Appeal from the District Court of Natrona County The Honorable Scott W. Skavdahl, Judge
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burke, Justice.
Before KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, VOIGT, and BURKE, JJ.
NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in Pacific Reporter Third. Readers are requested to notify the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Building, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82002, of any typographical or other formal errors so that correction may be made before final publication in the permanent volume.
[¶1] Appellant, Bradley Allen Parks, was charged with a third offense for possession of a controlled substance, a felony under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 35-7-1031(c)(i). He entered a conditional guilty plea and reserved the right to appeal the district court's decision denying his motion to suppress. We affirm the district court's denial of the suppression motion.
[¶2] Mr. Parks presents the following issue:
Did the district court err in its interpretation of W.S. § 31-2-205 and its application to a search pursuant to a traffic stop and therefore err in the denial of Appellant's motion to suppress evidence?
The State phrases the issue as follows:
Did the district court err in finding that Officer Ransom had probable cause to stop Appellant's vehicle for an improper display of a license plate under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 31-2-205?
[¶3] On the afternoon of January 26, 2008, Officer Derek Ransom of the Mills Police Department was on traffic enforcement patrol on West Yellowstone Highway in Mills. During his patrol, Officer Ransom observed an older model Chevrolet pickup driven by Mr. Parks. A trailer hitch ball was mounted in a predrilled hole in the truck's factory bumper so that the license plate was partially obstructed. Due to the obstruction, Officer Ransom was unable to read the license plate. Officer Ransom followed the truck for a distance and activated his overhead lights just as, or shortly before, Mr. Parks approached his residence.
[¶4] Mr. Parks exited the truck and Officer Ransom directed him to get back inside the vehicle for safety reasons. Officer Ransom, now standing by his own car door and close to the truck's rear license plate, called in the plate number to his dispatcher. He then approached the driver's side door of the truck and informed Mr. Parks that he had been stopped for an obscured license plate and that he needed to remove the trailer ball when he had his first chance to do so. As he was talking to Mr. Parks, Officer Ransom smelled the odor of burnt marijuana coming from inside the truck. After questioning by Officer Ransom, Mr. Parks surrendered a bag of marijuana and a pipe. Mr. Parks was eventually cited and released. After discovering that Mr. Parks had two prior drug possession convictions, the State dismissed the citation and charged Mr. Parks with a third offense for possession of a controlled substance, a felony under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 35-7-1031(c)(i).
[¶5] Mr. Parks filed a motion to suppress, alleging that the officer's stop of his vehicle violated Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. After a hearing, the district court denied the motion. Mr. Parks subsequently entered a conditional guilty plea to ...