COMMONWEALTH v. REYNOLDS
MAY 28, 1999
Record No. 2626-98-1
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
MARK EDWARD REYNOLDS
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF
Jerome James, Judge Designate
Present: Judges Willis, Bray and Annunziata
Argued at Norfolk, Virginia
MEMORANDUM OPINION BY JUDGE
JERE M. H. WILLIS, JR.
Marla Graff Decker, Assistant Attorney General
(Mark L. Earley, Attorney General, on brief), for appellant.
Earle C. Mobley (Marcus, Santoro, Kozak &
Melvin, on brief), for appellee.
The Commonwealth appeals a pretrial order
suppressing evidence obtained during an investigative stop of a
car driven by Mark Edward Reynolds. It contends the trial court
erred in concluding that the stop violated the Fourth
Amendment’s guarantees against unreasonable searches and
seizures. We disagree and affirm the trial court’s judgment.
Upon appeal from an order granting a motion to
suppress, the Commonwealth must show the trial court’s
decision was erroneous. See Freeman v. Commonwealth,
20 Va. App. 658, 660, 460 S.E.2d 261, 262 (1995). We will not
disturb the trial court’s ruling unless it is plainly wrong
or without evidence to support it. See id.
As Reynolds, heading north, approached the
intersection, he engaged his left-turn signal, proceeded to the
northern edge of the break in the median, brought his vehicle to
a stop approximately one foot from the curb of the northern
median, and placed the front end of his vehicle across the yellow
line of the left-turn lane of southbound traffic. Although the
intersection was marked with two "no U-turn" signs,
nothing prohibited a left turn onto the entrance ramp to
Interstate 264, which was accessible from the position of
Reynolds’ vehicle at the time of the stop. Thus, Officer
Laskey lacked sufficient basis upon which to conclude that
Reynolds was about to make an illegal U-turn into the southbound
lanes of Frederick Boulevard rather than a legal left turn onto
the entrance ramp. We cannot conclude, therefore, that the trial
court’s finding that Reynolds could have turned legally onto
the entrance ramp was clearly erroneous, and we decline to
disturb that finding on appeal.
Laskey’s erroneous belief that Reynolds
illegally crossed the yellow line of the oncoming turn lane
constituted an insufficient basis for the stop of Reynolds’
vehicle. A police officer may stop a motor vehicle for
investigatory purposes if the officer possesses a reasonable
suspicion based on articulable facts that either the vehicle or
an occupant is subject to seizure for violation of law. See
Jackson v. Commonwealth, 22 Va. App. 347, 353, 470 S.E.2d
138, 141 (1996). Contrary to Laskey’s belief, it was not
unlawful for Reynolds to cross the yellow line of the oncoming
turn lane for the purpose of turning left onto the entrance ramp.
See Code Sect. 46.2-804(6). An officer’s
mistaken belief as to the law will not support a finding of
probable cause or reasonable suspicion. See Ford v.
City of Newport News, 23 Va. App. 137, 145, 474 S.E.2d 848,
The evidence supports the trial court’s
holding that the police lacked a factual basis for a reasonable
suspicion that Reynolds was engaged in, or was about to engage
in, illegal activity. Thus, the traffic stop was an unreasonable
seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.
Annunziata, J., dissenting.
I dissent because, contrary to the majority, I
find that the defendant could not have turned onto the entrance
ramp to Interstate 264 from his position without completing an
illegal U-turn on Frederick Boulevard.
A U-turn is defined as a turn "by a
vehicle traveling along one side of a way by crossing the lane of
oncoming traffic and turning into and proceeding along a lane on
the other side of the way in a direction exactly opposite to the
direction of movement at the start of the turn." Webster’s
Third New International Dictionary 2526 (1981). Officer
Laskey testified that, because the defendant had driven "too
far" north, the defendant could not have reached the
entrance ramp without "looping around," entering the
lanes of southbound traffic on Frederick, and returning to the
ramp. The pictures introduced as exhibits support the conclusion
that the defendant would have had to turn his vehicle into
southbound traffic on Frederick, albeit briefly, before reaching
the beginning of the entrance ramp to Interstate 264.
Based on this evidence, I believe the trial
court’s determination that the defendant could have legally
turned left onto the entrance ramp was clearly erroneous. Because
the evidence supports Officer Laskey’s reasonably
articulated suspicion that the defendant was about to make an
illegal U-turn, I would hold that the stop was justified and
reverse the denial of the defendant’s suppression motion. See
Layne v. Commonwealth, 15 Va. App. 23, 25, 421 S.E.2d 215,
 Pursuant to Code
Sect. 17.1-413, recodifying Code Sect. 17-116.010, this
opinion is not designated for publication.