DECISION ON MOTION TO SUPPRESS
WILLIAM R. STOKES JUSTICE.
the court is the Defendant's Motion to Suppress Stop
dated April 2, 2019. Hearing on the motion was held on August
6, 2019, at which the court received the testimony of Trooper
Hunter Belanger. The court also admitted into evidence,
without objection, Exhibit 1 being the video from Trooper
Belanger's cruiser that recorded the stop and the minutes
leading up to it, when the trooper began following Mr.
court has viewed Exhibit 1 multiple times. Based on the
evidence presented at the hearing, the court makes the
following factual findings.
December 16, 2018, at approximately midnight, Trooper
Belanger was on patrol and stopped along Water Street in
Hallowell in his marked cruiser. He saw the Defendant's
(Clardy's) vehicle pull out of the waterfront parking
lot, turn right and head towards Augusta. Nothing about the
way the vehicle pulled out caused Trooper Belanger to be
suspicious, but he was aware that there are establishments
along Water Street that offer alcoholic beverages for sale at
that hour. Exhibit 1, the cruiser camera video, shows Trooper
Belanger pulling out and heading in the direction of the
Clardy vehicle. At approximately 59 seconds into the video,
Clardy's vehicle can be seen drifting to the left and
"touching" the yellow center line. An instant
later, Clardy's vehicle "cuts" back into its
lane, and the headlights of two on-coming vehicles can be
Belanger can be heard describing what he saw as he was
observing it: "vehicle just drifts over, hits the yellow
line, and cuts back into the lane." In the court's
view, while the touching of the yellow center line and the
"jerk" back to the right into the travel lane, were
slight and quick, they were clearly observable. The court
found Trooper Belanger credible when he explained how his
actual vision of an incident can be better than what can be
observed on the video.
30 seconds later or so later, the trooper saw Clardy's
vehicle cross over the double yellow lines of a turning lane.
This incident is very clearly seen on Exhibit 1, and involved
both left tires crossing over and into the turning lane. At
that point, Trooper Belanger initiated a stop of Clardy's
vehicle, which is the subject of this motion to suppress.
contends that Trooper Belanger's stop of his vehicle was
illegal, because it was not supported by any reasonable and
articulable suspicion. In particular, Clardy cites State
v. Caron, 534 A.2d 978 (Me. 1987), as support for his
claim that the trooper's observation of a slight touching
of the yellow center line did not constitute reasonable,
Court has recently reaffirmed that "[a] stop is
justified when an officer's assessment of the existence
of specific and articulable facts indicating a possible
violation of law or a public safety risk is objectively
reasonable considering the totality of the
circumstances." State v. Simmons, 2016 ME ME
91, ¶ 9, quoting State v. Connor, 2009 ME 91,
¶ 10, 977 A.2d 1003. "[T]he threshold for
demonstrating an objectively reasonable suspicion necessary
to justify a vehicle stop is low .... The suspicion need only
be more than a speculation or an unsubstantiated hunch."
State v. LaForge, 2012 ME 65, ¶ 10, 43 A.3d
961. "Safety reasons alone can be sufficient if they are
based upon 'specific and articulable facts'"
State v. Pinkham, 565 A.2d 318, 319 (Me. 1989).
See State v. Fuller, 556 A.2d 224 (Me. 1989)
(blinking headlights which officer believed were possibly
defective justified stop).
Caron case involved a single straddle of the center
line. The Court made a point that there were no oncoming
vehicles. Here, the drifting of Clardy's vehicle did
coincide with the approach of oncoming traffic. One may infer
that Clardy himself recognized a potential safety concern as
evidenced by his clearly observable "cut" or
"jerk" back into his travel lane. The concern is
also evidenced by Trooper Belanger's verbal description
of what he saw as he was seeing it. A short time later,
Clardy's vehicle crossed the double yellow lines of a
turning lane, before moving back into its own lane of travel.
on these incidents, and considering the time of night,
Trooper Belanger had an objectively reasonable suspicion,
based on articulable facts, that Clardy's operation of
the vehicle constituted lane violations and posed a potential
public safety risk. See, e.g., State v. Cusack, ...