The state’s highest court Tuesday vacated the conviction of a man accused of misdemeanor sexual touching in 2008 and ordered him retried because a prosecutor’s statements improperly biased the jury.

Peter L. Robbins, 43, was convicted of unlawful sexual touching and assault, both misdemeanors, during a two-day trial in 2018. He is accused of touching a then-12-year-old girl, a friend of his niece, who stayed with Robbins during an ice storm in 2008. He was sentenced to 10 months in jail, but his sentence was stayed pending his appeal.

Robbins appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court and argued the trial judge erred in some of his evidentiary rulings.

The court took up those evidence issues but also seized on what it found to be a problematic portion of the trial that Robbin’s attorney did not raise in the appeal. The justices found that a series of statements posed during trial by a York County assistant district attorney were prejudicial and biased the jury against Robbins. The decision did not name the assistant district attorney.

In a split decision, six of the court’s justices voted to vacate the judgment. One associate justice, Donald G. Alexander, wrote a dissenting opinion.

Messages left for Robbins and his appellate attorney, Luke Rioux, were not returned. The York County District Attorney’s Office also did not return a call seeking comment.


Robbins’ accuser, who was 22 at the time of the trial, testified about the alleged abuse. Robbins also took the stand in his own defense, and during cross examination of Robbins, the prosecutor asserted his personal opinion that the victim in the case was telling the truth and Robbins was guilty, the court found.

“This is November of 2008, you were sexually assaulting this girl (in) December 2008,” the prosecutor said during the cross-examination.

“Allegedly, allegedly,” Robbins replied.

The two then seem to interrupt each other, according to the transcript.

“No, no there is no allegedly here,” the prosecutor said.

“Yes, allegedly,” Robbins said.


“There’s testimony to that effect on the record, sir,” the prosecutor said, referring to the victim’s testimony.

Robbins then attempted to get his lawyer, Eric Thistle, to object, but the questioning ended and no one raised any objections.

“I’m sorry, when’s my lawyer going to speak up, please? What’s going on here. This is crazy,” Robbins said.

The six justices found that the prosecutor “conveyed his personal opinion to the jury that the victim had told the truth, and that the jury did not need to decide that question for itself,” the justices wrote.

This assertion undermined the bedrock principal of Robbins’s presumption of innocence, the court found. When neither the presiding judge nor Robbins’ attorney intervened to object, it gave the impression that Robbins was the only person who believed he was not guilty of the offenses for which he was standing trial.

The justices also admonished the prosecutor for his closing arguments, in which he framed an exhortation of the jury to convict as doing justice.

“In concluding his argument, the prosecutor did what we have cautioned prosecutors not to do, urging the jury that ‘[the victim] can’t do any more than what she’s done. You’re the only ones that can do something. Find him guilty,'” the court wrote. Such rhetoric can improperly convey that doing justice means the jury must deliver a conviction.

“Although our review for obvious error is exacting when a jury has rendered a verdict, we conclude on this record that prosecutorial misconduct plainly occurred, the misconduct affected Robbins’s substantial rights, and the error seriously affected the fairness and integrity of the trial,” the court wrote.

No trial date has been set, and it is not clear whether the District Attorney’s Office will retry Robbins.

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