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State v. Leonard

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

May 17, 2016



          Joyce A. Wheeler, ARJ Maine Superior Court

         Mike Leonard ("Leonard") filed a motion to suppress, raising a single issue derived from the stop of his vehicle by Deputy Patrolman Nicholas Mangino ("Deputy" or "Mangino") of the Cumberland County Sheriffs Office. Leonard contends that the stop was not justified by an objectively reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct: Leonard claims that he was just trying to maneuver his car so that he could avoid potholes and cracks on Route 35 in Naples. Leonard does not deny that he may have drove onto or crossed the yellow line or white fog line in the roadway.

         On May 15, 2015 at 12:45 am, Deputy Mangino patrolled Route 35 in Naples. He observed a tan vehicle cross the yellow center line two times and "cross onto the white fog line with passenger side tires two times, " and on the second cross onto the fog line, he continued for a short time over the fog line before moving back into the travel lane. Mangino stopped Leonard's vehicle for these four line violations. Mangino does not recall whether Leonard crossed a single or double yellow line or how long Leonard traveled on the yellow or fog lines, or how far over the fog lines Leonard traveled. He did not observe any notable eradicate driving. The cruiser did not have a cam recorder. Mangino does not remember where he pulled Leonard over on Route 35. Deputy Mangino also does not remember any obstructions on the road, but he does remember that he did not have to maneuver his vehicle to avoid any obstructions in the road. The court finds Mangino's testimony at the suppression hearing credible.

         Leonard testified that he was driving that night, taking his friends home following a dart tournament. They stopped over at Brays Pub since this was the end of a twelve-week tournament and they would not see each other again until the fall. Leonard had just bought his car. He states, he was driving safely to avoid the potholes. He was trying to follow the road, but it was extremely bumpy with potholes and cracks. Leonard admitted that he drove on the fog line and yellow lines to avoid holes in the road. The court finds that Leonard's testimony was not specific and detailed enough for the court to find him credible.


         "A stop is justified when an officer's assessment of the existence of specific and articulable facts indicating a possible violation of law or a public safety risk is objectively reasonable considering the totality of the circumstances." State v. Simmons, 2016 ME 49, 8 (quoting State v. Connor, 2009 ME 91, ¶ 10, 997 A.2d 1003). "[T]he threshold for demonstrating an objectively reasonable suspicion necessary to justify a vehicle stop is low .. . The suspicion need only be more than a speculation or an unsubstantiated hunch." Id. (quoting State v. LaForge, 2012 ME 65, ¶ 10, 43 A. 3d 961). Defendant contends

         Deputy Mangino had reasonable articulable suspicion that Leonard's driving on the yellow and fog lines at 12:45 a.m. supported a conclusion that either the driver was impaired, committed a traffic violation, or created a safety issue. "A vehicle must be operated as nearly as practical entirely within a single lane." 29-A M.R.S. § 2051(1). Violation of a traffic infraction witnessed by a law enforcement officer is sufficient justification for the stop of a vehicle. See State v. Webber, 2000 ME 168, ¶ 7, 759 A.2d 724. Although this is not the strongest case, it contains more factual circumstances than in State v. Caron, 534 A.2d 978, 979 (Me. 1987), where a brief straddling of the centerline, without other indicia, did not support the officer's subjective suspicion that defendant was either intoxicated or asleep. Defendant argues that these types of incidental lane violations are mistakes made by drivers from time to time and courts across the country have found these incidental violations alone are not a sufficient basis to stop a vehicle. Citing cases across the country and quoting Caron does not support defendant's argument.

         In analyzing whether Mangion's observations satisfy constitutional standards for stopping Leonard's vehicle, "there is no mechanical standard for reviewing a court's conclusions on whether an officer's suspicion was objectively reasonable." Porter, 2008 ME 175, ¶ 9, 960 A.2d 321. The Law Court stated, there is no precise number of line touchings or crossings by a vehicle operator that delineates a constitutionally justified stop from an unjustified one." The threshold is low: it "is considerable less than proof of wrongdoing by a preponderance of the evidence, " Id. at ¶ 9, and "need not arise to the level of probable cause." State v. Sylvain, 2004 ME 5, ¶17, 814 A.2d 984. Application of the Law Court's standard "properly balances the driver's right to be free from excessive restraint by the State against the public's right not to be placed at risk by an impaired driver." Porter, 2008 ME 175, ¶ 9 (quotation marks and citations omitted). Reviewing similar factual situations, the Law Court upheld the stop in State v. Pelletier, 541 A.2d 1296, 1296-97 (Me.1988) (The officer followed defendant's vehicle for four to five miles and stopped it after observing the vehicle cross the centerline three times and drift onto the shoulder once over the distance.); Porter, 2008 ME 175, ¶¶ 2-3, 12 (Within a quarter of a mile, the defendant drove onto the fog line, then over the centerline by a foot, and then onto the center and fog lines again.); State v. LaForge, 2012 ME 65, 43 A.3d 961 (The officer saw defendant drive onto the centerline twice, then later completely cross the fog line with his passenger-side tires twice, and then completely cross the centerline with his driver-side tires twice more.) In each of these case, the officers' observations gave rise to an objectively reasonable suspicion of impaired driving. In each case, there was more than bare speculation or an unsubstantiated hunch. Here the circumstances, including the early morning hour of the stop, and the failure to stay within a single lane and crossing twice onto the centerline and the fog lines justify a stopped based on reasonable articulable suspicion.[1]

         Deputy Mangino's suspicion was objectively reasonable and therefore the stop of Leonard's vehicle was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. See State v. Porter, 2008 ME 175, ¶¶8, 11-12, 960 A.2d 321.

         The entry is:

         Motion to Suppress is DENIED.



[1] As argued by the State, the Deputy's articulated reason for stopping Mangino may also support a finding that the Deputy was motivated by a public safety concern, in light of the time of the stop and the failure to stay within a single lane. Safety reasons alone can justify a stop if based on specific and ...

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