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Morberly v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Kentucky

April 26, 2018

RAKIM MOBERLY APPELLANT
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY APPELLEE

          ON REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS CASE NO. 2015-CA-000370-MR FAYETTE CIRCUIT COURT NO. 14-CR-00102

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Brandon Neil Jewell Assistant Public Advocate

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Andy Beshear, Attorney General of Kentucky, James Daryl Havey Assistant Attorney General

          OPINION

          VENTERS, JUSTICE

         Appellant, Rakim Moberly, appeals from the Court of Appeals' decision which affirmed the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence discovered in his vehicle during a traffic stop. Upon entering a conditional plea to preserve the issue for appeal, Appellant was convicted of possession of a controlled substance, first degree, and carrying a concealed deadly weapon. The controlled substance and the weapon were found after a canine sniff search indicated the presence of drugs. We granted discretionary review to consider whether the initial traffic stop had been impermissibly prolonged to allow the canine search to proceed. For the reasons stated below, we reverse the Court of Appeals' decision.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Lexington Police Officer Roman Sorrell was following a vehicle in the very early hours of a December morning. He performed a registration check on the vehicle license number and discovered that the vehicle's registration had been cancelled because it had no liability insurance coverage. Sorrell initiated a traffic stop of the vehicle at 3:35 a.m. Appellant was driving the vehicle.

         At Sorrell's request, Appellant provided his driver's license. He told Sorrell that the car was not his and-that he could not provide proof of insurance. Sorrell described Appellant as fully cooperative but abnormally nervous and sweating at the brow. Appellant was smoking a cigarette and blowing the smoke into the vehicle's interior. He kept looking toward the right side of the car.

         Sorrell took Appellant's driver's license back to his cruiser and began writing the traffic citation. He also spent about five minutes accessing a jail website and a police database to find out more information about Appellant. That inquiry disclosed that Appellant had been charged previously with trafficking in marijuana and carrying a concealed deadly weapon; it did not indicate whether Appellant had been convicted of these charges.

         Sorrell returned to Appellant's vehicle. He told Appellant that he knew about the prior charges. He asked if Appellant had drugs or weapons in the vehicle. Appellant said he did not. Sorrell asked for consent to search the vehicle, and Appellant declined. Sorrell acknowledged that at that point in the usual traffic stop, he would have given the driver a citation and let him leave. However, because Appellant seemed nervous, was sweating, blew his cigarette smoke into the vehicle instead of toward the officer, kept looking to the right side of the car, and had prior charges, Sorrell decided that he would detain Appellant further while he called for a canine unit to conduct a sniff search of the vehicle.

         The canine handler, Officer Jones, arrived with the dog within a few minutes. After speaking to Sorrell and Appellant, Jones retrieved the dog and conducted a sniff search of the car. The dog alerted to indicate the presence of drugs on the driver's side of the vehicle.

         Sorrell and yet another officer who had arrived on the scene then searched Appellant's vehicle. In the-glove compartment (not on the driver's side of the car as the dog indicated), they found a cigarette box containing cocaine and methylone, a controlled substance they thought was heroin.. They also found a handgun under the driver's seat. Appellant was arrested at 4:20 1 a.m., some forty-five minutes after the initial stop.

         Appellant was indicted on two counts of trafficking in a controlled substance (heroin[1] and cocaine); receiving stolen property (the firearm); and carrying a concealed deadly weapon. He moved to suppress the incriminating evidence on the basis that he was detained by the sniff search beyond the time reasonably required to complete the traffic stop.

         After the trial court denied the suppression motion, Appellant preserved his right to appeal by entering a conditional guilty plea to one count of possession of a controlled substance, first degree, cocaine, and carrying a concealed deadly weapon. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's denial of Appellant's motion to suppress. We granted discretionary review.

         II. ANALYSIS

         When reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress, the findings of fact are reviewed under a clearly erroneous standard, and the conclusions of law are reviewed de novo. Davis v. Commonwealth, 484 S.W.3d \ 288, 290 (Ky. 2016) (citations omitted). Since the parties do not challenge the trial court's findings of fact, we turn our attention to the trial court's conclusions of law.

         The trial court concluded, and no one disputes, that the initial traffic stop was justified when Sorrell obtained information indicating that the vehicle was uninsured. Wilson v. Commonwealth, 37 S.W.3d 745, 749 (Ky. 2001) ("[A]n officer who has probable cause to believe a civil traffic violation has occurred may stop a vehicle regardless of his or her subjective motivation in doing so.").

         The trial court also acknowledged our holding in Commonwealth v. Bucalo, 422 S.W.3d 253, 258 (Ky. 2013), that a lawful traffic stop may nevertheless violate an individual's Fourth Amendment rights

'if its manner of execution unreasonably infringes interests protected by the Constitution'[2] or it last[s] longer than is necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop.'[3] Generally, if an officer unreasonably prolongs the investigatory stop in order to facilitate ...

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