-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger
A trooper with the Maine State Police clocked a red Pontiac doing 71 MPH in a 45 MPH zone. As the trooper was making a turn to pursue the Pontiac, a motorcycle passed him. After a brief pursuit the trooper lost sight of the Pontiac and arrived at a fork in the road. After proceeding a brief distance and not seeing the Pontiac, the trooper returned to the fork and saw the motorcycle, operated by Ronald A. LaPlante.
The trooper pulled over LaPlante for the sole purpose of asking about the direction the Pontiac had gone. The trooper noticed LaPlante was unstable on his feet and had thick speech. The Pontiac was now forgotten and LaPlante was charged with criminal operating under the influence.
LaPlante plead guilty, conditionally, and, because of his existing driving record, was sentenced to two years of imprisonment. Only 60 days of that sentence was suspended. LaPlante moved to suppress the evidence obtained during the vehicle stop but the trial court denied the motion.
In the opinion of the court the traffic stop was a seizure for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment. Since the trooper had no reasonably articulated suspicion of any wrongdoing, the seizure was unreasonable.
The court addressed the three factors from Brown v. Texas:
Consideration of the constitutionality of such seizures 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.
The court found that the investigation of noncriminal offenses is generally not a significantly grave public concern to outweigh the motorist’s liberty interest.
The court cites Brandeis, J., in his dissent in Olmstead v. United States, that “the right to be let alone—the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.” The court found that the interference with LaPlante’s liberty interest was significant.
The court vacated LaPlante’s conviction.
Why is it that dissents, such as Brandeis’ above, often have the best jurisprudence?