Legality of Mafnas’ traffic stop questioned

Chief public defender Adam Hardwicke has questioned the constitutionality of a traffic stop made last year by a “white-haired male person” whom a prosecutor identified as then Department of Public Safety commissioner Ramon C. Mafnas.

Hardwicke, as counsel for Waitree Sawikan in a traffic case, asked the Superior Court to exclude all evidence gathered as a result of “this unlawful traffic stop.”

Hardwicke said the traffic stop was made in violation of Sawikan’s federal and Commonwealth constitutional right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Office of the Attorney General, however, defended Mafnas’ actions, with assistant attorney general Chemere K. McField asserting that the court should deny Sawikan’s motion to suppress evidence because Mafnas’ actions were supported by probable cause and because all officers diligently conducted a narrow investigation.

The motion is expected to be heard today, Tuesday, before Superior Court associate judge Joseph N. Camacho.

According to Hardwicke, Sawikan was driving his moped north on Beach Road near Downtown Market on Sept. 24, 2011, between 2pm and 3pm when the driver of a Toyota 4Runner flagged Sawikan’s attention and forced him to pull over to the side of the road.

The 4Runner driver, described as a white-haired man wearing what appeared to be a police uniform, approached Sawikan, Hardwicke said.

This “white-haired person” allegedly questioned Sawikan where he worked and where he was from and told him not to leave.

Sawikan was reportedly forced to wait until a patrol officer arrived and write him a traffic ticket for not having a driver’s license nor registration.

Hardwicke said his client was never informed who this “white haired person wearing a police outfit” was because the person never identified himself.

“Additionally, Mr. Sawikan was never informed by this unknown person why he was forced to pull over in the first place,” Hardwicke said.

He asserted that because it is unclear why the unidentified person wearing the police outfit stopped Sawikan and because it is unclear how the patrol officer became involved, Sawikan is entitled to an evidentiary hearing to determine the legal basis for his stop and temporary seizure.

Hardwicke said the U.S. and NMI Constitutions prohibit the detention of a person without reasonable suspicion, as well as the arrest of a person without probable cause.

In the government’s opposition to the motion, McField said that Mafnas was patrolling in an unmarked vehicle when he saw a moped driving along Beach Road with a missing registration sticker.

McField said that based on the missing sticker, Mafnas motioned for the moped to stop, approached the moped, and asked the driver, later identified as Sawikan, questions aimed at revealing his identity.

The commissioner, McField said, then radioed the Traffic Unit to dispatch a traffic officer to the scene. The traffic officer came and cited Sawikan for not having a valid driver’s license nor registration card.

McField said Mafnas’ brief detention of Sawikan was supported by probable cause as Sawikan’s license plate did not display a registration sticker.

Mafnas was removed as DPS commissioner in April due to complaints by several police officers.

By Ferdie de la Torre

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at

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