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Vankooten v. State

April 29, 2009

BRUCE LEON VANKOOTEN, APPELLANT (DEFENDANT),
v.
THE STATE OF WYOMING, APPELLEE (PLAINTIFF).



Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County The Honorable Michael K. Davis, Judge

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

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

[¶1] Appellant Bruce Leon VanKooten entered a conditional guilty plea to felony possession of a controlled substance, reserving the right to appeal the district court's denial of his motion to suppress the cocaine evidence discovered during a search of his vehicle. VanKooten claims the evidence should have been suppressed because the trooper lacked reasonable suspicion to detain him for a canine sniff of the exterior of his vehicle after the lawful traffic stop had concluded. We disagree and affirm the district court's decision denying his motion to suppress.

ISSUE

[¶2] VanKooten offers the following issue:*fn1

Did the trial court abuse its discretion and commit reversible error when it denied Appellant's motion for suppression?

FACTS

[¶3] On April 21, 2007, Trooper David Chatfield of the Wyoming Highway Patrol was on duty at the patrol office located at the I-25 port of entry south of Cheyenne when he received a telephone call from Lieutenant Ted Bair of the Torrington division office. Lieutenant Bair told Trooper Chatfield that he had just seen a vehicle traveling south on Highway 85 that matched the description of a vehicle belonging to a person known to be a drug dealer in the Torrington area. Lieutenant Bair explained that he had received information from the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation that the driver of the Camaro had been traveling back and forth between Colorado and Torrington dealing drugs. Lieutenant Bair wanted to alert Cheyenne patrol personnel to the fact the individual was headed south on Highway 85 and to be on the lookout for him. There were no instructions to stop or arrest the driver; only a request to observe the vehicle for traffic violations and stop him if he committed a violation. After that, any further actions would depend on the circumstances presented.

[¶4] Trooper Chatfield left the division office with his certified drug dog and headed north on Highway 85. Around milepost 40 the trooper spotted the Camaro traveling southbound at a speed of 65 miles per hour. Trooper Chatfield turned his patrol car around and attempted to catch up with the vehicle. The Camaro sped up and began passing other vehicles at a high rate of speed. Trooper Chatfield estimated the car was going as fast as 130 miles per hour. After pursuing the Camaro for approximately ten miles, the trooper managed to get close enough for a radar lock. The radar indicated the car was going 125 miles per hour, well above the posted speed limit.

[¶5] Trooper Chatfield activated his lights, radioed for assistance, and continued his pursuit of the Camaro. The Camaro continued on for approximately nine more miles. Near milepost 21, the Camaro made a sudden left turn onto Cadillac Road, a county residential gravel road, and stopped after about one-half mile. Trooper Chatfield pulled in behind the Camaro and contacted VanKooten, the driver and sole occupant of the vehicle. He told VanKooten that he had stopped him for going 125 miles per hour and asked him to come back to the patrol car with his driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance.

[¶6] As he wrote out a citation for speeding, Trooper Chatfield asked VanKooten where he had been and where he was going. VanKooten indicated he had been in the Torrington/Lingle area delivering a piece of equipment and was headed home to Berthoud, Colorado. During the conversation, VanKooten asked Trooper Chatfield why he turned around on the highway after they passed each other. Trooper Chatfield responded by asking VanKooten why he had sped up to 125 miles per hour. VanKooten stated he did it "for the hell of it."

[¶7] Trooper Chatfield issued VanKooten a ticket for the traffic violation, returned his driver's license and other documents, and told him he was free to leave. As VanKooten was walking back to his car, Trooper Chatfield inquired if he could ask him a few more questions. VanKooten agreed. Trooper Chatfield asked VanKooten if he had anything illegal in his car, such as drugs, guns or money. VanKooten replied he did not. The trooper requested permission to search the Camaro, but VanKooten denied the trooper's request.

[¶8] Thereafter, Trooper Chatfield told VanKooten he was going to have his drug dog perform an exterior sniff of the Camaro. Trooper Chatfield retrieved the dog from the patrol car and directed him to the vehicle. The dog sat down by the passenger door, alerting to the presence of controlled substances inside the car. Trooper Chatfield then placed the dog inside the Camaro, and the dog alerted to the presence of drugs inside a coat lying on the back seat. Trooper Chatfield searched the coat and found a pipe, as well as scales containing white powder residue. Upon searching the passenger compartment and the trunk, Trooper Chatfield discovered some small "dealer bags" and a plastic shopping bag containing cash, prescription pills, marijuana, and over an ounce of cocaine.

[¶9] VanKooten was arrested and charged with one count of felony possession of cocaine in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 35-7-1031(c)(ii) (LexisNexis 2007). He filed a motion to suppress the drug evidence, claiming it was the product of an unlawful seizure. After a hearing, the district court denied VanKooten's motion, concluding reasonable suspicion existed to further detain him pending the drug sniff. Thereafter, pursuant to a plea agreement, VanKooten pled guilty to the felony possession charge, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. The district court sentenced ...


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