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State v. Ati

Superior Court of Maine, Kennebec

September 28, 2018

STATE OF MAINE,
v.
STEVEN GAL ATI, Defendant

          Attorney: HARRIS MATTSON SILVERSTEIN LAW

          State's Attorney: MAEGHAN MALONEY

          ORDER ON MOTION TO SUPPRESS

          ERIC J. WALKER, JUDGE

         Defendant has been charged with two counts of Unlawful Possession of Scheduled Drugs, Classes D and E pursuant to 17-A M.R.S.A. § 1107-A(1)(C) and 17-A M.R.S A. § 1107-A(1)(F). Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Suppress filed on June 25, 2018 and argued before this Court on September 20, 2018.

         BACKGROUND

         The Motion to Suppress filed by the Defendant addresses three different cases with an array of constitutional challenges. For our purposes, this Court will only be addressing the constitutional issues associated with the incidents occurring on February 6, 2018. On February 6, 2018, Trooper Jon Brown (hereinafter Trooper Brown) of the Maine State Police was one of several officers engaging in a detail regarding distracted drivers, focusing specifically on the "move over law" depicted in 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2054(9) (2017). Around 10:00 A.M. on February 6, 2018 Trooper Brown, while in uniform, was completing a traffic stop of a commercial truck. After finishing the traffic stop, Trooper Brown was sitting in his fully marked SUV cruiser behind the commercial truck waiting for the truck to pull onto the freeway. While waiting in the breakdown lane, with his emergency lights still engaged, a white Chevrolet motor vehicle passed Trooper Brown and shook his cruiser due to its proximity in the adjacent lane.

         Pursuant to Maine law, a driver passing a stationary authorized emergency vehicle with emergency lights on must attempt to move over to a passing lane rather then pass the stationary vehicle in the adjacent lane. 29-A M.R.S A. § 2054(9)(A). If it is impossible for a vehicle to move to a passing lane, the operator is required to pass the stationary authorized emergency vehicle "at a careful and prudent speed reasonable for passing the authorized vehicle." 29-A M.R.S .A. § 2054(9)(B). Based on 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2054(9), when Trooper Brown saw there were no vehicles in the passing lane which would have hindered the white Chevrolet from moving over, he pulled out onto the interstate and began to pursue the Chevrolet.

         Due to the speed at which the Chevrolet was traveling, it took Trooper Brown a few moments to catch up to the vehicle. While in pursuit, Trooper Brown contacted dispatch to inform them and his detail that he was administering a traffic stop. Trooper Brown proceeded to pull the vehicle over at mile marker 116 on 1-95 and approached the car on foot. There were three people in the vehicle which included the Defendant as the driver and two passengers. Trooper Brown engaged in regular traffic citation practice and asked the parties for their identification, for vehicle information, and asked all parties a few informative questions. As testified to at the Motion to Suppress hearing, Trooper Brown stated he asked the Defendant and the passengers the following: Where are you going? Where are you coming from? What are you doing? According to Trooper Brown, this conversation lasted for 1-2 minutes. During this dialogue, Trooper Brown became suspicious because the Defendant and his passengers were inconsistent in their answers. The Defendant and the passengers informed Trooper Brown they were going to New York to visit the Defendant's sick father, but all parties were inconsistent as to where they would be staying and what else they would be doing in New York. Trooper Brown articulated his suspicion at the Motion to Suppress hearing and explained that this suspicion led him to call in a second officer with a canine unit.

         While waiting for the second officer to arrive, Trooper Brown continued with his traffic stop in relation to the Defendant's violation of 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2054(9). Within a couple of minutes of calling in a second officer, Corporal Derrick Record (hereinafter Corporal Record) arrived on the scene with his canine unit. After Corporal Record pulled over behind Trooper Brown's cruiser, he approached Trooper Brown and asked for details regarding the situation. Although there are some inconsistencies in testimony as to whether Trooper Brown was getting in his car or was already in his car when Corporal Record arrived on the scene, what is clear is that Trooper Brown had not yet finished the traffic stop when Corporal Record appeared. After being filled in on the circumstances of the stop, Corporal Record approached the white Chevrolet and Trooper Brown remained in his cruiser to continue the necessary steps to complete the traffic citation. Trooper Brown testified this took a few minutes and that he had not finished the stop prior to Corporal Record arriving at the scene.

