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Statements after valid traffic stop admissible

Where the police made a valid vehicle stop, appellant-passenger lacked standing to challenge the vehicle search. The court properly denied his motion to suppress evidence found in the vehicle. Further, because appellant was lawfully detained during the stop, the court correctly refused to suppress his statements made to the police days later.

Background

Fields, a bank clerk, was leaving the building when two men accosted him, took his keys, entered the bank and set off a motion detector. Fields said the two fled in an “older model car” car driven by a third man. Several days later, three men committed an armed robbery at a convenience store near the bank that was recorded on a surveillance video. A store clerk said one of the robbers was wearing blue vinyl gloves. The police released the video to the public.

Fields saw it and contacted the police. He said the men in the video resembled those at the bank. He also said a few hours before the convenience store robbery, a car parked in the same spot from where the men in the bank incident fled. Fields gave the policed the license number.

A police detective, Miller, determined that Ronnie Peterson, a college student, had registered the car with the campus police and had been a suspect in a 2015 robbery of the convenience store. The detective put out a bulletin based on this information.

An officer, Clark, saw the car the next day. It accelerated suddenly a few times, followed another vehicle too closely, and pulled into a department store parking lot and parked in a fire lane. After getting backup, three officers seized the car at gunpoint.

The police ordered the three from the car one at a time. Peterson, the driver, was first. Appellant was in the front seat and a third man was in the rear. Police found “a substance” on Peterson’s person when they patted him down. He admitted there was marijuana in the car. After obtaining a warrant to search the car, police found blue vinyl gloves, Fields’s keys and a firearm.

Appellant did not claim ownership of any of the items. The record does not indicate he made any statements to the police. About two week later, police interviewed appellant about the convenience store robbery.

He was indicted for robbery and use of a firearm during a felony. He appeals denial of his motion to suppress his statements to the police and evidence resulting from his seizure and the search of Peterson’s car.

Motion correctly denied

“Appellant challenges the court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the December 7, 2017 traffic stop. …

“The Commonwealth asserts that appellant did not have standing to challenge the search of the vehicle because he failed to prove that he had a legitimate expectation of privacy in Peterson’s car. We agree.

“The evidence from the suppression hearing and trial merely established that appellant was riding as a passenger in Peterson’s vehicle when officers observed it parked in the Kmart fire lane. Appellant had no personal possessions in the vehicle, and he also failed to demonstrate that he either exercised control over the vehicle or had the right to exclude others from it. Therefore, he lacked standing to challenge the search of the vehicle.

“Despite appellant’s lack of standing to challenge the search of the vehicle as a passenger, he is entitled to contest the stop of the vehicle based on the seizure of his person. …

“[A]ppellant does not challenge the court’s ruling that Sergeant Clark had reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle. Rather, he contests the methods used to detain each of the vehicle’s occupants and contends that the ‘felony vehicle stop’ was a ‘full-blown seizure requiring a warrant or probable cause’ because a reasonable person would have believed he was under arrest.

“Further, appellant does not contend, and the record does not reflect, that any physical evidence was seized from a search of his person or that he made any statements during the traffic stop on December 7, 2017. Accordingly, appellant only challenges the subsequent statements he made to police during the December 19, 2017 interview. …

“[T]he Fourth Amendment does not prohibit a limited seizure during an investigatory stop, otherwise known as a ‘Terry stop,’ when an officer has a ‘reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity may be afoot.’ … During Terry stops, the police are permitted to use methods of restraint that are reasonable under the circumstances. …

“Based on the bulletin that he received, Sergeant Clark had information that the vehicle driven by Peterson was used in an armed robbery of the Fast Mart and the attempted armed robbery at Carter Bank & Trust. He had reason to believe that the occupants in the vehicle were armed and dangerous when he conducted the traffic stop.

“Therefore, the officers’ actions in drawing their guns and ordering the vehicle’s occupants out individually were ‘neither unreasonable nor conducted under circumstances that constituted the

functional equivalent of an arrest.’ … Because appellant was lawfully detained on December 7, 2017, the court did not err in denying the motion to suppress his statements.”

Affirmed.

Dukes v. Commonwealth, Record No. 1716-18-3, Nov. 19, 2019. CAV (O’Brien) from Lynchburg Cir. Ct. (Burnette). Jim D. Childress for appellant, Kelsey M. Bulger for appellee. VLW 019-7-205, 7 pp. Unpublished.

VLW 019-7-205

Virginia Lawyers Weekly