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State v. Taft

Superior Court of Maine, Kennebec

August 14, 2019



          Robert E. Mullen, Deputy Chief Justice

         This matter was heard and argued to the Court on July 1, 2019 with respect to the Defendant's Motion to Suppress filed August 2, 2018[1] The issues for the Court were reduced by counsel at hearing to whether there was reasonable articulable suspicion to stop the vehicle Defendant was driving, and whether Defendant was "de facto arrested during the stop" without probable cause to do so.

         After hearing, and after the Court has had the opportunity to review the file, the notes taken during the hearing, and the post-hearing briefs filed by counsel of record on July 29, 2019, the Court makes the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law upon which the Order set forth below is based:

         I. Findings of Fact:

         1. On February 1, 2018 at about 9:50 a.m. Officer Nathan Walker (hereinafter "Walker") received a call from fellow Special Agent King (hereinafter "King") of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency that there was going to be a drug transaction taking place shortly, and that King was seeking assistance from Walker. Walker had been in law enforcement since 2003. Walker was given a description of the motor vehicle thought to be involved, and began following what turned out to be a silver Chevrolet Impala from Windsor into Waterville. Other drug enforcement agents were also following the Impala.

         2. The vehicle was followed into the Burger King parking lot on College Avenue in Waterville. A woman exited the Impala and met another woman who exited a Ford Explorer. The two women got inside the Explorer for a short period of time. Then the first woman got back into the Impala and drove away, while the other woman went first to a red sedan, then next to a pickup truck, all for short periods of time.

         3. From his education and experience Walker believed a drug transaction(s) had just taken place based upon the conduct of the two women.

         4. While watching the Explorer the registration plate was "run", with the information coming back that the vehicle was registered to the Defendant. Walker had information from a reliable informant[2] that the Defendant was dealing drugs in the central Maine area.

         5. The Explorer left, and Walker followed the vehicle. The Explorer drove into Winslow, with Walker following. The Explorer stopped at a Subway shop, where the occupants got out and went into the shop to eat.

         6. Walker was told the vehicle was going to be stopped. The vehicle was in fact stopped on the bridge connecting Winslow with Waterville after the occupants got back into the Explorer and drove away.

         7. Officer Daniel Ames (hereinafter "Ames") is an experienced police officer with the Waterville Police Department for 31 years, the last seven years with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. He was another officer who followed the Explorer to Subway. While the occupants were in Subway Ames was told by his superior that the vehicle's occupants had engaged in a drug deal, that there were "pre-marked bills" in the vehicle, and that the vehicle should be stopped.

         8. The vehicle was thereafter stopped by law enforcement with their blue lights on their vehicles activated. The officers approached the vehicle at gunpoint and ordered the occupants out of the vehicle.[3] The Defendant was shortly handcuffed thereafter. The Defendant was found with a large wad of money, some of which were pre-marked bills. A drug-sniffing dog was brought to the scene of the stop by law enforcement. The woman (Ms. McNeil) initially denied possessing any drugs. When advised that the dog was going to "sniff" her to ascertain whether drugs were present on her, Ms. McNeil turned over a quantity of material that the officers believed were illegal drugs from her person[4], informing the officers that the Defendant had passed the drugs to her after seeing the law enforcement officers. The suspected drugs were not field-tested. Law enforcement subsequently conducted a "canine sniff" of the vehicle that resulted in the suspicion that drugs were present. The dog "hit" on the passenger side of the vehicle.

         II. Conclusions of Law:

         9. The Defendant challenges the conclusion that there was reasonable, articulable suspicion to stop the Defendant's vehicle while it was on the bridge connecting Waterville and Winslow. The Defendant also contends that his interaction with the police after the stop of his vehicle amounted to a de facto arrest ...

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