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State v. Blier

Supreme Court of Maine

May 25, 2017

STATE OF MAINE
v.
DALE E. BLIER

          Argued: April 11, 2017

          Todd R. Collins, District Attorney (orally), 8th Prosecutorial District, Caribou, for appellant State of Maine

          Neil J. Prendergast, Esq. (orally), Fort Kent, for appellee Dale E. Blier

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          GORMAN, J.

         [¶1] The State of Maine appeals from a decision of the trial court (Fort Kent, Soucy, /.) granting Dale E. Blier's motion to suppress evidence that resulted in a criminal complaint charging Blier with operating under the influence (Class D), 29-A M.R.S. § 2411(l-A)(A) (2016). The State argues that the court erred in concluding that the officer violated the Fourth Amendment when he ordered Blier to leave his house in order to complete a traffic stop. We agree and vacate the order suppressing the evidence.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] On June 26, 2015, the State charged Blier by criminal complaint with operating under the influence (OUI) (Class D), 29-A M.R.S. 24ll(l-A)(A), to which he pleaded not guilty. Blier moved to suppress some of the evidence against him, arguing that the State had unlawfully seized him without a warrant. In September of 2015, the court held a hearing on the motion.

         [¶3] Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the court's order, the following facts articulated in the court's order are supported by the evidence presented at the suppression hearing. See State v. Collier, 2013 ME 44, ¶ 2, 66 A.3d 563. On June 14, 2015, at about 10:30 p.m., a police officer on patrol in Fort Kent observed a car with defective license plate lights traveling north on Market Street. The officer pulled onto Market Street, caught up with the car, and turned on the police cruiser's "wig wag" lights (flashing headlights) as the car turned onto North Perley Brook Road.[1] The officer continued to follow the car for about 860 feet, at which point the car turned into the driveway of a residence. The driver parked, exited the car, walked up a short flight of stairs, opened a screen door, entered an enclosed porch, and attempted to unlock the door to his house. As the officer followed the driver and entered the enclosed porch, the driver opened the door and stepped inside the house. The officer briefly spoke to the driver over the threshold through the open door, explaining that he was effecting a traffic stop due to defective license plate lights. He told the driver that "he needed" to come outside to retrieve his license, registration, and proof of insurance. The driver then walked to his car to retrieve the requested documentation. Standing over the driver as he retrieved his documents-which identified him as Blier-the officer detected the smell of alcohol and decided to conduct field sobriety tests. Based on his performance on those tests, the officer arrested Blier for OUI.

         [¶4] Seven months after the hearing, on April 29, 2016, the court granted Blier's motion to suppress, concluding that (1) although the officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion to make a traffic stop for the defective license plate lights, the officer did not have probable cause to suspect any criminal activity, and no exigent circumstances existed when he ordered Blier to exit his house; (2) because Blier would not have believed he was free to disregard the officer's order to come outside, the verbal order amounted to an unlawful seizure of Blier; and (3) because all evidence of Blier's OUI arose after that seizure, it must be suppressed.

         [¶5] The State moved the court to reconsider and for further findings of fact and conclusions of law. On August 15, 2016, the court denied the motion to reconsider and further found that the officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion of a civil traffic violation, sufficient for an investigatory traffic stop but not sufficient to seize Blier across the threshold of his house; that although the officer believed that Blier was refusing to stop for or fleeing from him, that belief was not objectively reasonable, and so there was no probable cause to believe that a crime had been committed; that Blier had not exhibited any furtive behavior; and that the officer's pursuit of Blier was not a "hot" one based on video evidence that the officer did not leave his car to follow Blier for at least seven seconds. The State timely appealed pursuant to 15 M.R.S. § 2115-A (2016) and M.R. App. P. 21(b).[2]

         II. DISCUSSION

         [¶6] The motion court determined that the officer unlawfully seized Blier across the threshold of his house in what amounted to a de facto arrest because the officer did not have probable cause to believe that Blier had engaged in any criminal activity. Because we conclude that the officer had probable cause to arrest Blier for refusing to stop for a law enforcement officer, we vacate the suppression order. 29-A M.R.S. § 2414(2) (2016); see also 17-A M.R.S. § 751-B(1)(A) (2016).

         [¶7] When an appellant challenges a court's order on a motion to suppress, we review the factual findings of the motion court for clear error and "the application of those facts to constitutional protections . . . de novo." State v. Bailey,2012 ME 55, ¶ 12, 41 A.3d 535 (quotation marks omitted). Here, because the suppression order "is ...


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