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State v. Atkins

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

December 22, 2015

STATE OF MAINE
v.
BRADLEY R. ATKINS

Argued December 9, 2015.

Page 953

On the briefs: Thomas J. Carey, Esq., Vienna, for appellant Bradley R. Atkins.

Maeghan Maloney, District Attorney, and Frayla Schoenfeld, Asst. Dist. Atty., Prosecutorial District IV, Augusta, for appellee State of Maine.

At oral argument: Thomas J. Carey, Esq., for appellant Bradley R. Atkins.

Frayla Schoenfeld, Asst. Dist. Atty., for appellee State of Maine.

Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HJELM, JJ.

OPINION

Page 954

ALEXANDER, J.

[¶1] To convict a person of operating under the influence (OUI) 29-A M.R.S. § 2411(1-A) (2014), the State must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, two elements: (1) the person operated a motor vehicle, and (2) at the time of operation, the person was under the influence of an intoxicant--alcohol, drugs, or another intoxicant--or a combination of intoxicants. See also State v. Soucy, 2012 ME 16, ¶ 11, 36 A.3d 910. A person is under the influence if the person's physical or mental faculties are impaired however slightly or to any extent by the substance or substances that the person consumed.[1] Id.; State v. Worster, 611 A.2d 979, 980-81 (Me. 1992).

[¶2] In this appeal we examine whether a law enforcement officer's testimony about statements by the accused and observations indicating his or her impairment must be excluded because the officer lacked sufficient training or expertise in drug impairment recognition and the officer could not perform certain evaluations that a drug recognition expert could have. See 29-A M.R.S. § § 2525, 2526 (2014). In a recent appeal, State v. Fay, 2015 ME 160, __ A.3d __, we examined whether a law enforcement officer's testimony about observations of impairment must be excluded because the officer did not strictly adhere to field sobriety test procedures prescribed in a training manual. Our opinions in Fay and here establish that, subject to the court's gatekeeping role established in Maine Rules of Evidence 401 to 403 and 601(b), any deficiencies in an officer's training or expertise, or failure to strictly comply with prescribed procedures in making observations or conducting tests, go to the weight, but not the admissibility, of the officer's testimony regarding observations of impairment.[2]

I. CASE HISTORY

[¶3] On January 21, 2014, on Riverside Drive in Augusta, a police officer observed

Page 955

Bradley R. Atkins to be operating a vehicle with a taillight out. Atkins then drove through a red light. After Atkins was stopped, some of his reactions to the stop appeared unusual. When the officer approached the driver's side of the vehicle, Atkins " appeared to be chuckling or laughing and was scrolling down his phone not making eye contact." As he exited the vehicle, Atkins moved " like everything was in slow motion." Responding to the officer's questions, Atkins stated that he had not consumed any alcohol, but " he had smoked multiple dabs" of THC, and that, consequently, he was " high as hell." Asked if he believed he could drive to Portland, Atkins responded, " No way. I'm too stoned."

[¶4] Atkins was arrested and charged by criminal complaint with OUI enhanced with one prior OUI conviction (Class D), 29-A M.R.S. § 2411(1-A)(B)(1), and was subsequently convicted of that offense after a ...


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