         From Corporal Record's point of view, he too was working the "move over" detail with Trooper Brown and was located at mile marker 120 when he heard over dispatch that Trooper Brown was in pursuit of a white Chevrolet. Within 2-3 minutes, Corporal Record was asked to join Trooper Brown at mile marker 116 with his canine. Corporal Record testified that it took him 3-4 min to arrive at mile marker 116. Trooper Brown informed Corporal Record about the reason for the stop and that he was suspicious of the Defendant and the two passengers due to their inconsistent statements and nervousness. Due to this suspicion, Trooper Brown wanted to have Corporal Record on the scene as a second officer for back up and for Corporal Record to have his canine sniff around the vehicle.

         After speaking to Trooper Brown, Corporal Record approached the Chevrolet, without his canine, and addressed the Defendant and the two passengers. Corporal Record informed the Defendant and the passengers he was going to have his dog sniff around the car; however, prior to doing that he asked all three people if there were any narcotics or weapons in the vehicle. At first all parties said no, but Corporal Record asked again if there were any narcotics and the female passenger informed him she had marijuana on her person. After the female passenger spoke up, the male passenger in the back seat also informed Corporal Record he had marijuana on his person. Corporal Record informed the parties that his canine is not triggered by marijuana, but asked both passengers to show him the marijuana. The female passenger showed Corporal Record her marijuana without incident. The male passenger opened a backpack to show his marijuana, and while looking into the backpack Corporal Record saw narcotic paraphernalia. Specifically, he saw what appeared to be a crack or heroin pipe used to smoke illegal narcotics. Corporal Record also saw a razor blade in the backpack. After seeing the drug paraphernalia, Corporal Record asked both passengers to step out of the car.

         Corporal Record patted down the male passenger for weapons and narcotics and also patted down the female passenger for weapons. Once the pat downs were completed, Corporal Record asked the Defendant if he would exit the vehicle and speak to him on the roadside. Corporal Record spoke to the Defendant for 3-5 minutes and asked if he had any narcotics on him, which led the Defendant to admit that he had prescription pills that were not his. After gaining this information, Corporal Record did a pat down of the Defendant, felt an item on him that felt like cash, and eventually pulled out a wad of cash in the sum of $800.00. After the pat down, Corporal Record returned to his vehicle to run the names of the Defendant and the passengers with other officers and agencies. Corporal Record testified that the process of the name search took 5-6 minutes.

         After finishing the name search, Corporal Record returned to the Defendant and inquired what the money was for. The Defendant and the passengers changed their original story and stated they were bringing rent money to the Defendant's sister in New York. Thereafter, the Defendant told Corporal Record that the illegal pills he had were in the trunk of his vehicle in a bag. Corporal Record opened the trunk of the vehicle, saw a duffle bag, and found suboxone strips, prescription pills determined to be Xanax after being tested, and $4, 000.00 in $1, 000.00 bundles. Corporal Record then brought out his canine and did person sniffs of the Defendant and the passengers. Thereafter, Corporal Record called for other officers to come to the scene. At the end of the interaction between police and the Defendant, Mr. Galati was not arrested. Rather, he was summoned by Corporal Record for the drug possession charges and was given a traffic citation by Trooper Brown pursuant to his violation of 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2054(9).

         The Defendant brought this Motion to Suppress challenging the constitutionality of the traffic stop claiming under several grounds of law that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated. Based on the evidence presented at the hearing, this Court denies the Defendant's Motion to Suppress.

         DISCUSSION

         I.Validity of ...


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