Sunday, August 07, 2011

OWI Laws - Maine Says Illegal Stop By Information-Seeking Cop

This gem comes to DAD via Maine NCDD Member Wayne Foote. In State of Maine v. LaPlante, --- A.3d ----, 2011 WL 3298509 (Me.), 2011 ME 85, The question presented was whether evidence obtained from an information-seeking stop of a single vehicle, made in the absence of any reasonable articulable suspicion, for the sole purpose of investigating a third party's civil speeding infraction, can be used in a criminal proceeding against the person who has been stopped.

On September 1, 2007, Elmer Farren, a trooper with the Maine State Police, was patrolling in his marked cruiser on Route 179 in Hancock County. While on patrol, the trooper clocked by radar a red Pontiac automobile traveling seventy-one miles per hour in a forty-five-mile-per-hour zone. As the trooper was making a turn to pursue the car, a motorcycle passed him.

The trooper lost sight of the car, and after traveling a brief distance, arrived at a fork where Route 179 intersects Route 180. He continued along Route 179 but did not see the Pontiac, so he drove back to the fork. On Route 180, the trooper still did not see the Pontiac, but he did come upon the motorcycle. The trooper stopped the motorcyclist “to take a chance that maybe the motorcycle operator had seen where this vehicle might have turned.” He activated his blue lights and stopped the motorcycle, which was being operated by LaPlante, for the sole purpose of asking about the direction of the Pontiac. LaPlante had not been speeding or noticeably breaking any laws, and his motorcycle did not demonstrate any vehicular defects that might justify a safety-related stop.

LaPlante was able to identify where the Pontiac had turned. While they spoke, the trooper noticed that LaPlante seemed “a little bit unstable on his feet” and “his speech seemed to be thick.” The trooper surmised that LaPlante might have been drinking. He requested LaPlante's license and redirected his efforts to investigating LaPlante for operating under the influence. LaPlante was eventually charged with criminal operating under the influence (Class C), 29–A M.R.S. § 2411(1–A)(C)(3). LaPlante moved to suppress the evidence obtained during his vehicle stop, but the court denied the motion.

The Supreme Court reversed the denial of the motion to suppress. They concluded that a law enforcement officer's investigation of a third party's civil speeding offense cannot, standing alone, justify the stop and seizure of a motorist:

"The three Brown v. Texas factors lead us to conclude that the public interest in addressing a civil speeding infraction, and the degree to which that interest is furthered when a single motorist is stopped for questioning, is far outweighed by the substantial interference with the stopped motorist's constitutionally-protected liberty interest. The investigation of a civil speeding offense does not justify the discretionary seizure of a motorist in the absence of reasonable articulable suspicion. Accordingly, the evidence derived from the trooper's stop of LaPlante should have been suppressed."

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