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Frazier v. State

July 30, 2010


Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County, The Honorable Edward L. Grant, Judge.

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

Before KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, VOIGT*fn1, and BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] Appellant, Matthew Robert Frazier, entered a conditional plea of guilty to one count of possessing marijuana with the intent to deliver. He reserved the right to appeal the district court's denial of his motion to suppress. Mr. Frazier maintains that evidence obtained in the search of the vehicle should have been suppressed because no reasonable suspicion existed to detain him for a dog sniff of his vehicle following the conclusion of a traffic stop. We find no error and affirm.


[¶2] Mr. Frazier presents one issue:

Did the trial court abuse its discretion and commit reversible error when it denied Mr. Frazier's motion to suppress?


[¶3] On October 7, 2008, at approximately 8:50 a.m., Mr. Frazier was traveling east on I-80 near Pine Bluffs, Wyoming. A Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper was in his vehicle, parked in the median, when he observed the Frazier vehicle. He was unable to view the state name on the rear plate of Mr. Frazier's vehicle because it was obstructed by a license plate bracket. The trooper initiated a traffic stop, exited the patrol car, and approached Mr. Frazier's vehicle from the passenger side. He advised Mr. Frazier of the reason for the stop.

[¶4] As he spoke with Mr. Frazier, the trooper noticed a bottle of air freshener and two bottles of cologne on the front seat. He also noticed an atlas open to a map of the state of California. The trooper observed that Mr. Frazier's right leg was visibly shaking and that his arms and hands trembled nervously as he looked for his license and registration. Mr. Frazier explained that he had been on a road trip to see the west, but was headed back to Tennessee to see his sick grandfather.

[¶5] The trooper had Mr. Frazier join him in his patrol car while he verified the driver's license and wrote a warning. The trooper noted that Mr. Frazier was extremely nervous, and continued shaking even after he was told he would only receive a warning. While waiting for dispatch to report on the driver's license, the trooper asked Mr. Frazier about his travel plans. Mr. Frazier said that he lived in Tennessee but drove to Reno for a road trip. He had been in Reno for three days and had wanted to drive through Idaho on his way back home. Mr. Frazier volunteered that his grandfather, who had been in assisted living, had become very ill. Mr. Frazier said he had to cut his road trip short when he got the news, and was now on his way to see his dying grandfather.

[¶6] The trooper issued a written warning and returned Mr. Frazier's license and registration. As Mr. Frazier was walking back to his vehicle, the trooper inquired if he could ask a few more questions and Mr. Frazier agreed. The trooper asked additional questions about Mr. Frazier's travel plans. He also asked if Mr. Frazier had any illegal drugs in the vehicle. Mr. Frazier replied that he did not, but his face turned "white" and "pale." The trooper twice asked for Mr. Frazier's consent to search the vehicle. Each time Mr. Frazier replied that he was in a hurry and had to be on his way. The trooper took this as a "no" and informed Mr. Frazier that he was within his rights to decline the search. The trooper then advised Mr. Frazier that he suspected Mr. Frazier was transporting controlled substances and that he would be detained until a canine unit arrived and conducted an external sniff of the vehicle. The trooper called for the canine unit at 9:00 a.m. It arrived at 9:53 a.m. The dog alerted to the presence of drugs in the vehicle. A subsequent search of the vehicle revealed 22 pounds of marijuana and various other drug paraphernalia in the trunk.

[¶7] Mr. Frazier was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 35-7-1031(c)(iii) (LexisNexis 2007), and possession of marijuana with the intent to deliver, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 35-7-1031(a)(ii). He filed a motion to suppress alleging the trooper did not have reasonable suspicion to detain him while they waited for the canine unit to arrive. The district court denied the motion. Pursuant to a conditional guilty plea agreement, Mr. Frazier pled guilty to possession of marijuana with the intent to deliver and reserved the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. In exchange, the State dismissed the possession of marijuana charge. Mr. Frazier was sentenced to two to four years of incarceration. Execution of the sentence was suspended, and Mr. Frazier was placed on three years of probation. He filed this timely appeal.


[¶8] When reviewing a district court's decision on a motion to suppress evidence, we defer to the court's findings on factual issues unless they are clearly erroneous. Lovato v. State, 2010 WY 38, ¶ 11, 228 P.3d 55, 57 (Wyo. 2010). "We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the district court's decision because it is in the best position to assess the witnesses' credibility, weigh the evidence and make the necessary inferences, deductions and conclusions." Leyva v. State, 2009 WY 149, ¶ 9, 220 P.3d 791, 794 (Wyo. 2009). The constitutionality of a particular search or seizure, however, is a question of law that we review de novo. Id.


[¶9] The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV.*fn2 A routine traffic stop constitutes a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment "even though the purpose of the stop is limited and the resulting detention quite brief." Damato v. State, 2003 WY 13, ¶ 9, 64 P.3d 700, 704 (Wyo. 2003). When determining if a "seizure" was reasonable, we apply the two-step inquiry established in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 1879, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968). Under that inquiry, we must determine: 1) whether the initial stop was justified, and 2) were the officer's actions during the detention "reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the interference in the first instance." Wallace v. State, 2009 WY 152, ¶ 12, 221 P.3d 967, 970 (Wyo. 2009).

Initial Stop

[ΒΆ10] Although Mr. Frazier describes the offending license plate bracket as a "minor infraction," he appears to concede that the obstructed license plate provided a valid basis for the traffic stop. He also does not take serious issue with the length of the initial stop. He suggests that the trooper's questions, as he wrote out the ...

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