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State v. Winchester

Supreme Court of Maine

October 18, 2018


          Argued: September 13, 2018

          John W. Tebbetts, Esq. (orally), Tebbetts Law Office, LLC, Presque Isle, for appellant Dennis Winchester

          Todd R. Collins, District Attorney, James G. Mitchell Jr., Asst. Dist. Atty., and Kurt A. Kafferlin, Asst. Dist. Atty. (orally), Prosecutorial District 8, Caribou, for appellee State of Maine

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HUMPHREY, JJ. [*]

          MEAD, JUDGE

         [¶1] Dennis Winchester appeals from orders of the trial court (Aroostook County, Hunter, J.) denying his motions to suppress evidence that was seized by the Van Buren Police Department (VBPD) and Maine State Police (MSP) and then returned to the individuals who reported the items stolen. M.R. Crim. P. 41, 41A.[1] Winchester contends that (1) the State's alleged failure to preserve exculpatory evidence denied him a fair trial in violation of his due process rights and (2) two search warrants failed to designate all of the items to be seized with adequate particularity, making the warrants unconstitutionally vague. We discern no error and affirm.

         I. FACTS

         [¶2] "Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the motion court's order[s], the record supports the following facts." State v. Marquis, 2018 ME 39, ¶ 2, 181 A.3d 684 (citation omitted). In early November 2014, VBPD received two separate complaints of stolen items. In the first, carpentry tools were reported stolen, and Winchester's vehicle was identified by an eyewitness and by security camera footage as being at the location of the theft as it was taking place. In response, VBPD obtained a warrant to search Winchester's and his girlfriend's residence, vehicles, campers, and storage sheds; and to seize staging, bullets for a hammer drill, batteries, and eight power tools. The warrant thoroughly described each item to be seized using characteristics like type, manufacturer, color, dimensions, whether the equipment was corded or cordless, and any markings of the owner's initials.

         [¶3] With respect to the second complaint, truck tires and rims were reported stolen and were observed on Winchester's vehicle. Because this incident occurred outside of VBPD's jurisdiction, VBPD relayed this complaint to MSP.

         [¶4] Two days after the issuance of VBPD's warrant, VBPD and MSP executed the search warrant at Winchester's and his girlfriend's residence. The police seized several of the items listed in the warrant, as well as a .22 caliber semi-automatic rifle.[2] In addition, MSP seized Winchester's truck because the troopers observed-in plain view-tires and rims that immediately appeared to match the detailed description of those reported stolen.

         [¶5] During the search, MSP photographed a large number of tools in the storage shed that they suspected were stolen. MSP and VBPD reached a verbal agreement with Winchester's girlfriend whereby she would allow them to return to the property to search for other stolen items as long as the officers and troopers did not bring third parties to inspect the items at the residence and gave her a receipt for any items seized. Later that day, MSP posted the photographs on social media, and as a result, they received several additional reports concerning stolen items.

         [¶6] On November 11, 2014, MSP requested and received a second warrant authorizing a search of the storage shed and the seizure of batteries, a paint sprayer, a tool kit, gas cans, a trimmer, a ladder, and an air compressor- all described using characteristics such as brand, color, model number, and size. The warrant was executed the same day, and many items listed were seized. With Winchester's girlfriend's permission, MSP then returned to the residence on several other occasions through November and December 2014 to retrieve more items that had been reported stolen that the troopers remembered seeing while executing the search warrant. Items were seized, and the girlfriend was provided with property receipts.

         [¶7] While this was occurring, VBPD received another report of missing property; an individual suspected Winchester of taking his canoe. Remembering having seen canoes on Winchester's and his girlfriend's property during the execution of VBPD's search warrant, the chief of VBPD sent an officer to the property to inspect the canoes. With the girlfriend's consent, the officer seized a canoe that matched the description of the canoe that was reported stolen.

         [¶8] After seizing items over the course of November and December 2014, VBPD and MSP allowed the individuals who had reported the thefts to identify the various items that they claimed belonged to them. The police then confirmed ownership based upon whether the individuals could provide specific descriptions of the items, registration numbers, receipts, manuals, or knowledge of identifying characteristics, such as initials or certain colored paint splatter. Once satisfied with the identifications, and after determining that the owners needed many of the items for their livelihoods or for other reasons, the police returned ...

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