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Jennings v. State

Supreme Court of Wyoming

July 11, 2016

CAMERON CLAYTON JENNINGS, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
THE STATE OF WYOMING, Appellee (Plaintiff).

         Appeal from the District Court of Natrona County The Honorable W. Thomas Sullins, Judge

          Representing Appellant: Vaughn H. Neubauer, Neubauer, Pelkey and Goldfinger, LLP, Laramie, Wyoming.

          Representing Appellee Peter K. Michael, Attorney General; David L. Delicath, Deputy Attorney General; Christyne M. Martens, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Darrell D. Jackson, Director, Bradford H. Coates, Student Director, and David B. Maris, Student Intern, Prosecution Assistance Program, University of Wyoming, College of Law. Argument by Mr. Maris.

          Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.

          BURKE, Chief Justice.

         [¶1] Cameron Jennings challenges the district court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence of a controlled substance found in his vehicle after a traffic stop. He claims that the traffic stop was unjustified and a violation of his constitutional rights. We will affirm.

         ISSUE

         [¶2] Did the district court err when it denied Mr. Jennings' motion to suppress evidence?

         FACTS

         [¶3] On the morning of November 5, 2014, the general manager of a motel in Casper, Wyoming, heard a woman outside her room who was "crying and seemed to be hysterical."[1] The woman turned back toward her room, where a man opened the door and yelled at her. After the woman went back into the room, the manager "heard screaming and yelling, " heard some "loud thuds, " and saw "the curtains swishing back and forth in the room." The manager thought the woman "was in danger, " so she called the police. She related what she had seen and heard to the police dispatcher. While the manager was still on the telephone with the dispatcher, she saw "the vehicle that was registered to that room, which was a school bus, " leave the parking lot. A man wearing a black hoodie and the woman seen crying earlier were inside the bus. The manager gave this information to the dispatcher as well.

         [¶4] The dispatcher called for two units to respond to a "family fight" at the motel. Detective Dunnuck of the Casper police department was in the vicinity, and responded to the call. As he drove toward the motel, the detective listened to the "radio traffic" and watched the written "call comments" on the computer screen in his patrol car. He learned that an employee of the motel reported a "male and female arguing within the room, " the woman coming out of the room, "crying, " then going "back in the room" where they were again "yelling at each other." He knew that the motel manager reported hearing "loud thuds from [the] room . . . yelling . . . and then they're leaving in [a] yellow Chevy bus with Colorado plates." He learned where the bus was and got a description of the female. He spotted the vehicle and initiated a traffic stop.

         [¶5] Detective Dunnuck approached the vehicle on its passenger side and, as soon as the window was opened, the officer smelled "a strong odor of raw marijuana." After a second officer arrived at the scene, they asked Mr. Jennings to get out of the vehicle. Mr. Jennings refused and resisted but he was eventually removed from the vehicle. The officers handcuffed Mr. Jennings and placed him into a patrol car. After removing the passenger from the bus, the officers conducted a search and found "copious amounts of marijuana" inside. Mr. Jennings was arrested and charged with conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, unlawful possession of a controlled substance, and obstruction of a peace officer engaged in the lawful performance of official duties.

         [¶6] After pleading not guilty to all three charges, Mr. Jennings filed a motion to suppress evidence he contended was obtained in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 4 of the Wyoming Constitution. After conducting a hearing, the district court denied the motion. The district court determined that

based upon the totality of the circumstances in the case at hand the stop of [Mr. Jennings'] vehicle was justified when Officer [Dunnuck] showed specific, articulable facts and rational inferences giving rise to a reasonable suspicion that a person has committed or may be committing a crime and therefore, the traffic stop and investigatory detention were reasonable.

         It further concluded that, "additionally, based upon the totality of the circumstances in the case at hand the stop of [Mr. Jennings'] vehicle was also justified pursuant to Officer [Dunnuck's] community caretaker function since the search ...


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