Thursday, October 20, 2011

Summary 2011 WY 145

Summary of Decision October 20, 2011

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

Case Name: Orchard v. State of Wyoming, Department of Transportation

Citation: 2011 WY 145

Docket Number: S-11-0084


Appeal from the District Court of Carbon County, Honorable Wade E. Waldrip, Judge

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

Representing Appellee (Defendant): Gregory A. Phillips, Attorney General; Robin Sessions Cooley, Deputy Attorney General; Douglas J. Moench, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Michael T. Kahler, Assistant Attorney General.

Date of Decision: October 20, 2011

Facts: Appellant was arrested for driving while under the influence of alcohol. As a result, the Wyoming Department of Transportation advised him that it was suspending his driver’s license pursuant to Wyo. Stat. 31-6-102. Appellant contested the suspension before the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), and the OAH upheld the suspension. He sought review in the district court, and the court affirmed the OAH’s order. Appellant challenges the district court’s order, contending that the police officer who arrested him lacked reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop.

Issues: Whether the arresting officer presented sufficient facts within his Officer’s Signed Statement and certified record to support his claim that he received an anonymous REDDI report and observed sufficient facts while on routine traffic patrol that would allow him to make contact with the Licensee and ultimately arrest him for “driving while under the influence of alcohol” (DWUI).

Holdings: The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects persons from unreasonable searches and seizures. A routine traffic stop constitutes a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment even though the purpose of the stop is limited and the resulting detention quite brief. The decision to stop an automobile is justified when the officer has probable cause to believe a traffic violation has occurred or when the officer has a reasonable articulable suspicion that the particular motorist is engaged in criminal activity. An officer’s personal observation of a traffic violation provides probable cause to initiate a stop. An investigatory stop may be justified by reasonable suspicion where a police officer is able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences drawn from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion. Reasonable suspicion, like probable cause, is dependent upon both the content of information possessed by police and its degree of reliability.

In cases where reasonable suspicion originates from an anonymous informant’s tip to the police, the tip may provide reasonable suspicion for an investigatory stop if it carries sufficient indicia of reliability. Where an anonymous informant makes no prediction of future behavior indicating a special familiarity with the respondent’s affairs, the investigating officer is required to corroborate the tip in some other fashion, usually by observing either a traffic violation or driving indicative of impairment.

In the present case, the arresting officer’s narrative stated that, as he passed a vehicle matching the description in the REDDI report, he noticed that the vehicle drifted over the double yellow centerline. The officer further stated that he turned around to follow the vehicle, and then noticed that they did not activate their blinker when turning right into a gas station. The officer activated his emergency overhead lights and initiated a traffic stop of Appellant’s vehicle.

Appellant does not dispute that the officer’s observations, as presented in his narrative report, provide sufficient justification for a stop. He contends, however, that the officer did not see Appellant driving his vehicle. He argues that the video recordings of the traffic stop and the witness testimony indicate that the officer never saw a traffic violation and simply approached Appellant as he was gassing up his car for the next morning and his car happened to match a REDDI report.

The hearing examiner’s findings are supported by substantial evidence, and that those findings support a determination that the stop of Appellant’s vehicle was reasonable under either a reasonable suspicion or probable cause analysis. An observed violation of a traffic law, by itself, provides an officer with probable cause to initiate a traffic stop. Observation of traffic violations may also provide sufficient corroboration of a REDDI report to justify an intrusion based on reasonable suspicion that a motorist is driving while under the influence. The arresting officer’s signed statement indicated that he observed Appellant commit two traffic violations, and the statement was supported by the videos presented at the contested case hearing. In one of the recordings, Appellant can be heard asking the officer why he was stopped. This statement indicates that Appellant was indeed “stopped” by the officer, and it appears to contradict Appellant’s claim that he had been parked at the gas station for three to five minutes before being approached by the officer. Further, in response to Appellant’s inquiry as to why he was stopped, the officer stated that he stopped him for drifting over the centerline and failing to use his turn signal.

In addition, the testimony from the witness who was present when the arresting officer received the REDDI alert does not contradict any material fact set forth in the arresting officer’s narrative. Although the witness’s statements may create a dispute as to whether the officer received the report while he was “on routine patrol,” this alleged inconsistency in the officer’s narrative does not negate the possibility that the officer observed Appellant between the time that the officer left the restaurant and stopped Appellant at the gas station.

The Department of Transportation’s certified record, which included the arresting officer’s signed statement, constitutes relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the determination that the arresting officer had probable cause or reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop of Appellant’s vehicle.

Finally, Appellant contends that the arresting officer did not have probable cause to make an arrest. Appellant, however, did not raise this issue in the proceedings before the OAH. With the exception of certain jurisdictional or fundamental issues, the court will not consider issues raised for the first time on appeal. This rule is equally applicable to appeals from administrative decisions as to those from district courts. Appellant has made no argument and has offered no authority indicating that he presents a “jurisdictional” or “fundamental” issue.


J. Burke delivered the opinion for the court.

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