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State v. Bennett-Roberson

Supreme Court of Maine

April 4, 2019

STATE OF MAINE
v.
AMANDA BENNETT-ROBERSON

          Argued: December 12, 2018

          R. Christopher Almy, District Attorney, and Mark A. Rucci, Asst. Dist. Atty. (orally), Prosecutorial District V, Bangor, for appellant State of Maine

          Tina Heather Nadeau, Esq. (orally), The Law Office of Tina Heather Nadeau, PLLC, Portland, for appellee Amanda Bennett-Roberson

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          HUMPHREY, J.

         [¶1] The State of Maine appeals from an order of the trial court (Penobscot County, Budd, J.) suppressing evidence obtained during a traffic stop after a Maine State Police trooper stopped and ordered Amanda Bennett-Roberson out of the motor vehicle she was driving so that he could administer field sobriety tests to her. Because we conclude that the motion court erred in restricting its legal analysis to evidence of the events and circumstances occurring at and prior to the moment that the trooper realized that the operator was not the person who was the subject of the complaint that led to the traffic stop, we vacate the suppression order and remand for the court to determine whether the trooper's subsequent actions were reasonably related in scope to the purpose of the initial stop.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] Viewed in the light most favorable to the court's order, the following facts are supported by the evidence presented at the suppression hearing. State v. Blier, 2017 ME 103, ¶ 3, 162 A.3d 829. On the evening of August 2, 2017, the trooper received a report that a caller, who identified himself by name, had observed a "visibly intoxicated" man walking around the parking lot in front of a store and repeatedly getting in and out of a vehicle, which the caller described. The trooper believed that the caller's self-identification added to the credibility of the report. The trooper responded to the location and, from a distance, observed three or four individuals in the store's parking lot milling around a vehicle matching the description provided by the caller, several of whom were getting in and out of the vehicle.

         [¶3] At the suppression hearing, the trooper testified that, from his vantage point, he was unable to determine the gender or discern any identifying characteristics of the individuals around the vehicle because of the glare from the setting sun. After several minutes, the trooper observed three people get into the vehicle, which then exited the parking lot onto a public way.

         [¶4] The trooper did not observe any erratic operation or traffic infractions, but immediately activated the cruiser's blue lights to stop the vehicle because he believed that it was being operated by the intoxicated male. The vehicle pulled over promptly and appropriately.

         [¶5] When the trooper approached the vehicle, he "immediately" realized that the driver was a female, not a male. There were two male passengers in the vehicle-one was seated in the front, the other in the rear. At the trooper's request, the operator produced the vehicle's registration, but she did not have her license and said it was at her home. The operator appeared to have a "droopy" look to her face and her speech was slurred. The trooper, who is a certified drug recognition expert, testified that his observations suggested possible drug impairment. The operator of the vehicle, Bennett-Roberson, denied consuming alcohol but admitted that she had taken prescription medication. She did not identify the medication she had taken. The trooper then asked her to exit the vehicle to conduct field sobriety tests.[1]

         [¶6] Bennett-Roberson was arrested for operating under the influence (Class D), 29-A M.R.S. § 24ll(l-A)(A)(1) (2018), and operating a motor vehicle without a license (Class E), 29-A M.R.S. § l25l(1)(A) (2018).

         [¶7] On February 28, 2018, Bennett-Roberson filed a motion to suppress all evidence stemming from the stop of her vehicle. She argued that the trooper lacked a reasonable and articulable suspicion to initiate the stop and did not have a reasonable and articulable suspicion to order her out of the vehicle to conduct further investigation-including field sobriety testing-because his suspicion that an intoxicated male was operating the vehicle dissipated as soon as he realized that the operator was a female.[2] The State argued that the trooper was justified in initiating the stop and in ordering Bennett-Roberson out of the vehicle because his order was reasonably related to the basis for the initial stop.

         [¶8] The court granted Bennett-Roberson's motion, concluding that the initial seizure-the vehicle stop-was valid, but the subsequent investigatory seizure-the license check and the trooper's order that she exit the vehicle- was not, and suppressed "[a]ll evidence gathered from the point at which the [trooper] determined the driver of the vehicle to be a female." The court reasoned that, as soon as the trooper realized that the driver was female, the "basis for the stop ceased to exist" because his concerns that an intoxicated male was operating the vehicle under the influence were "no longer supported" by the facts then available to him. The State ...


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