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State v. Brown

Court of Appeals of Idaho

November 26, 2013

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
CHRISTOPHER LEE BROWN, Defendant-Appellant.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

2013 Unpublished Opinion No. 770

Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District, State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Hon. Lansing L. Haynes, District Judge.

Order granting motion to suppress, reversed and case remanded for further proceedings.

Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General; Russell J. Spencer, Deputy Attorney General, Boise, for appellant. Russell J. Spencer argued.

Sara B. Thomas, State Appellate Public Defender; Sally J. Cooley, Deputy Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for respondent. Sally J. Cooley argued.

GRATTON, Judge

The State appeals from the district court's order granting Christopher Lee Brown's motion to suppress. We reverse.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Near midnight, an officer observed a van parked in a store parking lot in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. A nontransparent plastic completely covered the van's rear window. The van idled in the parking lot for roughly ten minutes. The van matched the description of a vehicle from which drugs had allegedly been sold in the area. The officer observed the van, driven by Brown, leave the parking lot and drive in what the officer viewed as a somewhat eccentric or erratic route. Essentially, Brown drove in a circle around the store.

After following Brown around the block, the officer activated his emergency lights and initiated a traffic stop due to the nontransparent plastic covering the rear window. The officer explained to Brown why he had pulled him over and then collected his license, registration, and insurance. The officer returned to his patrol car and ran Brown's information. Upon re-contacting Brown, the officer had him exit the van. The officer then asked Brown about his driving pattern. Brown explained that he lived on a street directly behind the store, but he was on the phone with a friend so he missed his turn. The officer found this answer unsatisfactory because after circling the block Brown had again passed the road that would have led to the street he lived on. Before returning Brown's license and registration, and before warning Brown about his rear window, the officer asked for consent to search the van. Brown responded that he could search, but he would not find anything illegal. The conversation lasted approximately thirty seconds from when Brown exited the van and when the officer asked for consent. The officer searched the van and found marijuana.

After his arrest, Brown sought to suppress the evidence discovered by the officer. The district court concluded the officer had a reasonable basis to stop the vehicle because of the nontransparent plastic covering the rear window. The consent was given without coercion and made knowingly and voluntarily. However, the consent was ultimately not valid because it was made during an unlawfully-extended traffic stop. The court reasoned that since the officer kept the license and paperwork in his hand, while taking thirty seconds to seek consent, the traffic stop was extended with no articulable reason other than for the officer to ask for consent to search the vehicle. Accordingly, the district court granted Brown's motion to suppress and subsequently dismissed the case. The State timely appeals.

II. ANALYSIS

The State challenges the district court's conclusion that the length of Brown's traffic stop was unlawfully extended. The State also contends that if the stop was extended, reasonable suspicion existed to continue the encounter.[1] Brown responds that not only was the stop unlawfully extended, but he argues the district court erred in concluding the initial stop was lawful. The standard of review of a suppression motion is bifurcated. When a decision on a motion to suppress is challenged, we accept the trial court's findings of fact that are supported by substantial evidence, but we freely review the application of constitutional principles to the facts as found. State v. Atkinson, 128 Idaho 559, 561, 916 P.2d 1284, 1286 (Ct. App. 1996). At a suppression hearing, the power to assess the credibility of witnesses, resolve factual conflicts, ...


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