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Shaw v. State

February 12, 2009


Appeal from the District Court of Carbon County The Honorable Wade E. Waldrip, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hill, Justice.

Before VOIGT, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, KITE, and BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] Appellant, Joseph Michael Shaw (Shaw), entered a conditional plea of guilty to felony possession of marijuana. The condition was that he be given leave to appeal the district court‟s denial of his motion to suppress the evidence seized from his car by a Wyoming State Trooper. We will affirm.


[¶2] Shaw raises this issue:

Was the detention of [Shaw], and the entry into the vehicle, illegal, and should his motion to suppress have been granted?

In response the State queries:

Were [Shaw‟s] constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution violated, and did the district court err in denying his motion to suppress?


[¶3] On December 25, 2006, at approximately 8:30 a.m., Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper Beatriz Schulmeister, as part of her routine duties, was patrolling the Wagonhound Rest Area for motorists that might need assistance. That rest area is located approximately 40 miles west of Laramie and 60 miles east Rawlins on Interstate 80 in Carbon County. The rest stop was a common place for motorists to become stuck during the winter months, especially when the roads were snow-packed and icy. Because it was Christmas Day, and because the roads were a hazard for both motorists as well as the trooper -- due to the packed snow, ice, and blowing and drifting snow -- the trooper was not engaging in speed enforcement.

[¶4] In her role providing assistance, the trooper noticed a Honda Accord stuck in the middle of the semi-truck parking lot in a snow drift. The trooper radioed dispatch with the license plate number of the vehicle. With the intention of helping Shaw, the driver and sole occupant of the vehicle, Trooper Schulmeister parked her patrol car slightly in front of the stuck vehicle at an angle. The trooper‟s video and audio recorder were in operation, and thus much of her interaction with Shaw can be seen and/or heard (the audio is available only when both Shaw and the trooper were in her vehicle). It is evident that the recordings were not of the highest quality but persistence in listening does tend to support the district court‟s ultimate findings. Shaw and the trooper simultaneously exited their vehicles and they met between the two cars.

[¶5] Troopers are not required to pull stuck motorists out of the snow and do not typically do so without a release from the motorist. As an alternative, and to avoid liability, troopers will call a wrecker, which is very expensive, to tow the vehicle or to provide other assistance to the motorist.

[¶6] Trooper Schulmeister asked Shaw if he needed help, and he responded that he did, noting that he had been stuck in the snow since 4:00 a.m. that morning. The trooper offered to pull out the Honda with a tow strap because it only needed to be moved a short distance. However, Shaw instead declined and asked the trooper if he could borrow a shovel. Because of the officer safety concerns involved when a law enforcement officer provides a citizen with an object that could be used as a weapon against the officer, and because the trooper was required by Wyoming Highway Patrol policy to fill out a form relating to her contact with, and the assistance that she provided to Shaw, she asked him for his driver‟s license, insurance, and registration. In response, Shaw asked the trooper if she was "kidding." She told Shaw that she was not kidding and again asked him for the information, to which he responded, "Are you kidding, it‟s Christmas, let‟s just go home." Finally, after she again told Shaw she was serious about her request, he confessed he did not have a driver‟s license.

[¶7] Shaw‟s reaction to the trooper‟s offer of assistance caused her to become concerned for her safety, as citizens typically do not react the way Shaw had reacted when law enforcement attempts to help them. Thus, because he was making her nervous, the trooper created distance between Shaw and herself. She asked Shaw if he had any weapons. The videotape reveals that Shaw became somewhat agitated at this point and his movements became overly boisterous and odd. That is, Shaw began stepping back and forth, as well as to the left and to the right, and turned and walked toward the Honda. Shaw also started to put his hands into his coat pockets on several occasions and would partially remove his coat and then immediately put it back on. At one point, Shaw asked the trooper if he could put his coat into his car, despite the fact that he was standing outside on a freezing December morning. Shaw literally begged the Trooper -- folding his hands in front of him, and making a slight rocking motion -- to let him get into his vehicle so he could leave. Shaw, of course, could not leave, as he was stuck in the snow. Finally, Shaw would not respond to the trooper‟s question as to why he was driving without a driver‟s license. It was at this point that the trooper patted Shaw down for weapons and placed him into the back of her patrol car which, of course, was a safer and more comfortable place to continue their conversation regarding issuing Shaw a citation for driving under suspension, as well as to make arrangements to have his car towed.

[ΒΆ8] While in the patrol car, the trooper asked Shaw for his name, address, social security number, date of birth, height, eye color and hair color, where he was born, and where he was traveling from, and where he was traveling to. Shaw told the trooper his license was suspended for driving under the influence and that he had a "couple of warrants." Dispatch confirmed that Shaw had a suspended license as a result of both driving under the influence as ...

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