Monday, June 27, 2011

Summary 2011 Wy 100

Summary of Decision June 27, 2011

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Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court

Case Name: Vasco v. The State of Wyoming, Department of Transportation

Citation: 2011 WY 100

Docket Number: S-10-0235


Appeal from the District Court of Albany County, Honorable Jeffrey A. Donnell, Judge

Representing Appellant (Petitioner): R. Michael Vang of Fleener & Vang, Laramie, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee (Respondent): Bruce A. Salzburg, Wyoming Attorney General; Robin Sessions Cooley, Deputy Attorney General; Douglas J. Moench, Senior Assistant Attorney General.

Date of Decision: June 27, 2011

Facts: Appellant was arrested for interference with a police officer and for driving under the influence of alcohol. He refused to submit to chemical testing, and the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) advised him that it was suspending his driver’s license for six months. He requested a hearing, at the conclusion of which the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) upheld the suspension. Appellant sought review in the district court, which affirmed the OAH order. Appellant appealed to this Court, claiming the arresting officer lacked probable cause to arrest him.

Issues: Whether probable cause existed to arrest Appellant for interference, such that the evidence that he had been driving under the influence of alcohol obtained thereafter was admissible and sufficient to support suspending his driver’s license.

Holdings: Appellant contends his arrest for interference with a police officer was unlawful because the officer lacked probable cause for the arrest. He argues further that because the interference arrest was unlawful, all of the evidence obtained thereafter was tainted and should have been suppressed. Because the suspension of his driver’s license depended upon a lawful arrest for DUI and the evidence giving rise to his DUI arrest resulted from an unlawful interference arrest, Appellant submits, the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine barred the evidence of either arrest and the suspension of this license must be rescinded.

Probable cause for a warrantless arrest exists when, under the totality of the circumstances, a prudent, reasonable, and cautious peace officer would be led to believe that a crime has been or is being committed and the individual arrested is the perpetrator. Appellant was arrested for violating Laramie Municipal Ordinance § 9.04.030, which provides in pertinent part that “No person shall resist any police officer . . . in the discharge of his duties or in any way interfere with or hinder or prevent him from discharging his duty . . . or endeavor to do so.” The State had the burden of proving probable cause existed to arrest Appellant for interference.

From the totality of the circumstances, a prudent, reasonable and cautious peace officer would have been led to believe that Appellant was resisting, interfering, hampering or preventing the discharge of his duties. When asked for identification, Appellant gave a false name and attempted to walk past the officer. When the officer told him to stop, informed him that he was investigating a hit and run accident and asked again to see some identification, he hindered the officer’s efforts by opening, closing and putting his wallet back in his pocket several times without letting the officer see his driver’s license. He also disregarded the officer’s order to stay where he was and answer questions by attempting to go inside his apartment. After the officer warned him that he would be arrested for interference if he did not produce his driver’s license, Appellant nudged past him and headed for his apartment. By these acts, Appellant gave the officer probable cause to believe that he was hindering him from discharging his duty to investigate the hit-and-run accident. There was probable cause to arrest Appellant for interference with a police officer.

The officer also had probable cause to believe Appellant had been driving under the influence of alcohol. At the time the officer stopped and questioned Appellant, he knew the Nissan truck involved in the hit-and-run accident was registered to him and the driver had left the scene on foot. Additionally, he had seen Appellant who he knew from previous contact, walking from the direction of the accident toward his apartment. Upon stopping and questioning him, the officer smelled alcohol on Appellant’s breath and noticed his eyes were red and he was swaying. After arresting him for interference, the officer searched Appellant and found a set of keys with a Nissan remote control. The officer subsequently confirmed that the keys belonged to the Nissan involved in the accident. Additionally, he learned that another officer had found a beer bottle on the ground outside the passenger door of the Nissan and that the beer bottle fell out when the person whose vehicle the Nissan hit went looking for the driver and opened the passenger door. With that information, there was probable cause to believe that Appellant had been driving the Nissan while under the influence of alcohol and was required to advise Appellant, who was then lawfully under arrest, in accordance with the Wyoming implied consent statutes.


C.J. Kite delivered the opinion for the court.

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