Argued: October 7, 2015
County Unified Criminal Docket docket number CR-2014-297
A.R. Willey, Esq., Willey Law Offices, Bangor, for appellant
John E. Sasso
Matthew J. Foster, District Attorney, and Delwyn E. Webster,
Asst. Dist. Atty., Prosecutorial District No. VII, Ellsworth,
for appellee State of Maine
A.R. Willey, Esq., for appellant John E. Sasso
E. Webster, Asst. Dist. Atty., for appellee State of Maine
SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and
John E. Sasso appeals from the judgment of conviction entered
in the Unified Criminal Docket (Hancock County, R.
Murray, J.) following his conditional plea of nolo
contendere, pursuant to M.R. Crim. P. 11(a)(2), to the crime
of operating after suspension (Class E), 29-A M.R.S. §
2412-A(1-A)(B) (2015). Sasso argues that the court
(Mallonee, J.) erred in denying his motion to
suppress, contending that the officer's decision to stop
his vehicle was pretextual and that the officer had no
reasonable, articulable suspicion to justify the stop. We
affirm the denial of the motion to suppress and the judgment
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the
court's order denying Sasso's motion to suppress, the
record supports the following facts. See State v.
Prescott, 2012 ME 96, ¶ 2, 48 A.3d 218. On March
28, 2014, an Ellsworth police officer, who was also part of
an underage drinking task force, was on patrol. The officer
watched Sasso, who was eighteen at the time, leave a
convenience store, get into the driver's seat of a car,
and drive away from the store. The night was rainy, and the
roads were wet. The officer followed Sasso for a short
distance and did not observe any problems with the operation
of the vehicle. He did, however, notice a problem with the
brake lights on Sasso's car. One of the brake lights
appeared to be "stuck on." The officer described the
problem of the brake light as "a safety violation."
He turned on his blue lights and effected a stop of
Sasso's car. Sasso pulled over without incident. Sasso
was driving with a license that had been suspended as a
result of an OUI conviction, and he was arrested for
operating after suspension.
Sasso was charged by criminal complaint with operating after
suspension (Class E), 29-A M.R.S. § 2412-A(1-A)(B). He
entered a not guilty plea and moved to suppress the evidence
obtained from the officer's stop of the vehicle, arguing
that the stop was pretextual and that there was no
reasonable, articulable suspicion to justify the stop.
Regarding the alleged pretext, Sasso argued that the officer
thought that Sasso had purchased alcohol at the convenience
store, and he hoped to find evidence of underage drinking by
stopping the car.
Three people testified at the hearing on the motion to
suppress: (1) the officer who stopped Sasso; (2) Sasso's
mother, who confirmed that one of the taillights was a bit
brighter than the other, perhaps because it was canted at a
slightly different angle; and (3) another individual
regarding a potential reason for the brighter taillight. At
the conclusion of the hearing, the court denied the motion.
The court made very brief findings on the record, including
the finding that "there's clearly something out of
whack with this car." The court made no explicit finding
on pretext, determining that the ...