Appeal from the District Court of Albany County. The Honorable Jeffrey A. Donnell, Judge.
Representing Appellant: Office of the State Public Defender: Diane M. Lozano, State Public Defender; Tina N. Olson, Chief Appellate Counsel; Patricia L. Bennett, Assistant Appellate Counsel. Argument by Ms. Bennett.
Representing Appellee: Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney General; David L. Delicath, Deputy Attorney General; Jenny L. Craig, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Joshua C. Eames, Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Mr. Eames.
Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.
[¶1] Appellant Carl Wayne Allgier was the passenger in a car stopped for a traffic violation by a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper. After Mr. Allgier appeared to have suffered a seizure, the trooper searched the pocket of the jacket Mr. Allgier had left in the car and discovered marijuana. A subsequent search of the car revealed felony quantities of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. Following the district court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence, Mr. Allgier entered a conditional guilty plea to one count of possession of a controlled substance, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 35-7-1031(c)(i)(A), and was sentenced to three to five years' incarceration. Mr. Allgier appeals the district court's ruling on his motion to suppress, claiming that the initial stop and subsequent search of his jacket violated the Fourth Amendment. Because the trooper had reasonable suspicion that the driver of the vehicle was breaking the law, and because the search of his jacket was justified by the community caretaker exception to the warrant requirement, we conclude that the stop and subsequent search did not violate Mr. Allgier's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. We affirm.
[¶2] We rephrase the issues as follows:
1. Did the trooper have a reasonable suspicion that the driver of the car in which Mr. Allgier was riding was breaking the law by following too closely behind the vehicle in front of him?
2. Was the subsequent search of Mr. Allgier's jacket justified by an exception to the constitutional prohibition against warrantless searches?
[¶3] On the afternoon of March 12, 2014, Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper Tegdesth, who was traveling southbound on U.S. Highway 287 in Albany County, observed a white Jeep Grand Cherokee traveling northbound, about fifty feet behind a silver passenger vehicle. Trooper Tegdesth also noticed that the jeep had a cracked windshield. He turned around and activated his lights to pursue the jeep, pulling the driver over for following too closely and for having a cracked windshield. The jeep was driven by George Maestas; Mr. Allgier was seated in the front passenger seat. The trooper's initial sighting of the vehicle and the encounter that followed were recorded on the video by the trooper's L3 Camera System.
[¶4] Trooper Tegdesth approached the passenger side of the jeep, startling Mr. Allgier, who had just lit a cigarette. He informed Mr. Maestas of the reason for the stop and asked for his identification and insurance information. He also asked Mr. Allgier for his license because he was not wearing a seatbelt. Trooper Tegdesth then initiated a conversation with Mr. Maestas and Mr. Allgier as to the general nature of their travel plans. They indicated they had been in Fort Collins, Colorado, visiting Mr. Allgier's girlfriend, and that they were headed to Green River, Wyoming. Trooper Tegdesth then asked Mr. Allgier the name of his girlfriend, but Mr. Allgier responded with a " blank stare," a pause lasting four seconds, and then, " What?" Trooper Tegdesth questioned whether he knew her name and Mr. Allgier replied that he did but it was his business and he wasn't going to tell the trooper. By this time, tensions were escalating and Mr. Allgier had begun to raise his voice.
[¶5] Trooper Tegdesth asked why Mr. Allgier had an " attitude all of a sudden" and why he had lit up a cigarette. Mr. Allgier replied that he was " getting irritated." Trooper Tegdesth inquired whether there were any weapons in the vehicle and Mr. Allgier denied having any. Trooper Tegdesth testified that at this point, given Mr. Allgier's contentious behavior, " red flags" were going up in his mind and that, based upon his training and experience, Mr. Allgier's behavior was not characteristic of the " innocent motoring public." Because he was concerned for his safety, Trooper Tegdesth asked Mr. Allgier to step out of the vehicle. Mr. Allgier refused, and Trooper Tegdesth then reached inside the passenger side window, unlocked the passenger door, and opened it. Mr. Allgier removed his jacket as he stepped out and threw it in the back seat of the vehicle. Trooper Tegdesth testified that this behavior " caused even more concern; " that once he was out of the car, it appeared as if Mr. Allgier " wanted a confrontation; " and that " he was going to try to fight me or something of that sort."
[¶6] Once Mr. Allgier was out of the vehicle, Trooper Tegdesth, who was standing behind him, reached for Mr. Allgier's arms from behind and began to pat him down. Mr. Allgier became rigid, began yelling and complaining of shoulder pain. Trooper Tegdesth found a Kershaw pocket knife in Mr. Allgier's rear left pocket. Trooper Tegdesth testified that this caused him even more concern because Mr. Allgier had earlier indicated he had no weapons. At this point, Mr. Allgier appeared to suffer a seizure, fell to his knees, and then the ground, and began to shake. Trooper Tegdesth testified that he was unsure whether Mr. Allgier was having a seizure or faking it, so he handcuffed him
before going to his patrol car and calling for an ambulance and back up.
[¶7] Trooper Tegdesth returned to check on Mr. Allgier, informing him that he had called for an ambulance and repeatedly telling him to relax. Trooper Tegdesth also asked Mr. Allgier if he had any medication. Mr. Allgier responded that he did not. The trooper approached the vehicle and, while taking the jacket from the backseat, asked Mr. Maestas " any meds in here?" He then looked in one of the pockets and saw a plastic purple prescription bottle, which appeared to have a label on it. Trooper Tegdesth recognized the bottle as the type that comes from medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado. He removed the bottle from the jacket pocket and saw that the label on it was indeed a medical marijuana label with Mr. Allgier's name on it. Trooper Tegdesth then opened the bottle and found what he suspected to be marijuana inside.
[¶8] Trooper Tegdesth ordered Mr. Maestas to get out of the jeep, handcuffed him, and placed him in his highway patrol car. Trooper Tegdesth then returned to check on Mr. Allgier and waited with him until the ambulance arrived.
[¶9] A subsequent search of the jeep revealed a felony amount of marijuana, along with other drug paraphernalia. Both Mr. Allgier and Mr. Maestas were charged with one count of possession of a controlled substance and one count of unlawful ...