from contacting you directly or indirectly.
- The defendant may be ordered to pay you money to compensate for losses suffered as a direct result of the harassment.
- The defendant may be ordered to pay court costs or reasonable attorney's fees.
- Any other orders that the judge thinks are "necessary or appropriate."
If there is something you need that is not on the above list, ask the judge to put it in the order. For example, if the defendant has a key to your house or car, you can ask that it be returned to you. You can also tell the judge how long you want the order to last. An order can last for up to one year.
If the judge finds that there has been no "harassment," as defined by the law, then your Complaint will be dismissed. However, the judge can order you to pay court costs or reasonable attorney's fees if she thinks it is appropriate.
If the defendant comes to the hearing and an order is issued, then he should be served with the order by a deputy sheriff at the courthouse. If he does not come to the hearing, then he will still have to be served with the order by a law enforcement officer before it will take effect.
Can I Appeal The Judge's Decision If I Disagree With It?
Maine law provides an appeal procedure. However, the only grounds for appeal are for "error of law or abuse of discretion." In other words, it is not likely that you could win an appeal because you disagree with the judge's findings of fact. Appeals are difficult to complete without the help of an attorney. The appeal deadline is 21 days from the date of the decision.
What If The Defendant Violates An Order?
If you are harassed by the defendant after an order has been issued and served on the defendant, call the police. Violation of any terms of your order, other than terms that the defendant must pay money, is a Class D crime. A Class D crime carries a maximum jail sentence of less than one year and maximum fine of $2000. If the defendant is charged with a crime, talk to the victim advocate in your district attorney's office if you have questions. The advocate can tell you what is going on with your charges and answer your questions about the criminal court process.
If the defendant doesn't pay you the money he or she has been ordered to pay, you may bring an action for contempt.
Is There Anything Else I Can Do To Protect Myself?
Yes. Consider taking some self-help steps. For example, get an unlisted telephone number, change the locks on the doors of your home (check with your landlord first if you are renting), tell your employer that you don't want calls or contacts at work, or move to an unknown address.
Whenever you are seriously harassed or threatened, you can call the police. There is a separate Maine law that says: "A person is guilty of harassment if, without reasonable cause, that person engages in any course of conduct with the intent to harass, torment or threaten another person, after having been forbidden to do so by any sheriff, deputy sheriff, constable, police officer or justice of the peace or by the court in a protective order...." Any violation of this law is a Class E crime. Class E crimes carry a maximum jail sentence of 6 months and a maximum fine of $1000. Therefore, a person may be charged with a Class E crime for harassing you after a police officer has told him to stop the harassment.
A third conviction for harassment of you or your immediate family members under this statute in Maine, or under similar laws outside the state, is treated as a Class C crime. Class C crimes carry a maximum jail sentence of 5 years and a maximum fine of $5000. Convictions for violations of court-issued Protection from Harassment orders and Protection from Abuse orders also count as prior offenses.
Partially updated September 2009
PTLA # 891