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Mauriello v. State, Department of Secretary of State

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

July 13, 2017



          A.M. HORTON, JUSTICE

         In this appeal from administrative agency action under Rule 80C, Maine Rules of Civil Procedure, Petitioner Eric Mauriello argues the Respondent State of Maine, Department of the Secretary of State, Bureau of Motor Vehicles, erred in suspending his driver's license for operating with an excessive alcohol level pursuant to 29-A M.R.S. § 2453.

         Petitioner asks the court to overturn the suspension because the hearing officer never made an affirmative finding of probable cause and because Petitioner's due process rights were violated by the law enforcement officer's delay in summonsing Petitioner for operating under the influence.

         Oral argument was held July 12, 2017.

         For the reasons discussed below, the court denies Petitioner's M.R. Civ. P. 80C appeal and affirms the decision of the hearing officer.

         I. Factual Background

         The record before the hearing officer reveals the following facts not to be in dispute for purposes of this appeal:

         On August 3, 2016 at about 3:00 a.m., Maine State Police Trooper Justin Huntley was traveling northbound on the Maine Turnpike near Exit 45. (R. Tab 6 p. 2.) Trooper Huntley observed a black Subaru Forester travelling at approximately 32 to 35 miles per hour in the 60 mile per hour zone. (Id.) The Subaru was driving in the right lane and had its passenger side turn signal on. (Id.) Trooper Huntley followed the car and saw it weave into the other lane. (Id.) He then activated his cruiser's blue lights and executed a traffic stop of the vehicle. (Id.)

         When Trooper Huntley approached the stopped vehicle, he saw that Petitioner was the driver and sole occupant. (Id.) The trooper told Petitioner the reason for the traffic stop and asked for his license, registration, and proof of insurance. (Id.) Trooper Huntley could smell a faint odor of alcohol coming from Petitioner and saw that his eyes were glassy. (Id.) Petitioner admitted that he had consumed a couple of drinks earlier in the evening and subsequently explained they were shots people would buy for him and his band as they performed. (Id. at 2-3.)

         The trooper asked Petitioner to get out of the car and perform field sobriety tests. (Id.) As a result of administering the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test to Petitioner, Trooper Huntley detected several clues, including a lack of smooth pursuit in each eye and a sustained and distinct nystagmus in each eye at maximum deviation. (Id. at p. 3.) Trooper Huntley then administered the walk-and-turn and one-legged-stand tests, and noted further signs that Petitioner was impaired due to his consumption of alcoholic beverages, including an improper turn and the use of arms to maintain balance. (Id.) The trooper placed Petitioner under arrest for operating under the influence (OUI) and transported him to the police station for an Intoxilyzer test of Petitioner's alcohol level. (Id.)

         Trooper Huntley-a certified Intoxilyzer operator-conducted the test, which indicated Petitioner's breath alcohol level ("BAC") was .08 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath. (Id.; R. Tab 7.) After completing the Intoxilyzer test, Trooper Huntley drove Petitioner home without issuing a summons to Petitioner. (R. Tab 5 p. 19.) Trooper Huntley did not issue a summons because he mistakenly thought that the OUI statute only prohibits operation with a BAC of more than .08, and thus that Petitioner's .08 test result was not unlawful. (Id.) In fact, the OUI statute prohibits operation with a BAC of .08 or more. See 29-A M.R.S. § 2411(1-A)(A)(2).

         Several hours later, after realizing his mistake, Trooper Huntley returned to Petitioner's residence and issued him a summons for OUI. (Id. at 20).

         The Secretary of State received Trooper Huntley's report of the incident on August 12, 2016. (R. Tab p. 1.) As a result, the Secretary of State's office mailed a notice of suspension and opportunity for hearing to Petitioner on September 15, 2016. (R. Tab. 8 pp. 1-2.) The Notice informed Petitioner that his license had been administratively suspended for 150 days due to "ADMINISTRATIVE ACTION-OPER WITH BAC .08 OR MORE" on August 3, 0216 (R. Tab 8 p. 1.)

         Petitioner, through counsel, requested a hearing that was held on October 12, 2016. (Id. at p. 3; R. Tab 5.) The Notice of Hearing explained that the issues were whether, by a preponderance of the evidence:

1. There was probable cause to believe that you were operating a motor vehicle with an alcohol level of 0.08 grams or more of alcohol per 100 milliliters ...

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