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Feeney v. State

May 21, 2009


Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County The Honorable Peter G. Arnold, Judge.

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

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

[¶1] After conditionally pleading guilty to a controlled substance offense, Patrick Feeney (the appellant) challenges the district court‟s denial of his motion to suppress evidence discovered during a search of the vehicle he was driving. He maintains that he was detained in violation of his constitutional rights. Concluding the highway patrol trooper had reasonable suspicion to justify detaining the appellant after the original purpose of the traffic stop had ended, we affirm.


[¶2] The sole issue presented for our review is whether the appellant‟s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution was violated so as to require suppression of evidence and dismissal of charges.


[¶3] On March 20, 2007, at approximately 11:45 a.m., Trooper Jeremy Beck of the Wyoming Highway Patrol noticed a vehicle travelling eastbound on Interstate 80. The trooper locked his radar onto the vehicle and confirmed that the vehicle was travelling 80 miles per hour in a 75 mile per hour zone. The trooper pulled the vehicle over at approximately mile marker 354, a few miles outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming. The appellant rolled down his window as the trooper approached his vehicle and the trooper immediately smelled the overwhelming scent of dryer sheets. The trooper also noticed that the only luggage in the vehicle was a backpack in the back seat. The trooper told the appellant he had pulled him over for speeding and the appellant provided the trooper his Massachusetts driver‟s license and the rental agreement for the vehicle.

[¶4] The appellant then accompanied the trooper back to the trooper‟s vehicle where the appellant sat in the front passenger seat. The trooper informed the appellant that he was going to write him a warning for speeding and began to review the rental agreement. While reviewing the agreement, the trooper asked the appellant where he was travelling. The appellant stated he was going home to Massachusetts from Oakland, California, where he had been visiting friends. The rental agreement, however, required the appellant to return the vehicle in California. Despite the discrepancy between appellant‟s statement concerning his travel plans (returning home to Massachusetts) and the terms of the rental agreement (return the vehicle to California), the trooper issued a warning ticket and told the appellant he was free to go.

[¶5] As the appellant returned to his vehicle the trooper reinitiated contact as the appellant was getting in the driver‟s side door. The trooper asked the appellant if he would be willing to answer a few more questions about the rental agreement before he left. In response, the appellant stated that he was in a hurry and asked why the trooper wanted to ask more questions. The trooper explained to the appellant his concern that the rental agreement showed that the appellant was to return the vehicle to Oakland, California, and the appellant had told the trooper that he was taking the vehicle to Massachusetts. The appellant responded that he had called the rental company and changed the destination to Massachusetts. Upon the trooper‟s request, the appellant told the trooper he could call the rental company to verify the change in the final destination. The trooper called the rental company and asked about the change; however, the company had no record of any change in the agreement. When the trooper asked if there was any way the destination could have been changed and not entered into the computer system, the rental company representative stated that any change is updated immediately throughout all of the rental company‟s computers. The trooper concluded his phone call to the rental company and told the appellant that they had no record of any changes to the rental agreement. The appellant responded, "that‟s weird because I did call." The trooper then asked the appellant if he was initially planning to bring the vehicle back to California when he first rented the vehicle and the appellant responded "no."

[¶6] After this conversation concerning the rental agreement, the trooper asked the appellant if there were any illegal drugs in the vehicle. The appellant responded that there were not. The trooper then asked if the appellant would consent to a search of the vehicle. The appellant refused. The trooper then told the appellant that he was going to detain him until a K-9 unit arrived to perform a "free-air" sniff around the vehicle. The K-9 unit arrived a short time later and alerted in the vicinity of the back door and trunk of the appellant‟s vehicle. The trooper searched the vehicle and found a duffle bag containing airtight packages of what was ultimately confirmed to be marijuana.

[¶7] On March 21, 2007, the appellant was charged with one count of possession of marijuana with the intent to deliver, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 35-7-1031(a)(ii) (LexisNexis 2007). On May 25, 2007, the appellant filed a motion to suppress, asserting that the search of his vehicle and seizure of the marijuana was in violation of his constitutional rights under both the Wyoming and United States Constitutions and thus the marijuana evidence should not be admissible. A hearing on the appellant‟s motion was held on August 8, 2007, and the district court entered an Order Denying Motion to Suppress on August 24, 2007.

[¶8] The parties filed a Plea Agreement for Recommended Disposition wherein the appellant entered a guilty plea to the charged crime and reserved his right to appeal the district court‟s ruling. As part of the plea agreement, the state agreed to dismiss the felony possession charge and to recommend a sentence of three to five years incarceration, with the sentence to be suspended in lieu of four years of supervised probation. The appellant was sentenced as described above and then timely filed a notice of appeal.


[¶9] When reviewing a district court‟s ruling on a motion to suppress, this Court does not disturb findings on factual issues made by the district court unless they are clearly erroneous. State v. Evans, 944 P.2d 1120, 1124 (Wyo. 1997) (citing Bravo v. State, 897 P.2d 1303, 1305 (Wyo. 1995)). At the suppression hearing, the district court has the opportunity to assess the credibility of the witnesses and the weight to be given the evidence and to make the necessary inferences, deductions and conclusions; therefore, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the district court‟s determination. Evans, 944 P.2d at 1124 (citing Wilson v. State, 874 P.2d 215, 218 (Wyo. 1994)). On those issues where the district court has not made specific findings of fact, this Court will uphold the general ruling of the court below if supported by any reasonable view of the evidence. Neilson v. State, 599 P.2d 1326, 1330 (Wyo. 1979). The issue of law, whether an unreasonable search or seizure has occurred in violation of constitutional rights, is reviewed de novo. McChesney v. State, 988 P.2d 1071, 1074 (Wyo. 1999). A district court judgment may be affirmed on any proper legal grounds supported by the record. Robinson v. State, 11 P.3d 361, 367 (Wyo. 2000); see also Chapman v. State, 638 P.2d 1280, 1286 n.7 (Wyo. 1982); Jones v. State, 602 P.2d 378, 382 (Wyo. 1979).

State v. Williams, 2004 WY 53, ¶ 12, 90 P.3d 85, ...

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