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State v. Thibeault

Superior Court of Maine, Sagadahoc

March 17, 2017

STATE OF MAINE
v.
JAMES R. THIBEAULT, Defendant.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANTS MOTION TO SUPPRESS

          Beth Dobson Judge.

         The court held a hearing on February 22, 2017 on Defendant's Motion to Suppress. Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Liberman represented the State. Adam Sherman, Esq. represented Defendant. Defendant moves to suppress his statements made prior to being Mirandized, and also challenges whether there was probable cause for the arrest.

         Findings of Fact

         Based on the testimony presented at the hearing and review of the booking room video, the court makes the following findings of fact. On October 29, 2016, Sgt. Ramsay was called to Topsham Fair Mall Road in reference to a hit and run. Witnesses informed Sgt. Ramsay that a vehicle had sideswiped another vehicle. The driver of the vehicle that was hit informed Sgt. Ramsay that he had an interaction with the driver who hit him (hereafter Defendant) and the Defendant told the victim to "calm down" and then drove off. There was a third party eye-witness to the accident who followed the Defendant to a nearby gas station. The eye witness told the Defendant he was in an accident and that he should return to the scene. The eye witness gave Sgt. Ramsay the license plate number of the vehicle that had left. While on scene, Sgt. Ramsay was informed that Defendant had arrived at the police station to report an accident.

         Sgt. Ramsay returned to the police station and observed Defendant's vehicle parked in the "cruiser only" section of the parking lot, and observed that the vehicle had front-end damage. Defendant, the registered owner of the vehicle, was in the lobby, and told Sgt. Ramsay that someone had hit him. Sgt. Ramsay testified that Defendant seemed "off, " and had red, watery eyes, slow movement, and slurred speech. However, at that time, Sgt. Ramsay did not observe an odor of alcohol. Defendant denied the interaction with the other driver at the gas station and denied drinking.

         After going out to Defendant's vehicle so that Defendant could retrieve paperwork, Sgt. Ramsay took Defendant into the booking room. Sgt. Ramsay went over the eye-witness statement with Defendant, which contradicted Defendant's statement denying the interaction at the gas station. Defendant stated that he had stopped at the gas station but didn't see anyone there, Sgt. Ramsay then asked if Defendant would take a portable breath test and Defendant agreed. While taking the test, Sgt. Ramsay observed an odor of alcohol, and the portable breath test indicated the presence of alcohol-but not a level of alcohol. Sgt. Ramsay stated, "so you have been drinking" to which Defendant replied he had that afternoon. When asked if he had had any alcohol between the gas station and the police station, Defendant said no.

         Sgt. Ramsay then administered field sobriety tests: Horizontal and Vertical Gaze Nystagmus, "walk and turn, " and the one-leg stand, which he is certified to administer. In administration of these tests, Sgt. Ramsay did not strictly comply with all proscribed procedures. For example, video from the booking room shows that during the Nystagmus test, Sgt. Ramsay did not hold Defendant's gaze for the required minimum of four seconds, and did not keep the light at the required 45 degree angle. Sgt. Ramsay also testified that his report was not accurate in some respects, including that Defendant only missed one step during the walk and turn, not multiple. Nevertheless, the court credits Sgt. Ramsay's observations that during the Nystagmus test, Sgt. Ramsay observed four of the six clues, and that Defendant failed both the walk and turn and the one-leg stand.[1]

         Immediately following the completion of the field sobriety tests, Sgt. Ramsay asked Defendant whether he was driving at the time of the crash. Defendant responded "yeah." Sgt. Ramsay asked Defendant if he went to the gas station and then the police station, (Defendant responded "yes") and then whether, during the time from the crash to the time he came to the police station, he had had anything to drink. Defendant responded "no." Sgt. Ramsay informed Defendant that Defendant was intoxicated, that he was going to place Defendant under arrest, and that Defendant would need to take a breathalyzer test.

         Probable Cause to Arrest

         The probable cause standard to arrest for OUI is low. See State v. Webster, 2000 ME 115, ¶ 7, 754 A.2d 976, "For there to be probable cause to arrest someone for operating under the influence ... 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 stispicion to support probable cause can exist independent of any evidence of actual impaired driving." Id. Under a probable cause analysis, the standard is whether an ordinary prudent and cautious officer would have probable cause. State v. Bolduc, 1998 ME 255, ¶ 7, 722 A.2d 44, As a preliminary matter, Defendant argues that the court should not credit the results of the field sobriety tests because Sgt. Ramsay did not strictly comply with the proscribed procedures. However, "subject to the court's gatekeeping role established in Maine Rules of Evidence 401 to 403 and 601(b), any deficiencies in an officer's training or expertise, or failure to strictly comply with prescribed procedtires in making observations or conducting tests, go to the weight, but not the admissibility, of the officer's testimony regarding observations of impairment." State v. Atkins, 2015 ME 162, ¶ 2, 129 A.3d 952. Accordingly, the court will give the results consideration in totality with Sgt. Ramsay's other observations.

         Sgt. Ramsay knew the following: he had been informed that Defendant had side-swiped another vehicle and left the scene. When Sgt. Ramsey returned to the police station, he observed Defendant's vehicle parked in an area where he should not have parked and the vehicle had front-end damage. Upon meeting Defendant in the lobby of the police station, Sgt. Ramsay observed Defendant's eyes were red and watery, he had slow movement, and slurred speech. Upon administration of the portable breath test, Sgt. Ramsay observed the odor of alcohol, and the result of the portable breath test was positive for the presence of alcohol.[2] Finally, during the administration of the field sobriety tests, Sgt. Ramsay noted signs of intoxication that would affect Defendant's senses and his ability to operate a vehicle. Given all of the facts, a prudent and cautious officer would conclude that Defendant had driven under the influence at the time of the crash.

         Thus, the court finds that there was sufficient probable cause to arrest Defendant on suspicion of OUI.

         Defendant's Statements

         By agreement of the State, all of Defendant's statements made after formal arrest and prior to Miranda are excluded. However, Defendant also seeks to suppress Defendant's ...


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