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Turley v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Kentucky

May 23, 2013

STEWART M. TURLEY APPELLANT
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY APPELLEE

ON APPEAL FROM MUHLENBERG CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE BRIAN WIGGINS, JUDGE NO. 10-CR-00205

COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Michael Romano Mazzoli Scott Coleman Cox Cox & Mazzoli, PLLC

COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Jack Conway Attorney General of Kentucky, Kenneth Wayne Riggs Assistant Attorney General

OPINION

Appellant, Stewart Turley, appeals as a matter of right, Ky. Const. § 110, from a judgment of the Muhlenberg Circuit Court convicting him of first-degree possession of a controlled substance, possession of marijuana, and of being a second-degree persistent felony offender, and sentencing him to a total of twenty years' imprisonment.

As grounds for relief Appellant contends, principally, that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress the drug-related evidence seized during a routine traffic stop because its discovery was the product of a custodial detainment which extended beyond the scope of the original purpose of the traffic stop in violation of the Fourth Amendment. See Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 500 (1983) ("[A]n investigative detention must be temporary and last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop.").

Because we conclude that the evidence was discovered after the purpose of the traffic stop had concluded, and no exception applied so as to permit the police officer to extend his encounter with Appellant beyond that time, we hold that the trial court erred in failing to suppress the illegally obtained drug evidence. Accordingly, we reverse Appellant's conviction and sentence and remand for additional proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

While on routine patrol in rural Muhlenberg County, Kentucky State Police Trooper Jerry Knight observed Appellant speeding in a Ford F-150 extended-cab pickup truck. After following Appellant for a short distance, Knight also noticed that the license plate was improperly illuminated. As a result of these violations, he performed a traffic stop.

The truck, driven by Appellant, who was accompanied by two passengers, was customized with equipment that made it more difficult than usual to see into the cab of the truck. Knight asked Appellant to step out of the vehicle while the two passengers remained inside the truck. Appellant and Knight walked back to the police cruiser where the trooper subjected Appellant to a field sobriety test, which Appellant passed.

Appellant produced his driver's license and proof of registration. After Knight verified Appellant's driving status, he returned the documentation to Appellant and told him to "have a good night, " thereby seemingly indicating that the purpose of the traffic stop was completed and that his seizure of Appellant had accordingly ended. Appellant for that reason returned to the cab of the vehicle.

Rather than going his separate way, as one ordinarily does after telling someone to "have a good night, " Knight inconsistently returned with Appellant to the truck[1] and undertook a detention of the two passengers pursuant to Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), which permits a police officer to briefly detain a citizen if he has an individualized reasonable articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. Knight testified that his reason for this detention was because he "just wanted to see who they were, make sure they are not any wanted person." Knight further testified that he planned to run a warrant check on the passengers, as was his customary practice following a traffic stop. Significantly, Knight asserted no individualized reasonable articulable suspicion that the passengers were engaged in, or were about to engage in, criminal conduct so as to justify the Terry detention.

Knight testified in no uncertain terms that it was his objective intention to detain the truck and its occupants to inquire about the passengers, and that if Appellant had driven off he would have pursued him. Of course Knight's Terry detention of the two passengers had the collateral consequence of further restraining Appellant's liberty, he being a captive of the vehicle he was operating because it was occupied by the detained passengers.

During Trooper Knight's ensuing Terry questioning of the passengers, Appellant rested his arm on the center console of the truck. Near the console was a small wooden box that drew Trooper Knight's attention. Knight asked Appellant what the box contained, to which Appellant replied that he did not know because the box was not his. Knight then repeatedly demanded to be told what was in the box, and ultimately demanded to "see what was in the box."

Under the duress of these demands, Appellant began to open the box, which had a hinged lid. As it was positioned, the hinge was on the side facing Knight, so as Appellant lifted the lid with his left hand, Knight's view of Appellant's right hand was obstructed by the lid. Knight testified that he feared for his safety because the box may have contained a weapon, and so he quickly grabbed the box from Appellant's hand. As he did so, a bag of marijuana fell out.

After discovering the marijuana, Knight immediately arrested Appellant, handcuffed him, and placed him in the police cruiser. Knight then radioed for backup to aid in controlling the scene. The trooper ordered the two passengers out of the truck, and directed them to sit on the ground near the truck so that he could search the vehicle. One of the passengers failed to comply with this request, so Trooper Knight arrested both passengers and placed them in his police cruiser with Appellant.

After backup arrived, Appellant's vehicle was searched. The search revealed a container of suspected methamphetamine located in the driver's front door, as well as pills later identified as oxaprozin; two loaded handguns directly behind the driver's seat; and $3, 900.00 in cash in the center console.

As a result of the events, Appellant was indicted for, as relevant here, two counts of first-degree possession of a controlled substance, possession of marijuana, and of being a second-degree persistent felony offender.[2] The trial court denied Appellant's pretrial motion to suppress all of the evidence obtained from Appellant's vehicle as products of an illegal seizure. Following a trial on the charges, the jury found Appellant guilty of one count of first-degree possession of a controlled substance, possession of marijuana, and of being a second-degree persistent felony offender and ...


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