The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday struck down an Aroostook County man’s conviction for indecent conduct because the man exposed himself in pictures exchanged on Facebook rather than exposing himself in person.

Andrew J. Legassie was convicted in February 2016 on 10 charges relating to his contact with five teenage girls, whom he “friended” on Facebook. In the course of trying to convince the underage girls to have sex with him, Legassie sent them pictures of his genitals and encouraged them to send pictures of themselves nude or partially clothed.

A lower court found Legassie guilty of three counts of attempted sexual exploitation of a minor, one count of sexual exploitation of a minor, one count of attempted sexual abuse of a minor and five counts of indecent conduct – the five charges that involved the pictures sent to the girls. He was found not guilty on 19 other charges.

Lagassie was sentenced to serve a total of four years and five months in prison.

In a ruling handed down Thursday, Legassie’s five convictions on indecent conduct were thrown out because explicit photos aren’t specifically covered by the indecent conduct law.

State law interprets indecent conduct as exposing oneself in a public place or in private, if the intent is for someone to see another person’s genitals.

But Legassie’s lawyer argued that sending a picture didn’t meet the definition of the law, which prohibits exposing one’s genitals in person.

“As reprehensible as Legassie’s behavior was,” the court ruled Thursday, state law “cannot be stretched to meet the facts of this case. We hold that a digital photograph, transmitted over the internet, is legally insufficient to constitute an ‘exposure’ under the law.”

The court also threw out Legassie’s conviction on the attempted sexual exploitation of a minor charges and ordered the lower court to re-examine the verdict on the count of sexual exploitation of a minor. The high court ruled that the Aroostook Superior Court had improperly accepted two of the girls’ recollections of Legassie’s messages as evidence. That violated the state’s evidence rules, which generally require lawyers to present copies or screenshots of such messages.

The court seemed to recognize it was addressing a novel area of the law because of rapid changes in techology.

“In this appeal, we address the intersection of the digital world of social media and our criminal statutes and rules of evidence,” the introduction to the 30-page decision reads.

Aroostook County District Attorney Todd Collins said the ruling should prompt the Maine Legislature to re-examine the indecent conduct law.

The county’s case was argued by Assistant District Attorney James Mitchell, who could not be reached Thursday. But Collins said the county’s argument was that exposing oneself in a picture is similar to exposing oneself through a window.

“Sometimes statutes don’t keep up with technology,” he said.

Alan Harding, Legassie’s lawyer, said the supreme court’s opinion noted that there is a state law that prohibits sending obscene photos to minors, but Legassie wasn’t charged with that crime.

Legassie’s case was sent back to the Aroostook County court, which will decide whether his sentence should be reconsidered based on evidence other than the girls’ recollections of his messages because the longest portion – four years – was based on the sexual exploitation of a minor verdict that was thrown out.

Harding said his client has been free on bail while the appeal was pending.

Edward D. Mrphy can be contacted at:

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