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State v. Horton

October 25, 2010


Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Deborah A. Bail, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwartzman, Judge Pro Tem

2010 Opinion No. 68

Order denying motion to suppress, affirmed.

Jourdarryl Karrie Horton appeals from the district court‟s denial of his motion to suppress. We affirm.


On the afternoon of June 7, 2008, a police officer observed a vehicle, later determined to be driven by Horton, drive past him. The vehicle had no front license plate. The officer turned and followed the vehicle and ran a registration check on the rear license, an Idaho plate reading "RPO 393." The return included over ten "screens" of information, where the normal return included three to four screens. The return also included various other license plate numbers, no vehicle description and a registered owner, "Tactical Recovery." The officer pulled the vehicle over before reading all of the screens.

Horton told the officer that he had repossessed the vehicle on behalf of his employer, Tactical Recovery. The officer then ran a check on Horton‟s driver‟s license and discovered an outstanding arrest warrant. The officer arrested Horton, placed him in the back seat of the police vehicle, and searched the vehicle, which resulted in the discovery of marijuana, methamphetamine, and drug paraphernalia. Horton was charged with possession of marijuana with the intent to deliver, possession of drug paraphernalia, and, in a separate case, possession of methamphetamine.

Horton moved to suppress the drug evidence, asserting that the vehicle was stopped without the requisite reasonable suspicion of a traffic offense. He contended that he was driving lawfully because under the applicable Idaho statute a license plate assigned to a repossession agent is to be attached only to the rear of a vehicle. The state responded that the motion should be denied because the officer had made a reasonable mistake in stopping the vehicle and, alternatively, that if the seizure was initially illegal, it was "attenuated" by the subsequently discovered warrant for Horton‟s arrest. See State v. Page, 140 Idaho 841, 846-47, 103 P.3d 454, 459-60 (2004).

After considering the testimony of the arresting officer and an Idaho Transportation Department employee, the district court denied the motion. The court concluded, in essence, that the officer had made a reasonable mistake of fact in that at the time he stopped the vehicle he did not know that the Idaho license plate was one assigned to a repossession agent. More specifically, the court found that the officer reasonably did not know that it was the Department‟s unwritten practice to use the designation "RPO" when assigning Idaho license plates to a repossession agent, that the Department issues relatively few repossession plates and the officer had never seen one before, and that the officer did not know that Tactical Recovery was a repossession agent. Horton entered a conditional guilty plea to possession of marijuana with intent to deliver reserving the right to appeal from the denial of his suppression motion, and the remaining charges were dismissed pursuant to a plea agreement.


Horton contends that the stop of his vehicle was made without the requisite reasonable suspicion of a traffic offense and that the district court erred in concluding that the officer‟s mistake in doing so was reasonable. We begin with the applicable review and legal standards.

The stop of a vehicle constitutes a "seizure" of the occupants that implicates the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 653 (1979); United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 878 (1975). Therefore, in order for such a stop to be lawful, it must be based upon an officer‟s reasonable suspicion that the vehicle is being driven contrary to traffic laws or that other criminal activity is afoot. United State v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417 (1981); In re Driver's License Suspension of Deen, 131 Idaho 435, 436, 958 P.2d 592, 593 (1998). Reasonable suspicion requires less than probable cause but more than speculation or instinct on the part of the officer. State v. Van Dorne, 139 Idaho 961, 963, 88 P.3d 780, 782 (Ct. App. 2004). The reasonableness of the suspicion must be evaluated upon the totality of the circumstances--the information known to the officer at the time of the stop must yield a particularized and objective basis for the officer‟s suspicion. Id. It is the state‟s burden to demonstrate reasonable suspicion for a stop. Id.

Determinations of reasonable suspicion and probable cause are reviewed de novo on appeal. State v. Munoz, 149 Idaho 121, 127, 233 P.3d 52, 58 (2010). In conducting that review the appellate court "should take care both to review findings of historical fact only for clear error and to give due weight to inferences drawn from those facts by resident judges and local law enforcement officers." Id. In Fourth Amendment applications, the reasonableness of police conduct is judged against an objective standard. State v. Weaver, 127 Idaho 288, 291, 900 P.2d 196, 199 (1995). We examine whether "the facts available to the officer at the moment of the seizure... [would] "warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief‟ that the action taken was appropriate." Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21-22 (1968). See also Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. 177, 188 (1990). This standard allows room for some mistakes on the part of police officers, so long as the mistakes are those of reasonable persons. Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 176 (1949). See also State v. Buhler, 137 Idaho 685, 688, 52 P.3d 329, 332 (Ct. App. 2002); State v. McCarthy, 133 Idaho 119, 124, 982 P.2d 954, 959 (Ct. App. 1999); State v. Hawkins, 131 Idaho 396, 401, 958 P.2d 22, 27 (Ct. App. 1998). "[I]n order to satisfy the "reasonableness‟ requirement of the Fourth Amendment, what is generally demanded of the many factual determinations that must regularly be made by agents of the government... is not that they always be correct, but that they always be reasonable." Rodriguez, 497 U.S. at 185. Subjective good faith on the part of the officer is not enough. As the United States Supreme Court has explained, "If subjective good faith alone were the test, the protections of the Fourth Amendment would evaporate, and the people would be "secure in ...

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