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COMMONWEALTH v. PERRY




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COMMONWEALTH

v.

PERRY


COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA

Present: Judges Elder, Clements and Felton

Argued by teleconference

Record No. 1488-03-3

COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

v.

VICTOR PERRY

 

MEMORANDUM OPINION[1]
BY JUDGE LARRY G. ELDER

OCTOBER 28, 2003

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF LYNCHBURG

J. Leyburn Mosby, Jr., Judge

Amy L. Marshall, Assistant Attorney General (Jerry W. Kilgore,

Attorney General, on brief), for appellant.

Mark J. Peake (Caskie & Frost, on brief), for appellee.

Victor Perry (defendant) stands indicted for possession of
marijuana with intent to

distribute. Pursuant to Code ? 19.2-398, the Commonwealth
appeals a pretrial ruling granting

defendant’s motion to suppress all evidence resulting from a
search of his residence. The trial

court ruled that defendant’s consent was coerced and, thus, that
the search was unreasonable.

The totality of the circumstances, viewed in the light most
favorable to defendant, supports the

trial court’s finding that his consent was not voluntary. Thus,
we affirm the trial court’s granting

of the motion to suppress and remand for further proceedings
consistent with this opinion if the

Commonwealth be so advised.

On appeal of the granting of a motion to suppress, we view the
evidence in the light most

favorable to the defendant, the prevailing party below, granting
to the evidence all reasonable

inferences fairly deducible therefrom. Commonwealth v.
Grimstead, 12 Va. App. 1066, 1067,

407 S.E.2d 47, 48 (1991). "[W]e are bound by the trial
court’s findings of historical fact unless

‘plainly wrong’ or without evidence to support them[,] and we
give due weight to the inferences

drawn from those facts by resident judges and local law
enforcement officers." McGee v.

Commonwealth, 25 Va. App. 193, 198, 487 S.E.2d 259, 261 (1997)
(en banc) (citing Ornelas v.

United States, 517 U.S. 690, 699, 116 S. Ct. 1657, 1659, 134
L.Ed.2d 911 (1996)).

The Fourth Amendment requires "that a consent [to a search] not be coerced, by explicit

or implicit means . . . ." Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412
U.S. 218, 228, 93 S. Ct. 2041, 2048, 36

L. Ed. 2d 854 (1973). In order to determine whether consent to a
particular search was

"voluntary," the test is whether the search is
"the product of an essentially free and unconstrained

choice" or whether the consenter’s "will has been
overborne and his capacity for

self-determination critically impaired." Id. at 225-26,
229, 93 S. Ct. at 2047, 2049. "[T]he

question whether a consent to a search was in fact ‘voluntary’
or was the product of duress or

coercion, express or implied, is a question of fact to be
determined from the totality of all the

circumstances." Id. at 227, 93 S. Ct. at 2047-48. The
Commonwealth bears the burden of

proving voluntariness of consent by a preponderance of the
evidence. Bumper v. North

Carolina, 391 U.S. 543, 548, 88 S. Ct. 1788, 1792, 20 L. Ed. 2d
797 (1968). "[T]his burden is

heavier where the alleged consent is based on an
implication." Walls v. Commonwealth, 2 Va.

App. 639, 645, 347 S.E.2d 175, 178 (1986).

The number of times an officer asks for consent to search may be
relevant to the

determination of whether consent was coerced. See, e.g., Harris
v. Commonwealth, 38 Va. App.

680, 690, 568 S.E.2d 385, 390 (2002) (citing Reittinger v.
Commonwealth, 260 Va. 232, 532

S.E.2d 25 (2000), in which officers asked three times for
consent to search vehicle, and noting

implicitly that repeated or "persistent request[s] . . . to
search" might amount to coercion), rev’d

on other grounds, 266 Va. 28, 581 S.E.2d 206 (2003).
"[M]erely advising [an individual] that a

search warrant could be obtained is not coercion," Bosworth
v. Commonwealth, 7 Va. App. 567,

571, 375 S.E.2d 756, 758 (1989), but it is a relevant factor in
the totality-of-the-circumstances

analysis. The fact that a suspect is in custody or under
investigative detention does not vitiate

consent, Reynolds v. Commonwealth, 9 Va. App. 430, 388 S.E.2d
659 (1990), but whether the

officers involved have made a display of authority or show of
force is a factor for consideration,

Johnson v. Commonwealth, 26 Va. App. 674, 689, 496 S.E.2d 143,
150 (1998). An officer’s

subjective intention to detain or arrest is "relevant to an
assessment of the Fourth Amendment

implications of police conduct . . . to the extent that that
intent has been conveyed to the person

confronted," Michigan v. Chesternut, 486 U.S. 567, 576 n.7,
108 S. Ct. 1975, 1981 n.7, 100

L. Ed. 2d 565 (1988), whether conveyed explicitly or implicitly,
McLellan v. Commonwealth, 37

Va. App. 144, 154-55 n.1, 554 S.E.2d 699, 704 n.1 (2001).

Here, the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to
defendant, supports the trial

court’s determination that the Commonwealth failed to meet its
burden of proving defendant’s

implicit consent to the search of his residence was freely and
voluntarily given. Cf.

Commonwealth v. Ealy, 12 Va. App. 744, 753-54, 407 S.E.2d 681,
687 (1991) (holding trial

court could properly find suspect’s mother did not freely
consent to search because she "may

have been under duress and felt coerced after watching the
police twice come to her property,

question her daughter in the police car, and then . . . question
[her] outside her house in the

police car," "[c]oupled with the fact that she did not
know whether she had the right to refuse

consent and the fact that [the sheriff] gave her the impression
he would simply get a search

warrant to search the garage" if she did not consent).

When the encounter began, defendant reported he had locked
himself out of his

apartment but had managed to re-enter and was once again
preparing to leave. When Officer

Zuidema questioned defendant about the "very strong odor of
marijuana on his person,"

defendant denied having any marijuana on his person and
consented to a search of his person.

However, defendant then twice refused Zuidema’s request for
consent to search his residence.

In denying Zuidema’s first request to search, defendant said the
"cops had been harassing

him for the past week, all because of a warrant for his
ex[-]roommate." Officer Zuidema

confirmed that he personally had been to defendant’s residence
previously while "trying to serve

a paper on" the former roommate defendant had mentioned. In
denying Zuidema’s second

request to search, defendant "stated that he was . . . just
trying to leave with his girlfriend," which

Zuidema interpreted "to mean that he was in a hurry to be
somewhere and didn’t have the time

for [a search]."

After defendant had issued these two denials, the officers told
him not only that they

would get a search warrant for the residence but also that
"[they would] lock the place down"

while they obtained the warrant. (Emphasis added). Officer
Zuidema had concluded that

defendant was not free to leave, and although he did not
expressly communicate this decision to

defendant, the circumstances support a finding that a reasonable
person in defendant’s position

would have concluded he was not free to leave. Only then did
defendant open the door and enter

his residence. Not until after the officers had followed
defendant inside, without invitation, did

defendant say to the officers that "[they] might as well go
ahead."

Thus, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to
defendant, we conclude the trial

court was not plainly wrong in finding the Commonwealth failed
to meet its burden of proving

defendant voluntarily consented to the search. Accordingly, we
affirm the trial court’s granting

of defendant’s motion to suppress and remand for further
proceedings consistent with this

opinion if the Commonwealth be so advised.

Affirmed and remanded.

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1]Pursuant to
Code ? 17.1-413, this opinion is not designated for publication.

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