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State v. Lowry

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

September 12, 2016



          Jed J. French, Unified Criminal Court Judge

         By Order dated August 18, 2016, the Court granted Defendant's motion to suppress, reasoning: "Although the nature of a field sobriety test is to distract the subject's attention, Officer Jones was not trained to perform field sobriety tests on subjects whose attention is further divided by exploding fireballs in the sky followed by clapping and cheering. As such, the Court finds Officer Jones did not have sufficient probable cause to believe Defendant had committed the crime of operating under the influence."

         Believing the Court's ruling to be in error, on August 24, 2016 the State filed a Motion for Reconsideration and a Motion for Further Findings and Conclusions of Law, to which Defendant responded by opposition filed September 9, 2016.

         The State's Motion for Further Findings and Conclusions of Law is denied. The Court's Suppression Order sets forth sufficient factual findings and legal conclusions pursuant to M.R.U. Crim. P. 41A(d).

         With respect to the State's Motion for Reconsideration, while the Rules of Uniform Criminal Procedure do not expressly provide for such a motion, the Court has discretion to reconsider its suppression ruling. See M.R.U. Crim. P. 1(c); State v. Hayford, 412 A.2d 987, 990 (Me. 1980) (noting that "the interests of judicial economy are well served" where judge who granted motion to suppress "determined that his original order was erroneous.").

         Having considered the State's argument in light of Maine law, the Court finds that its August 18lh Suppression Order focused solely on the circumstances surrounding Officer Jones's administration of field sobriety tests without taking into account the indicia of intoxication observed by Officer Jones independent of'any field testing. According to Officer Jones's testimony, which the Court finds credible, Defendant was observed speeding in a 25 mph zone. Upon stopping Defendant's vehicle, Officer Jones testified that he detected a strong odor of intoxicants which persisted .after Defendant exited the vehicle, indicating that the odor was emanating from Defendant's person rather than from the vehicle's interior. Defendant's speech was slurred and his eyes were glassy. When asked how much he had had to drink, Defendant first answered "none" before ultimately-admitting that he had had one drink and rating himself as a "one, two of three" on a 10-point intoxication scale.

         Considering these facts in light of the .standard set forth in State v. Webster, 2000 ME 115, 754 A.2d 976 leads to the clear conclusion that "probable cause could be found without regard to [Defendant's performance on the field sobriety tests." Id. ¶ 9. As the Law Court reasoned in Webster:

The probable cause standard for requiring a person to take a blood alcohol test has a very low threshold. A person is guilty of operating under the influence if his or her senses are "impaired however slightly" or "to any extent" by the alcohol that person has had to drink. For there to be probable cause to arrest someone for operating under the influence, therefore, an officer must have probable cause to believe that the person's senses are affected to the slightest degree, or to any extent, by the alcohol that person has had to drink. A reasonable suspicion to support probable cause can exist independent of any evidence of actual impaired driving.
In this case, the officer had observed a driving maneuver that suggested impaired judgment. The officer smelled a strong odor of alcohol on Webster's . breath, and the officer had heard Webster make a facially incredible statement that the officer could have believed was intended to cover-up recent, more substantial consumption of alcoholic beverages. With those observations made, the officer may have been regarded as careless had he allowed Webster to go on his way without further inquiry to determine the state of his sobriety and the risk he may. have posed to-himself and others on the highway.
Considering the probable cause threshold for administering a blood alcohol test, this combination of evidence was more than sufficient to establish probable cause. With this evidence, probable cause could be found without regard to Webster's performance on the field sobriety tests. While performance on field sobriety tests is relevant to determinations of both probable cause and ultimate guilt or innocence, such performance on the field sobriety tests does not control either issue. There is sufficient evidence to support the court's probable cause finding external to the field sobriety tests.

Id. ¶¶ 7-9. While Defendant is correct in noting that the Law Court's holding in Webster was directed to a determination of whether or not the suppression court's findings were clearly erroneous, Webster nonetheless supplies clear guidance to a trial court ruling on a suppression motion, particularly in a matter such as this one, which arises out of strikingly similar facts. The Court accordingly finds that the analysis set forth In Webster applies equally here.

         Accordingly, having reconsidered the evidence in light of the governing "probable cause threshold, " the Court hereby GRANTS the State's Motion for Reconsideration and VACATES its August 18, 2016 Order granting Defendant's Motion to Suppress.

         The Clerk is hereby directed to mail a date-stamped copy of this Order to each counsel of record and note the mailing on the Unified ...

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