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State v. Connors
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MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT					Reporter of Decisions
Decision:	1999 ME 125
Docket:	Aro-98-424	
on briefs:	June 29, 1999	
Decided:	August 2, 1999


	[¶1]  The State of Maine appeals from an order entered in the District
Court (Fort Kent, Daigle, J.) suppressing evidence obtained from an
investigatory stop of vehicles operated by Roland D. Connors and
Jake A. Harvey.  The State contends that the stops were based on reasonable
articulable suspicion and accordingly the court erred by granting the motion
to suppress.  We agree and vacate the judgment
	[¶2]  The facts are essentially undisputed.  The North Maine Woods
(N.M.W.) acts as an agent for various landowners.  In Township 16, Range
Nine, W.E.L.S., at Third Pelletier Brook Lake, it maintains a campsite. 
Although there is a fee for its overnight use, the campsite is accessible
without passing through a N.M.W. gate and, therefore, it is not subject to the
same controls as other N.M.W. sites.  Forest Ranger Lance Martin had
received numerous complaints that the site was being used illegally to hold
parties and that property was being destroyed during these parties.  Martin
had investigated the site on previous occasions and observed burned picnic
tables, burned shelters, litter, trash, newly seeded lawn destroyed by
spinning car tires, and evidence of fires which far exceeded the permitted
	[¶3]  On May 9, 1998, at approximately 9:30 P.M., Martin stopped a
vehicle traveling on the gravel road leading to Third Pelletier Brook Lake for
a litter violation.  All of the passengers were minors.  A cup smelling strongly
of alcohol had been thrown out the vehicle window.  The passengers told
Martin that they had just left a party that was going on at the N.M.W.
campsite.  State Trooper Daniel Marquis and Game Warden Chuck Richard
responded to Martin's request for backup.  When they arrived, Martin
briefed them on the situation.  The officials proceeded, in separate law
enforcement vehicles, toward the party, briefly stopping each vehicle they
encountered in order to ask the passengers what was happening at the Lake.  
	[¶4]  As they continued toward the campsite, the road narrowed, and
the officials exited their vehicles and proceeded on foot.  They could see a
group of people gathered around a fire burning in the campsite, and could
hear music playing.  While walking, the officials questioned the occupants of
between 6-10 vehicles leaving the area of the campsite.  Connors and Harvey
were among the individuals in vehicles leaving the area of the party.  Officer
Marquis initially approached and questioned Connors, and Warden Richards
initially approached and questioned Harvey.{1}
	[¶5]  According to Officer Marquis, "we just stood on the side of the
road, and when Mr. Connors came up, he saw us, and we started walkin'
towards him" and he stopped.  Game Warden Richard watched Harvey's
pickup truck stop behind another vehicle.  Richard approached Harvey's
vehicle, shined a flashlight inside, and detected an odor of intoxicants.
	[¶6]  Harvey was charged with illegal transportation of liquor by a
minor, in violation of 28-A M.R.S.A. § 2052 (Supp. 1998), and Connors was
charged with operating under the influence, in violation of
29-A M.R.S.A. § 2411 (1996 & Supp. 1998).  Both Harvey and Connors filed
motions to suppress.  On July 8, 1998, the court held a joint hearing on the
motions.  The court concluded that the officials lacked articulable suspicion
that either Harvey or Connors was engaged in illegal activity.  The Attorney
General approved the taking of an appeal by the State pursuant to
15 M.R.S.A. § 2115-A (1980 & Supp. 1998) and M.R. Crim. P. 37B(b).	
	[¶7]  The State contends that the law enforcement officials had
reasonable articulable suspicion sufficient to support a brief investigatory
stop.  The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and
Article 1, Section 5 of the Maine Constitution protects individuals from
unreasonable searches and seizures.  See State v. Nelson, 638 A.2d 720, 722
(Me. 1994).  "In order to support a brief investigatory stop of a motor
vehicle . . . a police officer must have an articulable suspicion that criminal
conduct or a civil violation has occurred, is occurring, or is about to occur,
and the officer's suspicion must be 'objectively reasonable in the totality of
the circumstances.'"{2}  State v. Brown, 1997 ME 90, ¶ 5, 694 A.2d 453
(quoting State v. Cusack, 649 A.2d 16, 18 (Me. 1994)).  
	[¶8]  Reasonable suspicion is "considerably less than proof of
wrongdoing by a preponderance of the evidence . . . [and] is obviously less
demanding than that for probable cause."  United States v. Sokolow,
490 U.S. 1, 7 (1989) (citations omitted).  A police officer need only
"articulate something more than 'an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion
or hunch.'"  Id.  (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 27 (1968)).  "Our review
of a motion justice's findings of the historical facts is deferential, but when
the challenge is to the legal conclusion drawn from the historical facts our
review is de novo."  State v. Storey, 1998 ME 161, ¶ 8, 713 A.2d 331, 333
(citing State v. Rizzo, 1997 ME 215, ¶ 11, 704 A.2d 339, 343 n.6).
	[¶9]  When determining whether a law enforcement official had
articulable suspicion, the "key is what the officer observed, and whether it
was reasonable in the totality of the circumstances known to him to
conclude that a stop was justified."  Cusack, 649 A.2d at 19 (citing Nelson,
638 A.2d at 722).  Based on the circumstances of this case, stopping
Connors's and Harvey's vehicles was justified.  Prior to this stop, Forest
Ranger Martin had stopped a vehicle for littering.  The passengers in that
vehicle, all of whom were minors, had thrown a cup which smelled of
alcohol out their vehicle window.  When questioned, they informed Martin
that a party was in progress at the N.M.W. campsite, at Third Pelletier Lake. 
That information was sufficient for the officials to suspect that minors were
illegally possessing and consuming alcohol at the campsite.  Moreover, the
use of the campsite was not authorized.  Witnessing the defendants leave the
campsite area was sufficient to justify a suspicion that Connors and Harvey
had trespassed on the campsite, providing an additional basis to briefly stop
their vehicles.  See 17-A M.R.S.A. § 402 (Supp. 1998).   
	[¶10]  Based on the circumstances of this case, a suspicion that
Connors and Harvey were either consuming or had possession of alcohol
while under the legal age, or were trespassing was reasonable and articulable
and therefore the stop of their vehicles was justified.  Accordingly, we vacate
the court order suppressing the evidence obtained from the investigatory
stop and remand the case to the District Court.
	The entry is:
Order of suppression vacated.  Remanded to
the District Court for further proceedings
consistent with this opinion.

Atorneys for the State: Neale T. Adams, District Attorney John M. Pluto, Dep. Dist. Atty. Aroostook County Courthouse 144 Sweden St. Caribou, Maine 04736 Attorney for the defendant: Jefferson T. Ashby, Esq. Hardings Law Offices 427-429 Main St. Presque Isle, Maine 04769
FOOTNOTES******************************** {1} . The parties do not challenge, and we therefore do not address, the court's determination that approaching and questioning the defendants constituted a "seizure" implicating the Fourth Amendment. See State v. Brewer, 1999 ME 58, ¶ 11-12, 727 A.2d 352, 355. {2} . An officer is justified in making an investigatory stop if, at the time of the stop: (1) the officer has an "articulable suspicion" of a civil violation or criminal activity; and (2) such suspicion is "objectively reasonable in the totality of the circumstances." State v. Lear, 1998 ME 273, ¶ 5, 722 A.2d 1266, 1267 (citation omitted).