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State v. John Huether

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MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT					Reporter of Decisions
Decision:	2000 ME 59
Docket:	Cum-99-598
on Briefs:	February 25, 2000
Decided:	April 7, 2000

		and CALKINS, JJ.



	[¶1]  John Huether appeals from a conviction entered in the Superior
Court (Cumberland County, Crowley, J.) following his conditional guilty plea
to one count of operating a motor vehicle after suspension.  On appeal,
Huether contends that the District Court{1} (Portland, Sheldon, J.) erred
when it refused to suppress evidence, obtained during an investigatory stop,
that Huether had been driving while his license was suspended.  Huether
contends the stop violated the Fourth Amendment's protection against
unreasonable search and seizure because the investigating officer did not
have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that would justify the stop. 
Finding no error, we affirm the judgment.
	[¶2]  The relevant facts may be summarized as follows: On January 21,
1999, Detective Estabrook of the Cumberland County Sheriff's office was
driving an unmarked car west on Route 302 in Windham when he took
particular notice of a vehicle in front of him.  From his vantage point, which
was at a slight angle behind the car, Estabrook could see that the driver had
dark black, bushy hair.  Estabrook thought he recognized the driver as Gary
Clark.  Clark also had black curly hair, and Estabrook had had several
contacts with him, though at least a year had passed since the last time they
had met.
	[¶3]  Based upon this identification, Estabrook radioed for a
registration check of the car and discovered that the car was registered to
Clark and that Clark's license was suspended.  The car was not being driven
erratically, nor could Estabrook discern any criminal activity beyond the
possibility that the driver was operating a vehicle while his license was
under suspension.  Because he was in an unmarked car, Estabrook asked the
Windham police to send a marked car to perform a stop.  Before the marked
car arrived, however, the vehicle pulled into the parking lot of an auto body
shop.  Estabrook radioed Windham to redirect the patrol car and then
followed the car into the lot, parking directly behind it so that it could not
leave.  Estabrook approached the driver and asked him for identification.  
	[¶4]  The driver handed Estabrook a Maine State I.D., not a driver's
license.  At that point and for the first time, Estabrook realized that the
driver was John Huether and not Gary Clark.  Nonetheless, Estabrook
checked Huether's identification by radio and discovered that Huether had
five active suspensions.  The check on Huether's identification was the
detective's standard practice, done so that he could determine if the driver
had any outstanding warrants.
	[¶5]  Huether was charged in the District Court with operating after
suspension.  Huether moved to suppress all evidence arising from
Estabrook's stop.  The court denied the motion after a hearing.  Following
transfer to the Superior Court, the State and Huether agreed that Huether
would enter a conditional guilty plea to the charge and would receive a seven
day sentence and a $1,000 fine.  The Superior Court accepted the plea and
entered judgment against Huether.  Huether appeals from this judgment.
	[¶6]  On appeal, Huether argues that, at most, Estabrook had a mere
"hunch" that Clark was driving the car and that, in the absence of other
observable criminal activity, that "hunch" was not enough to give rise to a
reasonable and articulable suspicion to justify the stop.  We review the
District Court's finding that the stop was justified for clear error.  See State
v. Brown, 675 A.2d 504, 505 (Me. 1996).  "The legitimacy of an
investigatory search or seizure requires a two-step analysis."  State v. Storey,
1998 ME 161, ¶ 12, 713 A.2d 331, 334.  We first determine whether the
initial stop was justified; if it was, then we look to what actions were taken
during the stop to determine whether those actions were "reasonably
related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the
first place."  State v. Hill, 606 A.2d 793, 795 (Me. 1992).
	[¶7]  As the District Court noted, we have already analyzed the same
facts presented by this case.  In State v. Hill, 606 A.2d 793 (Me. 1992), an
officer stopped a truck in the belief that it was unregistered because there
was no license plate on the rear of the vehicle.  See id. at 794.  Prior to
reaching the cab of the vehicle but after he had stopped the vehicle, the
officer realized that the license plate was located in the rear window of the
cab.  See id. at 794-95.  Because the officer had made the stop before his
suspicion had dissipated, the stop was permissible.  See id. at 795. 
Likewise, when Estabrook stopped Huether, Estabrook was operating on
more than just a hunch that the operator of the vehicle was Clark.  Not only
did the driver resemble Clark, but the car was registered to Clark, a fact
which could only reinforce the reasonableness of Estabrook's belief that
Clark was driving.  Estabrook knew that Clark's license was suspended.  The
detective therefore had a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the car
was being operated by a driver under suspension.  As in Hill, this suspicion
did not dissipate until after the stop: it was only when Estabrook looked at
Huether's identification that the detective realized his mistake.
	[¶8]  In neither Hill nor the present case, however, did the
investigating officer withdraw at the moment that the initial suspicion
evaporated.  In Hill, the officer proceeded to ask the driver of the truck for
identification, and in the process of obtaining the driver's identification
discovered that the driver had been drinking.  See id.  Likewise, Estabrook
took Huether's identification and performed a check for outstanding
warrants.  By the time he took this action, Estabrook's suspicion had
evaporated.  Estabrook knew that Clark had not operated the vehicle, and he
did not yet know that Huether also had suspensions.{2}  Having concluded that
the initial stop was justified, we must turn to the determination of whether
the search exceeded its permissible scope.  See id.  As we held in Hill, the
identification request was reasonably related to the circumstances justifying
the initial stop:
[The] reasonableness determination involves a weighing of the
gravity of the public concerns served by the seizure, the degree
to which the seizure advances the public interest, and the
severity of the interference with individual liberty.  In this case,
Hill was validly stopped for a suspected traffic violation.  Officer
Low then sought to ensure that Hill was neither unlicensed nor
operating an unregistered vehicle.  Balancing this significant
State interest against the minimal further intrusion of asking
Hill for the documents, we hold that Officer Low did not
unreasonably intrude on Hill's fourth amendment rights.
Id. (internal citations and quotations omitted).  This analysis applies equally
to the present case.  
	The entry is:
					Judgment affirmed.
Attorneys for State: Stephanie Anderson, District Attorney Julia A. Sheridan, Asst. Dist. Atty. 142 Federal Street Portland, ME 04101 Attorney for defendant: Anthony J. Sineni III, Esq. 701 Congress Street Portland, ME 04102
FOOTNOTES******************************** {1} . Although the case was commenced in District Court, it was transferred to the Superior Court after the motion to suppress was denied. {2} . The fact that Huether gave Estabrook an I.D. rather than a license does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that Estabrook had reasonable and articulable suspicion for the identification check. Although Estabrook was aware that state law requires that drivers must "have the license in immediate possession when operating a motor vehicle," 29-A M.R.S.A. § 1408 (1996), Estabrook indicated that the identification check was made as part of routine practice rather than from any suspicion arising from the presentation of an I.D. An officer must actually have a suspicion at the time of the search or seizure in order for that suspicion to support the officer's actions. See State v. Chapman, 495 A.2d 314, 317 (Me. 1985).