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State v. Reed-Hansen

Supreme Court of Maine

April 16, 2019


          Argued: March 5, 2019

          Andrew S. Robinson, District Attorney, and Joseph M. O'Connor, Asst. Dist. Atty. (orally), Office of the District Attorney, South Paris, for appellant State of Maine

          Rory A. McNamara, Esq. (orally), Drake Law, LLC, Berwick, for appellee Matthew C. Reed-Hansen

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

          SAUFLEY, C.J.

         [¶l] In this unusual appeal, the State challenges an order of the court (Oxford County, L. Walker, J.) imposing a significant discovery sanction following the State's failure to provide to the defendant a dash-cam video of the defendant ostensibly committing the crime for which he was charged. The State challenges both the finding of a discovery violation and the judge's choice of sanction. We discern no error or abuse of discretion, and we affirm the court's order.

          I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] Matthew C. Reed-Hansen was stopped by a Maine State Police trooper for having an expired inspection sticker. As a result of the stop, he was charged with and indicted for operating after revocation (Class C), 29-A M.R.S. § 2557-A(2)(B) (2018), and he made his initial appearance on December 6, 2017. The ensuing indictment, dated December 14, 2017, alleged that on December 5, 2017, Reed-Hansen was operating a motor vehicle on a public way after his license had been revoked. Shortly after he was indicted, Reed-Hansen sent the State a "standard discovery request letter request[ing] any and all video or audio that would have been created as part of this stop," see M.R.U. Crim. P. 16(c). The State did not provide Reed-Hansen with any video or audio in response to that request, and, as was later shown, the prosecutor did not make an effort to determine if any such recording existed.

         [¶3] Reed-Hansen was arraigned on the indictment on February 21, 2018, at which time the court held a dispositional conference, and the matter was not resolved. The following day, pursuant to M.R.U. Crim. P. 12(b)(3)(A), Reed-Hansen filed a motion to suppress the evidence from the stop. See M.R.U. Crim. P. 41A. A hearing on the motion to suppress was held on May 11, 2018.

          [¶4] The only witness for the State at the hearing was the trooper, who testified that he saw the expired sticker as Reed-Hansen passed him, coming from the opposite direction. He estimated that both he and Reed-Hansen were traveling at approximately fifty miles per hour. In response to a question from Reed-Hanson at the hearing, the trooper confirmed that he was running a dash-cam at the time Reed-Hansen drove by him. The court stopped the hearing in order to allow the parties to address the discovery failure.

         [¶5] The trooper was quickly able to obtain a copy of the video for both parties to review. The court heard a consistent description of the brief video from the parties, and the State conceded that, although the video had been requested by Reed-Hansen pursuant to Rule 16(c), the trooper had not been asked for the video and it had not been turned over to the defendant. Reed-Hansen requested that the court grant his motion to suppress as a sanction for the State's discovery violation. See M.R.U. Crim. P. 16(c), (e).

         [¶6] Rather than suggesting a continuance or other remedy, the State repeatedly insisted that there was no harm to Reed-Hansen arising from its failure to turn the video over because the video had no "evidentiary value" and the State did not "hear[]... any claim of any prejudice against the Defendant as a result of this."

          [¶7] The court's patience was obviously tried by the State's continued insistence that the video showing the alleged crime being committed had no "evidentiary value." The State's response was puzzling: "It does show the vehicle approaching. It shows the police officer turning around and pursuing him. I don't think there's anything of evidentiary value ...." Given the State's unfounded insistence that there was no harm from the discovery violation, and the State's failure to suggest any reasonable alternative to Reed-Hansen's motion, the court granted Reed-Hansen's request, ordering that "all evidence obtained as a result of the stop is ORDERED suppressed from use at trial... [a]s a sanction for the State's discovery violation for failing to produce [the] video."

         [¶8] Responding to the State's motion for findings, the court issued an order making additional findings of facts and stating its conclusions of law. In its order, the court rebuked the State for its approach to its discovery obligations and affirmed its earlier order granting Reed-Hansen's motion to suppress. See M.R.U. Crim. P. 4lA(d). With the written approval of Attorney ...

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