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State v. Renfro

Supreme Court of Maine

March 16, 2017


          Argued: November 10, 2016

          Scott F. Hess, Esq., (orally), The Law Office of Scott F. Hess, LLC, Augusta, for appellant Walter Renfro.

          Maeghan Maloney, District Attorney, Francis J. Griffin, Jr., Asst. Dist. Atty. (orally), and Ali F. Farid, Stud. Atty., Office of the District Attorney, Augusta, for appellee State of Maine.


          SAUFLEY, C.J.

         [¶1] Walter H. Renfro appeals from a judgment of conviction entered by the trial court (Kennebec County, Benson, J.) after a jury found him guilty of operating under the influence (Class B), 29-A M.R.S. § 2411(1-A)(D)(2) (2016).[1] Renfro argues that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding, pursuant to M.R. Evid. 403, the finding of an administrative hearing examiner that Renfro's Intoxilyzer test results were unreliable due to improper pre-test observation by police.[2] We conclude that the court did not abuse its discretion and affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] "When the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the State, the jury was entitled to find the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Kendall, 2016 ME 147, ¶ 2, 148 A.3d 1230. On November 1, 2013, at about 10:45 p.m., an officer of the Waterville Police Department and a police trainee stopped a vehicle driven by Walter Renfro in a residential area of Waterville after the tires of the vehicle squealed upon acceleration up a hill. The vehicle almost struck the curb while making a right turn before pulling to the side of the road.

         [¶3] When observed after the stop, Renfro exhibited multiple indicia of intoxication, which the officer further confirmed through field sobriety tests. The officer and trainee took Renfro into custody and drove him to the Waterville Police Department, where the officer administered an Intoxilyzer test. The Intoxilyzer returned a result of 0.17 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.

         [¶4] Renfro was ultimately charged by indictment with both operating under the influence, 29-A M.R.S. § 2411(1-A)(D)(2), and operating beyond a license condition or restriction (Class E), 29-A M.R.S. § 1251(1)(B) (2016). Although he moved to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the traffic stop and moved in limine to exclude the Intoxilyzer results as unreliable, the court [Mullen, /.) denied the motions after an evidentiary hearing.

         [¶5] The State moved in limine to exclude as irrelevant any evidence of an administrative hearing held by a hearing examiner for the Department of the Secretary of State, including the examiner's decision to rescind Renfro's license suspension due to the arresting officer's failure to observe Renfro properly during the fifteen minutes before he administered the Intoxilyzer test. See 29-A M.R.S. § 2485(1) (2016). Renfro moved in limine to admit the hearing results. Those motions were not decided before trial.

         [¶6] The court [Benson, J.) held a jury trial in December 2015 on the OUI charge after Renfro waived his right to a jury trial on the count for operating beyond a license condition or restriction. The State offered testimony from the officer who arrested Renfro and showed the jury a video recording of Renfro's Intoxilyzer testing.

         [¶7] In addition to other efforts to challenge the officer's credibility, Renfro sought to cross-examine the officer about the hearing examiner's decision rescinding Renfro's license suspension. The court did not allow Renfro to present evidence of the outcome of the administrative hearing because it found that, although the evidence was relevant, the probative value of the hearing examiner's decision was substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice. See M.R. Evid. 403. The trial court explicitly noted that the jury would be tempted to substitute the judgment of the hearing examiner for the jury's own independent judgment. Renfro was allowed to cross-examine the officer about how he had been "criticized" for his observation-period practices in another proceeding, and Renfro was allowed to play a video of the same officer, three or four days after he had been "criticized, " more closely observing another test subject before she blew into the Intoxilyzer.

         [¶8] The jury found Renfro guilty of OUI, and the court found him not guilty of operating beyond a license condition or restriction. After a sentencing hearing, and based on Renfro's stipulation to his previous conviction of "a Class B or Class C crime under this section, " 29-A M.R.S. § 2411(1-A)(D)(2), the court sentenced Renfro to five years in prison, with all but 18 months suspended, and three years of probation. See id. ยง 2411(5)(D-2). The court ordered him to pay fines, ...

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