Experts say a judge’s rare decision to bar a murder defendant from reviewing his own arrest affidavit could mean more arrests are coming, or that the state is relying on informants with serious concerns about their safety.

Lorenze A. Labonte, 24, appears in York County Superior Court on Tuesday via Zoom. Screenshot via Zoom hearing

A York County judge made the unusual decision on Tuesday to bar Lorenze Labonte, 25, from viewing a police affidavit for his arrest. A motion to impound the document from the Office of the Maine Attorney General was also sealed.

Superior Court Justice James Martemucci did allow Labonte’s defense attorney, Verne Paradie, access to the affidavit. However, Paradie can’t discuss the contents with anyone else – including his client.

Labonte was arrested on Temple Street in Saco on Monday and charged with murder in the death of Ahmed Sharif, 27, in Biddeford. Labonte didn’t enter any plea at his first court appearance Tuesday, but he was informed of his charges and was ordered held without bail.

It’s common for arrest affidavits in Maine to remain impounded from public view until a person is indicted or arraigned. But they are normally available to a defendant and their attorney when they are taken into custody.

Experts who spoke to the Press Herald about the order said they are not familiar with the details of Labonte’s case and only agreed to speak from general experience.


Thea Johnson, a legal professor at Rutgers University who also has taught law in Maine, said prosecutors must show a compelling reason to impound any evidence from a defendant. Courts have discovery rules for sharing evidence with defendants to ensure they have the information they need to confront their accusers and understand the charges against them.

Johnson said some compelling reasons to prevent someone from viewing the affidavit could include protecting important witnesses or avoiding tipping other suspects off that they might be a target.

“This arrest may just be the start of a larger process or larger investigation and they may plan on arresting other people. Or they have information on a broader conspiracy, for example, and they’re planning to keep that information close to the chest,” said Johnson. “You certainly could imagine that’s part of what’s happening.”

Tim Zerillo, a Portland defense attorney and director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the impound order could affect Labonte’s ability to participate in his own defense and bail arguments.

By statute, murder defendants are allowed a Harnish hearing within five days of their arrest to reconsider bail, which is typically denied in homicide cases. Defense attorneys will often waive that right and wait until they have more evidence on their client’s case.

If Labonte felt he had a really good defense and wanted to have a Harnish hearing soon, Zerillo said, not having access to his affidavit could be a problem.


“If he can’t see the evidence against him, then that ties one of his hands behind his back, figuratively,” Zerillo said.

But more than likely, Labonte will eventually have access to his affidavit. Murder cases move slowly, Zerillo said, and a brief delay might not have a huge impact when his attorney already has access.

Tina Nadeau, the executive director of the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said she couldn’t comment on Labonte’s case directly without seeing the judge’s impound order. But generally, she said, such a situation is unusual. In her experience, attorneys are prevented from making copies of impounded material but they can review what’s written in them with their clients.

If a client never has access to the affidavit, she said, that could impede the defense’s ability to prepare their own investigation.

“Time is of the essence in representing people accused of any crime – especially a crime as serious as homicide – and being able to have a frank conversation with one’s client about the allegations against him and the sources of that information is vitally important,” Nadeau said. “Such conversations cannot be held in a vacuum.”

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