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Rodriguez v. State

Supreme Court of Wyoming

December 4, 2018

VANESSA RODRIGUEZ, Appellant (Defendant),
THE STATE OF WYOMING, Appellee (Plaintiff).

          Appeal from the District Court of Johnson County The Honorable William J. Edelman, Judge

          Representing Appellant: Office of the State Public Defender: Diane Lozano, Wyoming State Public Defender; Kirk A. Morgan, Chief Appellate Counsel; James Michael Causey [*] , Senior Assistant Public Defender. Argument by Mr. Causey.

          Representing Appellee: Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney General; Christyne M. Martens, Deputy Attorney General; Caitlin F. Harper, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Kelly D. Mullen, Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. Mullen.

          Before DAVIS, C.J., and BURKE [†] , FOX, KAUTZ, and BOOMGAARDEN, JJ.


         [¶1] Vanessa Rodriguez entered a conditional guilty plea to a felony charge of possession of a controlled substance, marijuana. She reserved the right to appeal the district court's denial of her motion to suppress her statements to highway patrol troopers and the marijuana they subsequently found in her car. We conclude that the district court did not err in denying that motion, and we affirm.


         [¶2] Ms. Rodriguez states a single issue: Did the district court err in denying her motion to suppress?


         [¶3] At 11:43 a.m. on December 1, 2016, Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper William Beres was patrolling on Interstate 25 in Johnson County. He stopped a light blue Buick with Colorado plates for speeding, specifically for traveling at 105 miles per hour in an 80 mile per hour zone. As he approached the driver's side of the car, he noticed three occupants: the driver, a front-seat passenger, and an infant girl in a car seat in the back seat.

         [¶4] Trooper Beres explained the reason for the stop and asked why they were speeding. The driver said the passenger was eight months pregnant and there was some sort of medical emergency. The trooper asked about their travel plans. He was informed that they were driving from Laramie to Sheridan to visit the passenger's grandfather. Trooper Beres noticed that the driver was not wearing a seat belt.

         [¶5] The trooper asked the driver for his license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. The driver said he did not have a license, and he volunteered that the passenger was the owner of the vehicle. He claimed his name was "Joe Bravo," and struggled to state his date of birth. Trooper Beres believed that the driver was lying because he took a while to come up with a name and date of birth, and he seemed overly nervous. Trooper Beres asked the passenger for her driver's license. She produced a Colorado license identifying her as Vanessa Rodriguez. She informed the trooper that she had no proof of insurance for the vehicle.

         [¶6] Trooper Beres asked the driver to get out of the car. He frisked him before placing him in the back seat cage of the patrol car. Trooper Beres then contacted another state trooper, William Kirkman, because Trooper Beres had "the trooper's intuition that something is not right here and [wanted] to have the backup officer here for officer safety reasons." During this time, the driver told Trooper Beres that the passenger was "his woman," which the trooper took to mean that she was the driver's girlfriend, fiancé, wife, or significant other.

         [¶7] Trooper Beres then returned to the passenger side of the Buick to talk with Ms. Rodriguez. He confirmed with Ms. Rodriguez that she did not need medical attention. He asked her who the driver was. Ms. Rodriguez said that the driver was her friend "Joe," that she had met him in California a few years ago, and that he was a friend of her father. She denied that the driver was the father of her infant daughter or unborn child. Because her answers were inconsistent with the driver's, Trooper Beres believed she was lying about the driver's identity. He warned her that she could go to jail for lying to him, but he was willing to "start over fresh" with her. He also warned her that if she were arrested for lying to him, the Wyoming Department of Family Services would take her infant child.

         [¶8] Trooper Beres then returned to his car to check on the information given to him by "Joe Bravo" and on the Colorado driver's license provided by Ms. Rodriguez. The dispatcher could locate no records concerning "Joe Bravo." The information concerning Ms. Rodriguez's license indicated that she had obtained a protective order preventing a man named Jesse Grijalva from having contact with her. The physical description of Mr. Grijalva closely matched that of the driver who had identified himself as "Joe Bravo." Trooper Beres believed the driver was, in fact, Mr. Grijalva, the subject of Ms. Rodriguez's protective order.

         [¶9] Trooper Kirkman, who is part of a K-9 unit, arrived to assist. Together, they resumed questioning Ms. Rodriguez. When asked if the driver was Jesse Grijalva, she acknowledged that he was, and admitted she had lied about his identity. She also revealed that Mr. Grijalva was the father of both the infant girl in the car seat and the child with whom she was pregnant. Ms. Rodriguez did not deny that she had obtained a protective order against Mr. Grijalva, but she insisted that it had been lifted by this time.

         [¶10] Trooper Beres told Ms. Rodriguez that he was suspicious of something else going on because they both had lied about Mr. Grijalva's identity, and he asked if there was anything illegal in the car. In response to questioning by Trooper Kirkman, Ms. Rodriguez admitted to possessing medical marijuana from Colorado for her anxiety. She said the marijuana was located in a diaper bag on the floor in the back of the car, and that there were eight ounces there. Trooper Beres moved Ms. Rodriguez and the infant into Trooper ...

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