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State v. Pagnani

Superior Court of Maine, Androscoggin

November 17, 2017



          MaryGay Kennedy, Justice.

         Pending before the court is Defendant's Motion to Suppress. A hearing was held on November 7, 2017. The State presented the testimony of Officer Bryan Parker of the Auburn Police Department and a cruiser video of the incident, including the arrest and search of Ms. Pagnani's jacket and vehicle. The court has reviewed the file, the applicable case law and makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

         Findings of Fact

         Around 12:00 p.m. on January 17, 2017, Officer Parker observed the Defendant, Donna Pagnani, driving a white 1997 Ford Escort as she was leaving the Androscoggin Superior Court. Officer Parker was familiar with Ms. Pagnani's "extensive" criminal history, including a May 2016 arrest by New Hampshire State Police for drug sales. He ran a license check on Ms. Pagnani but did not receive a response until she had driven out of sight. Officer Parker learned subsequently that Ms. Pagnani's license was suspended and she had a prior OAS conviction. Officer Parker then drove to the residence where he was "pretty sure she lived." He parked his unmarked police car and waited for her to return home.

         Approximately 2 hours later, Officer Parker observed Ms. Pagnani drive by him. He also noticed a pair of sunglasses hanging from the rearview mirror of her vehicle, which constituted an "obstructed view." Saying, "Here we go, " Officer Parker activated his emergency lights and followed Ms. Pagnani's vehicle into the driveway of her residence.

         As Ms. Pagnani got out of the car, Officer Parker approached and advised her that her license was suspended for failure to pay a fine. Ms. Pagnani said she was not under suspension and that she had "paid the fine." She provided Officer Parker with her license, registration and insurance, while attempting to contact the violations bureau to verify that she had paid the fine.

         Officer Parker ran another license check and confirmed that Ms. Pagnani's license was suspended. In addition to telling her that her license was suspended and while she continued to reach the violations bureau, Officer Parker asked her about the New Hampshire case. Ms. Pagnani responded that it had been dropped. He asked her how much weight she had been charged with and she said that did not matter because the case was dropped. Officer Parker asked Ms. Pagnani if she had any drugs or weapons on her person or in her car. She said she had nothing. He asked for her consent to search the vehicle and she said no. Officer Parker then told Ms. Pagnani she was under arrest for operating after suspension with a prior.

         Ms. Pagnani did not willingly submit to arrest, saying she had "done nothing wrong." She asked for time to speak with the violations bureau. On several occasions, Officer Parker told her to put the phone down. She called to her mother, who was presumably inside the residence, to provide the proof of payment.[1] She called out for a neighbor, stating that she was being harassed and falsely arrested. She started going towards the house and Officer Parker told her not to move away. She continued walking, took off her jacket, placed it on a seat on the porch, and sat down on it. Ms. Pagnani was in a sleeveless blouse and it was 34 degrees out.

         Officer Parker called for backup. When the other officers arrived, they helped place Ms. Pagnani in handcuffs and put her in the back of Officer Parker's vehicle. Ms. Pagnani asked what she was being arrested for and Officer Parker responded that she was being arrested for operating after suspension.

         Once Ms. Pagnani was handcuffed and secured in the vehicle, Officer Parker conducted a warrantless search of the jacket she had removed and left on the porch. In it he found a small loose rock. Based on his training, education and experience, he believed it was cocaine base. He then tried opening the doors to Ms. Pagnani's car but they were locked.

         Officer Parker asked one of the officers if Ms. Pagnani had the keys to her car in her hand, which she did. He advised the other officers that he had found cocaine base in her jacket and was going to "toss the car." They physically took her keys from her. Officer Parker then searched the vehicle. One of the other officers looked around the porch, in the trunk of the vehicle, and the area immediately around the residence.

         During Officer Parker's search of the vehicle he found Ms. Pagnani's purse. Underneath it, he located a sandwich baggie containing 5 total baggies of a tan/brown powder. Based on his training, education and experience, Officer Parker believed the tan/brown powder was heroin.

         Ms. Pagnani contends that the warrantless search of her jacket and vehicle was unreasonable and asks this court to suppress the items seized in accordance with the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Maine Constitution.

         The State asserts that the search of Ms. Pagnani's personal property, car and the area around the residence was done ...

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