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State v. Cooper

Supreme Court of Maine

January 10, 2017


          Argued: December 13, 2016


          MEAD, J.

         [¶1] Allen J. Cooper appeals from a judgment of conviction entered by the trial court (Lincoln County, Billings, J.) following his conditional guilty plea to a charge of unlawful possession of schedule W drugs (Class C), 17-A M.R.S. § 1107-A(1)(B)(4) (2015).[1] The plea preserved for appeal Coopers contention that the court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence of drugs that he was carrying in a body cavity because law enforcement officers exceeded the authority granted them by two search warrants. We discern no error and affirm the judgment.


         [¶2] The trial court made factual findings that are supported by the record. See State v. Harriman, 467 A.2d 745, 747 (Me. 1983) ("A finding of fact supporting a suppression order will not be disturbed on appeal unless clearly erroneous, that is, lacking any competent evidence in the record to support it." (quotation marks omitted)). Furthermore, because neither party moved for additional findings pursuant to M.R.U. Crim. P. 41A(d), we will "infer that the court found all the facts necessary to support its judgment if those inferred findings are supportable by evidence in the record," and will "consider the evidence, and reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the evidence, in the light most favorable to the trial courts judgment to determine if the evidence rationally supports the trial courts decision. In other words, we assume that the court found facts necessary to support the denial of the motion." State v. Sasso, 2016 ME 95, ¶¶ 18-19,143 A.3d 124 (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         [¶3] On December 29, 2014, a District Court judge issued a warrant authorizing law enforcement officers to search Cooper, his motel room in Wiscasset, and his rental car for scheduled drugs. Probable cause for the search was based on an affidavit executed by Maine Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Scott Quintero describing the MDEAs lengthy investigation of Cooper to that point. Although Cooper unsuccessfully challenged the probable cause finding in the trial court, he has not maintained that challenge on appeal, nor would it have been fruitful for him to do so. See State v. Kimball, 2015 ME 67, ¶ 17 n.4,117 A.3d 585 (stating that an issue not briefed is waived, subject only to obvious error review).

         [¶4] Quintero and the officers working with him decided to execute the search warrant at a time when Cooper was away from his motel room and outside of his vehicle. Quintero explained at the suppression hearing that that procedure minimized the danger to both officers performing the search, and to other drivers because there would then be less chance of a high-speed chase. At about 4:00 p.m. on December 29, Quintero made contact with Cooper after Cooper and his companion stopped at a convenience store in Newcastle. As Quintero described it in his testimony at the motion hearing, "Mr. Cooper was removed from the vehicle by me, and he was handcuffed, and then we just did a pat down of his clothing at that point to look for weapons, and none were found. And then he was taken into my vehicle, he sat in the front seat, and I sat with him." Quintero said that because people involved in trafficking often conceal drugs in areas "that a police officer would be uncomfortable reaching, [and] cannot easily access ... in a public place," the store was not an appropriate location to do the full search of Coopers person authorized by the warrant.

         [¶5] Following an approximately twenty-minute conversation in Quinteros car, during which Cooper made no admissions, Cooper was taken to the Wiscasset motel where he was staying, about twelve minutes away. He was kept outside while a search of his second-floor room, lasting from 4:20 to 5:00 p.m., was underway; officers discovered what they described as a "piece" of Suboxone that Coopers companion claimed was hers. A dog certified to detect narcotics was requested from the Bath Police Department; the dog alerted on Coopers anal area and the back seat of his car.

         [¶6] Cooper was then taken to Two Bridges Regional Jail, about two miles from the motel, for a strip search. As the search progressed, a struggle ensued when Cooper, according to Quintero, "forcefully used his right hand and forced it into his rectum area ... aggressively trying to force his fingers further up his rectum." Quintero swore out a new affidavit and obtained a new search warrant from a Superior Court justice authorizing imaging scans of Coopers body and a cavity search for illegal drugs.[2] When confronted with a CT scan showing a bag of pills in his rectum, Cooper said, "You got me," and produced a bag containing ninety thirty-milligram oxycodone pills.

         [¶7] Cooper was indicted for unlawful trafficking in schedule W drugs (Class B), 17-A M.R.S. § 1103(1-A)(A) (2016); unlawful possession of schedule W drugs (Class C), 17-A M.R.S. § 1107-A(1)(B)(4); and trafficking in prison contraband (Class C), 17-A M.R.S. § 757(1)(B) (2016). He moved to suppress evidence of the drugs on the grounds that (1) the first search warrant for his person and car was not supported by probable cause, (2) he was subjected to an illegal de facto arrest, (3) the CT scan was an unreasonable search, and (4) his production of the pills and his statement were involuntary. The court held a testimonial hearing and denied the motion.

         [¶8] Cooper entered a conditional guilty plea to the charge of unlawful possession of schedule W drugs pursuant to M.R.U. Crim. P. 11(a)(2), preserving his right to appeal from the denial of his motion to suppress, and the State dismissed the remaining counts. The court entered judgment and sentenced him to eighteen months imprisonment, stayed pending appeal, and a $400 fine. Cooper filed a timely notice of appeal.


         [¶9] "When reviewing a trial courts denial of a motion to suppress, we review the findings of fact by the trial court for clear error and review its conclusions of law de novo. We will uphold the denial of a motion to suppress if any reasonable view of the evidence supports the trial courts decision." State v. Gerry,2016 ME 163, ΒΆ 11, ___ A.3d ___ (citation and quotation marks omitted). Cooper asserts that when officers took him back to the motel in Wiscasset after detaining him at the Newcastle convenience store and finding nothing incriminating during their initial search, they effected an illegal de facto arrest, requiring that all evidence obtained thereafter be suppressed. We begin our review of the officers ...

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