Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Summary 2012 WY 23

Summary of Decision February 22, 2012

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

Case Name: State of Wyoming v. Holohan

Citation: 2012 WY 23

Docket Number: S-11-0078


Original Proceeding, Petition for Writ of Review, District Court of Uinta County, The Honorable Dennis L. Sanderson, Judge

Representing Petitioner: Gregory A. Phillips, Wyoming Attorney General; Terry L. Armitage, Deputy Attorney General; D. Michael Pauling, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Paul S. Rehurek, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Mr. Rehurek.

Representing Respondent: John P. LaBuda and Jessica M. Stull of LaBuda Law Office, P.C., Pinedale, Wyoming. Argument by Ms. Stull.

Date of Decision: February 22, 2012

Facts: After initiating a traffic stop, a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper found marijuana in Respondent’s vehicle. Respondent was charged with two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. He filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized during the search of his vehicle, claiming the trooper lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion to justify the traffic stop at the time he activated his flashing lights and could not use events occurring after activating his lights to justify the stop. The district court agreed and granted the motion, basing its conclusion on its finding that the video and other evidence did not support the trooper’s testimony that the vehicle crossed the center or fog lines several times before he activated his lights. The State filed a petition for writ of review of the district court’s order which this Court granted.

Issues: Whether the Fourth Amendment requires reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop to exist at the moment an officer makes his show of authority (activating his light bar), and whether traffic violations occurring after the show of authority may be used to establish reasonable suspicion for the stop.

Holdings: After de novo review the Court concluded the ultimate seizure was constitutional. The district court found, based on the trooper’s testimony, that the vehicle kept going for approximately two miles before stopping after the trooper activated his flashing lights. The trooper further testified that he saw the vehicle swerving side to side as it traveled the two miles before stopping, and saw the driver and one of the passengers switch seats. Applying these facts to the law, the Court concluded that the driver of the vehicle did not submit to the trooper’s show of authority and there was no Fourth Amendment seizure until the vehicle pulled off the highway and stopped. At that point, the trooper had probable cause to stop the vehicle for weaving erratically and a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity based upon the driver’s failure to pull over in response to the flashing lights. There having been no seizure until then, the evidence was not fruit of an illegal seizure and was admissible. The Court reversed the district court’s order granting the motion to suppress and remand for further proceedings.

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

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