A new ruling by the Supreme Court of Maine deals with the kinds of signals that police have to send in order to conduct a traffic stop. Unfortunately, the decision protects cops who make confusing signals, putting people in a difficult position where they don’t know what’s going on, but could face legal trouble for acting improperly.
The case, Maine v. Blier, dealt with a traffic stop at 10:30 pm on June 14, 2015. A Fort Kent police officer saw a car, driven by Dale Blier, with defective license plates. Instead of turning out his sirens and flashing lights, though, the officer turned on his cruiser’s “wig wag” lights. These alternately flash the cruiser’s headlights, first on one side of the car, then on the other.
Like many people in this situation, Blier didn’t think he had to pull over. He continued to drive for about 860 more feet and then turned into his driveway. The officer followed him, only turning on the flashing blue lights on top of his cruiser when he was in Blier’s driveway. The officer never turned on the sirens. When the officer caught up with Blier, Blier had keyed into his home and was over the threshold. The officer told Blier that he “needed” to return to his car to show his license and registration. While Blier did this, the officer noted the smell of alcohol, conducted field sobriety tests, and made an arrest for operating under the influence (OUI).
The trial court determined that, even though the police officer claimed that Blier was clearly refusing to stop, the circumstances of the “chase” made this objectively unreasonable. This meant that the detention on Blier’s doorstep was impermissible, so all of the resulting evidence was excluded from trial.
When the prosecutors appealed to the Supreme Court of Maine, though, the Supreme Court disagreed. According to the Supreme Court, these “wig wag” lights were considered “flashing emergency lights,” which require people to pull over. The court also made much of the fact that Blier continued to go inside, despite the cruiser in his driveway. This made the detention on Blier’s threshold permissible – there was probable cause to arrest Blier for failure to stop for an emergency vehicle – allowing all of the evidence of OUI into trial.
Maine v. Blier is another classic example of high-ranking judges bending over backward to excuse or justify poor police conduct in order to make a criminal charge stick. Unfortunately, pro-police, rationale-weak decisions like these that have little grounding in real life have very real repercussions on daily life. Now, police can claim that they were “trying” to pull someone over, despite using flashing lights that are generally considered to mean something entirely different.
These are times when having a solid criminal defense lawyer or OUI-defense attorney at your side is crucial. Call the law office of William T. Bly or contact him online if you’ve been charged with OUI or another crime in the state of Maine.
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