Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Summary 2012 WY 10

Summary of Decision January 31, 2012

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

Case Name: Lovato v. State of Wyoming

Citation: 2012 WY 10

Docket Number: S-11-0104

URL: http://wyomcases.courts.state.wy.us/applications/oscn/DeliverDocument.asp?CiteID=465059

Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County, The Honorable Thomas T.C. Campbell, Judge

Representing Appellant (Defendant): Elisabeth M.W. Trefonas, Trefonas Law, PC, Jackson, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee (Plaintiff): Gregory A. Phillips, Wyoming Attorney General; Terry L. Armitage, Deputy Attorney General; D. Michael Pauling, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Sue Chatfield, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. Chatfield.

Date of Decision: January 31, 2012

Facts: Police detectives were conducting surveillance on a house after receiving information that possible drug-related activity was occurring there. As the detectives approached the house, they saw a car parked directly in front of the house. An unidentified male was seated in the driver’s seat of the car and the engine was running. Shortly thereafter, a passenger entered the car and it left the residence.

While following the car, and hoping to identify the occupants, the detectives observed the driver engage in several traffic violations. They continued to follow until the car stopped abruptly in the middle of the road. The passenger of the car exited the vehicle and stared intently at, and proceeded to walk toward one of the detectives, who had gotten out of the passenger side of the unmarked police car. The detective identified himself as police. The passenger continued to walk toward the detective until he got to the end of the car, where he began to run away. After a short chase, the detective caught up with the passenger and was eventually assisted by the other detective. The passenger struggled with the detectives, but was eventually placed in handcuffs and arrested for interference with a peace officer. During this time, the driver of the car left the scene. The detective conducted a pat-down search and discovered a red metal canister, which contained methamphetamine, a digital scale, and cash in the passenger’s left-front pocket. The passenger was identified as the appellant.

The appellant filed a motion to suppress evidence, claiming he was seized by the detectives in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution and article 1 section 4 of the Wyoming Constitution. He argued that, at most, the interaction between himself and the detective was a consensual encounter that he was free to terminate at any time. Therefore, the detectives did not have probable cause to arrest him for interference with a peace officer because the appellant was under no legal obligation to submit to the detective’s request. The district court disagreed and concluded that the detectives could have lawfully stopped the car for the traffic violations and would have also had the authority to control the appellant’s movements during the traffic stop.

Issues: Whether the district court erred when it concluded that the appellant’s rights under the United States and Wyoming constitutions were not violated when he was seized, arrested, and ultimately searched by the police.

Holdings: The Court did not believe the appellant’s seizure was justified by being a passenger during a traffic stop. However, the Court found the district court did not err when it denied the appellant’s motion to suppress evidence, holding the detectives had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity justifying briefly detaining the appellant for further investigation, and probable cause to arrest the appellant for interference with a peace officer after he failed to obey the detective’s commands to stop and then struggled with the detectives. The Court affirmed.

J. Voigt delivered the opinion for the court.

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