DECISION AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANT DOBBINS'
MOTION TO SUPPRESS.
the Court is Defendant Dobbins' Motion to Suppress dated
January 30, 2017. Dobbins seeks suppression of all evidence
obtained from a search of Dobbins' home initiated on or
about March 4, 2015.Hearing was held on Defendant's motion
on May 19, 2017 at which testimony was received from
Assistant District Attorney John Pluto of the Aroostook
County District Attorneys Office and Detective Mitchell of
the Maine State Police. The primary issue raised by
Defendant's motion is whether the bail conditions search
initiated by the police on March 4, 2015 was legal. Based
upon the evidence presented and review of applicable law, the
court makes the following findings.
March 1, 2015 Keith Suitter was found dead in his home on
Hillview Avenue in Houlton. The cause of death appeared to be
a stabbing and blunt force trauma prompting a homicide
investigation. On March 4, 2015, Detective Mitchell
participated in an interview of Defendant Dobbins. The
interview commenced at Dobbins home but the majority of it
was conducted at the Maine State Police barracks in Houlton.
Through the course of the interview of Dobbins, Detective
Mitchell learned that Dobbins was on bail for aggravated
assault, which had conditions of no use or possession of
alcohol or drugs or dangerous weapons, and random searches at
any time without articulable suspicion or probable cause.
(Def s. Ex. 1; State's Ex. 3 and 5). And through the
course of the interview, Dobbins told Detective Mitchell that
he had smoked marijuana in the last week. [State's Ex.
5). Dobbins also told Detective Mitchell that in the early
evening of March 1, 2015 his mother had dropped he and Sam
Geary off on Hillview Avenue near where the victim Suitter
lived, that they walked by his home, and at some point while
in the area heard people talking, possibly some yelling.
(Id.). In addition, Dobbins told the detective that
he had not told his mother the details of what he was
planning to do out in that area or who he was planning to
meet, a Josh Pike, giving Detective Mitchell the impression
that it was something less than legal. And Dobbins told
Detective Mitchell that after his meeting Pike and others he
and Geary were dropped off near Reservoir Hill, where they
called Dobbin's father for a ride. (Id.).
Dobbins also told Detective Mitchell he knew Keith Suitter.
interview was being wrapped up, Detective Mitchell inquired
of Dobbins if he would provide a DNA sample, but Dobbins
declined. The officers then gave Dobbins a ride home. While
driving to Dobbins' residence, the officers discussed
completing a bail check, and asked Dobbin's what his
thoughts were. Dobbins responded "That's fine."
(State's Ex.5, p.162). Although a few moments later
Detective Mitchell stated "...you're obviously
required to consent to search." (State's Ex. 5,
p.164). Once at Dobbins' home, Detective Mitchell
initiated the bail search and ultimately found in
Dobbins' bedroom a folding knife with red brown stains at
the hinge. The detective was also shown by Christie Dobbins
the Defendant's trench coat which also had on it red
brown stains. Detective Mitchell then ceased further activity
and the detectives began the process of securing the scene
and obtaining a search warrant.
at the time of the bail search Detective Mitchell himself may
not have been aware of all other details of the
investigation, by that time there was a significant amount of
evidentiary information within the collective knowledge of
the police. (See State's Ex 4, Search Warrant Affidavit).
In summary, prior to conducting the bail search, police had
within their knowledge evidence of a homicide, likely
involving a knife and blunt instrument, with evidence of
blood spatter and transfer. The assailant(s) had likely left
in Suitter's pickup until it went off the road on
Hillview Avenue. Based on evidence gathered at the scene of
the pickup, police had knowledge of two sets of footprints in
the snow leaving from the pickup, hence two subjects
involved, and there was red brown stain in the interior.
Hence, there was likely blood transfer from Suitter at the
homicide scene onto the assailants then onto the pickup
interior. Defendant Dobbins own mother placed him in the
vicinity of the scene of the homicide, her telling police she
gave Defendant Dobbins and Geary a ride and dropped them off
near 412 Hillview Avenue, and her son telling her they had
heard yelling and screaming coming from Suitter's home.
Dobbins mother also provided details of her husband later
picking them up in their vehicle, the same vehicle seen
headed south on Hillview Avenue on store surveillance video
footage taken at around 7:44 pm. Lastly Defendant's
mother provided a description of certain clothing worn by
Dobbins and Geary matching the description given by citizen
witnesses. And the citizen witnesses placed two males wearing
clothing similar to that as described by Christie Dobbins
walking on Hillview Avenue in the vicinity of Suitter's
abandoned pickup, one witness thinking the two males were
walking to get help for the pickup.
Dobbins' bail conditions, on September 12, 2014 Dobbins
had his initial in-custody appearance for the charge of
Aggravated Assault, Class B. At the in-custody proceeding,
Dobbins was represented by Lawyer of the Day, Jeff Pickering.
By the time of the hearing, the Court had been provided a
copy of the complaint, and the probable cause affidavit with
bail recommendations. (State's Ex.1). The complaint
brought against Dobbins indicated he was charged with
aggravated assault with the use of a dangerous weapon, a
baseball bat. (Id.). The Bail Recommendation made by
the State was: Surety Bond of $5, 000 or cash $500.
