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State v. Stilphen

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

August 16, 2019



          Deborah P. Cashman, Judge.

         This matter came before the court on July 18, 2019 for hearing on Defendant's motion to suppress. Defendant was present and represented by Attorney Robert Levine, Esquire. The State was represented by Assistant District Attorney Deborah A. Chmielewski, Esquire.

         At the onset of the hearing, Defendant clarified the issues raised by her motion to suppress. Specifically, Defendant challenges whether there was sufficient probable cause to arrest and whether her Due Process rights were violated and therefore any evidence related to her refusal to take a chemical test must be suppressed. Defendant specifically stipulated that she was not challenging whether or not there was reasonable articulable suspicion to stop Defendant's vehicle, but rather she was challenging the voluntariness of the test and/or refusal to submit to the test under a due process analysis.

         The court heard the testimony of Officer Matthew Yeaton of the Falmouth Police Department and admitted Defendant's Exhibit 1, a Social Security Administration Notice of Decision dated Marcy 22, 2012, without objection. After hearing, and having considered all of the evidence and arguments presented, the court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         Matthew Yeaton has been employed as a law enforcement officer for eighteen years with the last two years by the Town of Falmouth. Presently he is assigned as a detective, and prior to that assignment he was a patrol officer with the Falmouth Police Department. Prior to joining the Falmouth Police Department, Detective Yeaton was employed by the Monmouth Police Department, the Wells Police Department, and the Saco Police Department where he spent approximately fourteen years. Additionally, Detective Yeaton has been a senior instructor in OUI, Field Sobriety Tests for the Maine State Criminal Justice Academy for fourteen years.

         On January 26, 2019, at approximately 1:00 am, Detective Yeaton was working as a patrol officer, patrolling the Gray Road area in Falmouth. As he traveled south bound on the Gray Road, Detective Yeaton observed a vehicle traveling northbound at a high rate of speed. Traffic was light and the observed vehicle was the only other vehicle on the road other than Detective Yeaton's vehicle. The posted speed for the area was 35 mph. Detective Yeaton visually estimated the vehicle's speed to be 45 mph and confirmed at 45 mph using his radar. Detective Yeaton turned his vehicle, pulling in behind the observed vehicle and initiated a traffic stop.

         Detective Yeaton identified the driver and sole occupant of the vehicle to be Defendant, Christine Stilphen, through her Maine State Driver's License. He informed Defendant as to the reason for stopping her. While speaking with Defendant, Detective Yeaton noted the smell of alcohol coming from the driver's window area. As Defendant was producing her documentation, Detective Yeaton noted an open bag which contained what appeared to be empty Bud Light aluminum bottles. Defendant acknowledged that she had been drinking earlier in the evening with a friend, stating that she had had consumed two aluminum bottles of Bud light beer a couple hours earlier.

         Detective Yeaton requested Defendant to step out of her vehicle so that he could perform field sobriety tests. The tests were conducted in the space between Defendant's vehicle and the officer's vehicle. The area was well lit by both street lights for the adjacent toll booth area as well as Detective Yeaton's vehicle lights and flashlight. The weather was clear and cold, consistent with January weather.

         Prior to conducting the field sobriety tests, Detective Yeaton asked Defendant if she had any medical conditions, physical ailments, or if she was under a doctor's care. He also asked if she was on or prescribed any medication or if she had taken any illegal drugs. Defendant answered no to all the questions except noting that she did wear glasses for nearsightedness.

         Detective Yeaton began the field sobriety tests with the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN). After the officer explained the HGN test to Defendant she acknowledged that she understood. Detective Yeaton observed six out of six clues during this test: lack of smooth pursuit, distinct and sustained nystagmus at maximum deviation, and the onset of nystagmus prior to 45 degrees in both eyes.

         Detective Yeaton next asked Defendant to perform the "Walk and Turn" test. Detective Yeaton instructed Defendant to stand with her feet together and watch as he explained and demonstrated the test. While in that so-called "instructional position," Defendant lost her balance, stepped out of the instructional position, and attempted to start the test before being instructed to do so. Once Detective Yeaton finished explaining the test, Defendant indicated that she understood it and believed she could complete the test as requested.. During the test, Detective Yeaton identified the following clues: Defendant stepped off the fog line, lost her balance, used her arms for balance and took more than the requested number of steps. After turning around, Defendant again stepped off the line and raised her arms for balance.

         Finally, Detective Yeaton asked Defendant to perform the One Leg Stand test. He explained the test, and asked if Defendant understood, which she indicated that she did and thought she could conduct the test as requested. While performing the test, Defendant was unable to keep her foot elevated to the requested height, she lost her balance, put her foot down early, and did not count out loud as instructed. Detective Yeaton also noted that Defendant swaying back and forth during the test. At the completion of the field sobriety tests, Detective Yeaton, based on his observations of Defendant throughout his contact with her and his determination that she was under the influence, placed her under arrest for operating under the influence.

         Detective Yeaton transported Defendant to the Cumberland County Jail to perform the intoxilizer test. Once seated in the intoxilizer room, Detective Yeaton explained to Defendant that they were there for her to take the test. Defendant informed Detective Yeaton that she would not be taking the test and that she did not have to take the test if she chose not to. At that point Detective Yeaton read, verbatim, the State of Maine Implied Consent form, after which Defendant again stated that she would not be taking the test. The two talked about the test for a few minutes, at no time did Defendant change her mind, and continued to refuse to take the test. Detective Yeaton noted her refusal to submit to the test. Throughout her interactions with the officer, her answers were responsive and Detective Yeaton believed that Defendant understood the process, the intoxilizer, and what was being requested of her.

         The court admitted, over objection from the State, a 2012 Notice of Decision from a Social Security Disability Adjudication hearing offered by Defendant. In that decision, Defendant was found, for the purposes of whether or not Defendant ...

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