The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Wednesday heard oral arguments in a case that could limit the rights of police officers to arrest people for minor infractions like traffic violations.

“It’s not too much to ask that police only arrest when there’s a need,” said Zachary Heiden, the chief counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and the attorney representing a Waterboro man who was arrested in 2018 for blocking a school bus from exiting a private road near his house. “Caleb Gaul brought this case so that nobody will have to experience what he experienced. He wants justice for himself and his family, he also wants justice for everybody in Maine.”

Zachary Heiden, the chief counsel at the ACLU of Maine, at Kennebec County Superior Court in September. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Gaul’s case against York County and the sheriff’s deputy who arrested him arrived in the state’s high court after a York County Superior Court judge dismissed his claims that the arrest violated his rights under the Maine Constitution. Heiden argued Wednesday in his appeal that the arrest constituted an unreasonable seizure – and a dangerous overreach of police power.

He said Maine law enforcement officers must have a reasonable reason, such as protecting public safety, to arrest someone without a warrant, and they had no such reason to arrest Gaul.

But it was unclear whether the court was sympathetic to Heiden’s interpretation of the case. They pointed to several issues, including the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Fourth Amendment, which uses almost the exact same language as the Maine Constitution, grants police broad authority to arrest people for any minor violation of the law.

They questioned whether requiring police to determine whether an arrest is “reasonable” could be too confusing to be useful in practice. And they expressed doubt that Gaul could win his legal case against the man who arrested him because of rules protecting law enforcement officers from liability.



Caleb Gaul was on his way to work on the morning of Jan. 30, 2018, when he found an RSU 57 school bus parked at the bottom of Gold Mine Trail in Waterboro – a large hill that Gaul describes in court records as his driveway, but which authorities say is a private road that Gaul has access to but does not own. It was an icy day, and Gaul said he needed to swerve his pickup truck to avoid hitting the bus.

Gaul got out of his truck and got into an argument with the bus driver, who refused to move the bus. The driver later said that he regularly parked the bus on Gold Mine Trail before beginning his daily route, though Gaul disputed this. In response, Gaul parked his truck in front of the bus, then walked back up to his home “to warn his wife about the safety risk posed by the school bus,” according to Gaul’s brief to the state’s high court.

When he returned on foot a few minutes later, he was greeted by York County Sheriff’s Deputy Joshua Morneau.

Morneau asked Gaul to let the bus out, but Gaul said he wouldn’t move his truck until the bus driver apologized to him, according to Morneau’s brief to the court. Gaul disputes that he ever said that. He said the deputy began talking about arresting him even before asking him to move his truck.

A minute or two after Morneau asked him to move, Gaul moved his pickup so the bus could leave, according to his account. Morneau arrested him anyway.


Gaul refused to cooperate as the deputy handcuffed him and slid him along the icy ground to his cruiser while Gaul’s wife and kids looked on. He was charged with obstructing government administration, a Class D misdemeanor that carries a maximum punishment of one year in prison, and was held in York County Jail for several hours until his wife arrived to pay his $360 bail.

The York County District Attorney’s office reduced the charge to a lesser Class E offense and then dropped it altogether. But Heiden said the incident continues to be a burden on Gaul, who now has an arrest on his record.


Much of the case revolves around whether Article I, Section 5 of the Maine Constitution means the same thing as the almost identically worded Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In a controversial 2001 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the Fourth Amendment’s protections against illegal searches and seizures does not preclude police officers from arresting anyone who commits an infraction in their presence, even a misdemeanor that carries only a fine instead of jail time.

John Wall, an attorney representing Morneau, argued Wednesday that Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court has traditionally found that the two statutes mean the same thing and that the state supreme court should adopt the federal court’s interpretation.

The Maine justices, citing the widespread unpopularity of the Supreme Court’s 2001 ruling, pushed back on this point and appeared open to Heiden’s argument that they should consider adopting a more protective interpretation of Maine’s search-and-seizure rules. Yet they also seemed skeptical that stronger constitutional protections would be enough for Gaul to win his case against Morneau at the trial court level, because the crime he was arrested for does carry a punishment of possible jail time and Morneau attempted to justify the arrest by saying he felt Gaul’s bail conditions “would provide an impetus against future erratic behavior.” And even if Gaul’s rights were violated, Heiden admitted it might be difficult for him to win damages at the trial court level because of qualified immunity statutes that protect law enforcement officers.

It’s not clear when the court will release its decision. If they side with Gaul, his case could return to the trial court level. Even if he can’t win damages, Heiden said, his client wants the chance to prove in court that his arrest was wrong.

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