Release Conditions: No contact with James Schneider, Susan
Lannon, Christopher Richardson, Devon Hannigan, and ]acoby
Suitter; no possession or use of alcohol or drugs; submit to
random search and testing; no possession of weapons; submit
to random search for weapons. (Id.).
Hunter presided at the initial appearance. At the hearing
Justice Hunter advised Dobbins of the charge, explained he
would not be taking a plea as it was a felony, and described
for him the Grand Jury process. (Defendant's Ex. 1).
Attorney Pickering who was present as lawyer of the day, was
appointed to represent Dobbins going forward. When addressing
the issue of bail, Justice Hunter inquired "..to the
question of bail, Mr. Pickering. And have you had a chance to
consider the State's recommendation here?"
(Id. at p. 6, 1. 6-8). Attorney Pickering responded
"Yes", and then relayed portions of a discussion he
had recently had with the prosecutor assigned to the case
regarding one particular witnesses named in the no contact
conditions. (Id.). As the hearing was concluding ADA
Pluto inquired "And the alcohol and drug conditions will
be in place?" (Id. at p. 8, 1. 2-3). Justice
Hunter responded "You're right, all of those
requirements." (Id. at 1. 4). None of the other
conditions were specifically discussed but Justice Hunter did
suggest that Attorney Pickering have a discussion about the
compliance with bail conditions with Mr. Dobbins.
(Id. p. 8, 1.14-15). Ultimately, on September 12,
2014 Defendant Dobbins was bailed and he signed the Bail Bond
with the surety amount and release conditions set as
originally requested by the State. (Defendant's Ex. 2).
motion Dobbins challenges the lawfulness of the initial bail
check of Dobbins' home which was conducted without a
warrant, and further asserts that the search warrant
subsequently issued is tainted by the initial bail search,
and therefore seeks suppression and exclusion of all evidence
obtained from both searches.
Was the Bail Search Legal?
validity of a bail search based on a bail condition of random
search has previously been addressed by our Law Court. In
State v. Wiring, 741 A.2d 1065 (Me. 1999) the
defendant had been arrested on drug charges and was released
on bail with a condition of random searches of his person,
residence and vehicle. His home was subsequently searched
without a warrant and without evidence of wrongdoing at which
time drugs were found, leading to additional drug related
charges, /rf.at 1066. Defendant's motion to suppress the
evidence obtained from the warrantless search of his home was
denied. On appeal, the Law Court acknowledged that the Maine
Bail Code allows as a requirement for pre-conviction release
a condition that the defendant refrain from the possession of
firearms, alcohol or drugs and concluded that a bail
condition of random searches is not prohibited by the Maine
Bail Code. 741 A.2d at 1070-1071. In addition, the Law Court
ruled that by signing the bail bond the defendant
sufficiently manifested his voluntary consent to the search
of his home. Id. at 1068. In reaching its decision,
the Law Court carefully considered whether bail conditions of
random searches violate Fourth Amendment protections and
struck the balance that such a condition authorizing random
searches can only meet Fourth Amendment scrutiny if the
condition is reasonable under all of the circumstances.
Id. at 1073. But when a judicial officer imposes a
random search condition it can be assumed, in the absence of
the evidence to the contrary, that the condition is
reasonable. Id. The burden is always on the State to
show consent to a search, but the State satisfies that burden
by proving the existence of a bail condition; the burden of
presenting evidence then shifts to the defendant to show the
conditions are unreasonable. Id. 
however makes his challenges to the warrantless bail search
upon reliance of United States v. Scott, 450. F.2d
863, (Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit, 2006). In that case the
court held that a drug test of the defendant without probable
cause did not pass constitutional muster despite a bail order
for such random tests, and further ordered the subsequent
warrantless search of the house without probable cause other
than that provided by the improper drug test results was also
invalid. In Scott, the court initiated its analysis
with the predicate that Scott's consent to search (vis-a
vis the bail agreement with conditions) is only valid if the
search in question, taking the fact of consent into account,
was reasonable. Mat 868. The court noted that Fourth
Amendment reasonableness means a search is supported by
probable cause, but may relax these needs when "special
needs" exist. Id. In short, "special
needs" must be a goal or need distinguishable from the
general interest of crime control. Id. at 869. The
court then conducted a thorough review of whether or not the
government had established the State of Nevada had special
needs for drug-testing release conditions, and found it had
not established such special needs.
Ninth Circuit's ruling based on that analysis is of
marginal help to the case at hand, in which Maine has a much
different Bail Code, with four factors to consider in setting
conditions of release. See Fn. 1, and 15, MRSA
§1026(3)(A). The type of analysis done by the
Scott court applied to Maine's Bail Code could
lead to a different result. Under Maine's Bail Code,
objectives or goals which are to be considered when setting
bail conditions include ensuring the appearance of the
defendant, ensuring the defendant will refrain from any new
criminal conduct, ensuring the integrity of the judicial
process and ensuring safety of others in the community. See
15, MRSA §1002 and §1026. In total, these goals and
objectives are reasonable and broader than the only a goal of
court in Scott also reviewed whether the search was
reasonable under a more general "totality of
circumstances" approach. Scott at pp. 872-874.
In this analysis, the court reviewed the balance of intrusion
upon an individual's privacy with promotion of legitimate
governmental interests, and made the comparison of
probationers versus those on pre-conviction bail. Ultimately,
the Scott court found that.... A search of Scott
or his house ...