Warden's Stop of ATV Driver Set for Law Court Review

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
January 9, 2009 12:00 am

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The statute that now allows Maine game wardens to stop ATV riders without any suspicion of wrongdoing will be reviewed by Maine’s highest court next Tuesday, Jan. 13. The challenge to that statute stems from a warden’s stop of a rider in Aroostook County, and has brought the issue of suspicionless stops of ATV riders to the attention of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

That statute is being challenged by Brent McKeen, who was stopped by Game Warden Joshua Smith on August 5, 2007, as he drove on a trail in Mars Hill. Warden Smith has acknowledged that he had no particular suspicions concerning McKeen’s behavior before making the stop, but he forced McKeen to take a field sobriety test anyway.

The results of that test were thrown out by the Aroostook County Superior Court on the grounds that the statute granting wardens such expansive authority to stop ATV riders without suspicion is unconstitutional. Attorneys for the State are appealing that ruling to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in arguments scheduled for Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.

The Maine Civil Liberties Union Foundation has filed an amicus curiae brief in the case, arguing that the statute indeed violates the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

“This statute grants powers to the Warden Service that go far beyond what is acceptable under the Fourth Amendment,” said Zachary Heiden, Legal Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. “Under our Constitution, people should be free from unreasonable searches, and citizens should be left alone unless there is specific reason to believe they have committed a crime.”

The MCLU legal brief in the case cites several U.S. Supreme Court rulings which demonstrate that court’s determination of the crucial Fourth Amendment right to be protected from unreasonable searches. As an 1891 case spelled out the view of the nation’s highest court:

“No right is held more sacred, or is more carefully guarded….Than the right of every individual to the possession and control of his own person, free from all restraint or interference of others, unless by clear and unquestioned authority of law.” (Union Pacific Railroad v. Botsford.)

Ironically, the statute that is being challenged in the McKeen case seems to conflict with other parts of the state laws governing the Warden Service that require wardens to have reasonable cause to stop any motor vehicle, including ATVs.

“We’re hoping that this apparent conflict in statutes can get resolved in a manner that protects the Constitutional rights of ATV riders,” said Heiden.

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