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State v. Giardello

Superior Court of Maine, Kennebec

July 15, 2015

STATE OF MAINE, Plaintiff,


Valerie Stanfill Judge

This matter came before the court on Defendant's motion to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of the stop of his vehicle on November 28, 2014. The State appeared and was represented by ADA Frank Griffin. Defendant appeared and was represented by Jason Jabar, Esq. The court heard the testimony of Waterville Police Officer Tristan Russell and of Defendant's mother, Tammy Robinson. After hearing and upon consideration of the evidence, the court finds and orders as follows.

At 10:46 p.m. on November 28, 2014, Defendant was operating his truck on Main Street in Waterville. When first observed by the officer, Defendant was stopped in the right lane at the red traffic light at the intersection with Waterville Commons, heading north. Traffic was light. It had snowed approximately 10 inches the day before. The travel lanes were clear, but there was some packed snow and/or ice in the center of the 4-lane road as depicted in Defendant's Exhibits 2 and 3.

Officer Russell was only about a half car length behind Defendant. He watched Defendant spin his rear tires and then slowly pull forward when the light turned green. Defendant did not create any smoke nor did he make noise in doing so.[1] Defendant pulled forward, then signaled and changed to the left lane. When he did so, he went too far left and crossed into the oncoming lane by a small amount, approximately a foot. He traveled there for no more than a couple of seconds and abruptly pulled back into the proper left travel lane. There was no evidence that there was any traffic in the oncoming lane, and certainly no evidence that his actions impeded or impacted any other vehicle. He proceeded without incident approximately 725 feet to the intersection with the Interstate 95 on-ramp. He turned left onto the on-ramp, where he was pulled over by Officer Russell. Defendant turned left onto the ramp without using a left turn signal. However, he was in a left-turn only lane and had a green light. There is no evidence of any oncoming traffic, or indeed of any traffic at that intersection other than the officer behind him.

The State argues that Defendant failed to properly use a turn signal and thus committed a traffic violation under 29-A M.R.S. § 2071 (2)(A), justifying the stop. Even if he did not commit a violation, however, the State also argues that the totality of the circumstances gave rise to articulable suspicion justifying the stop. Defendant argues that he committed no traffic violation, and that his driving simply was not erratic or suspicious under the totality of the circumstances.

There is no question that a civil traffic violation provides adequate specific and articulable facts for a stop. State v. Bolduc, 1998 ME 255 ¶ 5. Such an infraction is not required, however. A police officer must have "an objectively reasonable, articulable suspicion that either criminal conduct, a civil violation, or a threat to public safety has occurred, is occurring, or is about to occur." State v. Laforge, 2012 ME 65, ¶ 8, 43 A.3d 961, quoting State v. Porter, 2008 ME 175, ¶ 8, 960 A.2d 321. The State has the burden to prove that the stop was based on a reasonable and articulable suspicion.

A. Whether Defendant committed a civil infraction

The issue is whether Defendant committed a traffic infraction when he failed to use a turn signal when turning left onto the highway ramp. Section 2071 of Title 29-A provides, in relevant part: "An operator may not turn a vehicle without giving an appropriate signal if other traffic may be affected by that movement." 29-A M.R.S. § 2071(2)(A).

In State v. Seavey, the Law Court construed the predecessor statute of section 2071. State v. Seavey, 564 A.2d 388 (Me. 1989). The Law Court held that the defendant had committed the traffic violation when, traveling in the opposite direction from the officer, defendant entered an intersection and turned right without using a signal. The officer intended to turn left at the same intersection and was the only traffic in the vicinity. The court affirmed and quoted the trial court's analysis:

The statute dealing with turn signals, 29 M.R.S.A. § 1191, requires the use of a turn signal for every turn "in the event any other traffic may be affected by such movement." Clearly, it was the intent of the Legislature to mandate the use of a turn signal any time any other vehicles might be affected by the turn. If there is no other traffic whatsoever, a turn signal is not required.
The issue is not whether this police officer's actions as a driver were in fact affected, but whether the defendant should have concluded that the police car was "other traffic [that] may be affected" (emphasis supplied).

Seavey, 564 A.2d at 389. Seavey addressed a situation where there was an oncoming vehicle, and it is less clear that traffic may be affected if it is behind Defendant in a left turn-only lane.

Nonetheless, although not binding, the U.S. District Court in Maine has held that a signal is still required.

In United States v. Mercer, the Magistrate Judge ruled that a turn signal is required in a dedicated turning lane even if the only traffic ...

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