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Law School Case Brief

State v. Nelson - 638 A.2d 720 (Me. 1994)

Rule:

An investigatory stop is justified if at the time of the stop the officer has an articulable suspicion that criminal conduct has taken place, is occurring, or imminently will occur, and the officer's assessment of the existence of specific and articulable facts sufficient to warrant the stop is objectively reasonable in the totality of the circumstances. A determination whether based upon the whole picture the detaining officers have a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity, contains questions of both fact and law. The question whether the officer's suspicion is objectively reasonable is purely a question of law. The suspicion for the stop must be based on information available to the officer at the time of the stop and cannot be bolstered by evidence secured by the stop.

Facts:

Defendant and a passenger were observed by an officer drinking a can of beer in a parked truck. After defendant's passenger left the truck and entered his own vehicle, defendant drove off in the pickup truck. The officer immediately pulled out behind defendant's vehicle and made an enforcement stop. At no time did the officer observe anything unusual about the operation of defendant's truck. Defendant was subsequently convicted of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence. On appeal, defendant argued that because the officer stopped his vehicle illegally, the lower court erred when it denied his motion to suppress the evidence secured from the stop.

Issue:

Did the officer, who observed nothing unusual about the operation of defendant's truck, illegally stop the defendant’s vehicle?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court held that where the officer did not observe defendant's vehicle being operated erratically, nor did the officer offer any reason for stopping defendant's vehicle other than his suspicion that defendant was under the influence of alcohol, the officer did not have a reasonable suspicion to stop defendant's vehicle. The Court averred that consumption of one can of beer was insufficient to create a reasonable suspicion of intoxication. Hence, the Court vacated defendant’s conviction.

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