District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Randall N.
Skanchy No. 131904665
L. Welch and Ralph W. Dellapiana, Attorneys for Appellant
D. Reyes and Jeffrey S. Gray, Attorneys for Appellee
David N. Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judges
Gregory K. Orme and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.
Romeo Lucero Olivarez activated his turn signal and, in one
continuous movement, crossed two lanes of traffic. An officer
stopped Olivarez for an illegal lane change. One thing led to
another, heroin and methamphetamine were found, and Olivarez
conditionally pled guilty to two counts of Possession or Use
of a Controlled Substance, reserving a right to appeal the
denial of his motion to suppress. On appeal, Olivarez
contends that the evidence obtained during this stop, which
included an inventory search of his car, should have been
suppressed. We affirm.
Driving alone, Olivarez exited Interstate 15 on a four-lane
off-ramp toward 900 South in Salt Lake City. For clarity we
refer to the lanes on the off-ramp, from left to right while
facing the direction of the flow of traffic, as lane one,
lane two, lane three, and lane four. While on the exit ramp,
Olivarez activated his turn signal and in one motion moved
from lane two, across lane three, into lane four on the far
right of the ramp. An officer in an unmarked patrol car
activated his emergency lights to stop Olivarez because he
"went across all the traffic without leaving the
appropriate two second signal." After making a right
hand turn, Olivarez pulled over on the side of the road,
"outside the lane of travel, " on 900 South.
The officer told Olivarez why he had stopped him and asked
for Olivarez's driver license, registration, and proof of
insurance. Olivarez first told the officer that he did not
have his license with him. Later, when it became apparent
that the officer would search Olivarez's name to check
the status of his license, he told the officer that his
license might be suspended. Indeed, the officer verified that
Olivarez's license was "denied." The officer
also verified that the car Olivarez was driving was
registered to someone else. At this point, the officer
decided to impound the car because Olivarez "was driving
on a denied or he didn't have a valid driver's
license" and because there was no other driver present
to take possession of the car that Olivarez did not own.
The officer approached Olivarez to inform him that his
license was "suspended or denied" and that the
police were "going to impound the vehicle."
Olivarez then told him that the car belonged to his brother
and asked if he could call his brother to come get the car.
The officer told Olivarez that "he could make his phone
call once he was outside the vehicle so [the officer] could
start the impound."
When Olivarez exited the car, the officer asked him if he was
carrying any weapons. Olivarez informed the officer that he
was carrying brass knuckles in his front pocket. Olivarez
consented to a search of his person. The officer searched
Olivarez and found the brass knuckles, whereupon the officer
handcuffed and arrested Olivarez for carrying a concealed
After securing Olivarez in a patrol vehicle, the officer,
along with other officers who had arrived, conducted an
inventory search of the car in preparation for impound. The
officers found "a blue flashlight . . . that contained .
. . methamphetamine, heroin, and marijuana, " as well as
"a glass pipe that appeared to have been used to smoke
narcotics." After the officers completed the inventory
search, a tow truck arrived and was hooked up to the car. The
registered owner of the car then arrived to pick up the car,
but the officers proceeded to impound the car rather than
turn it over to the owner because the impound was almost
Olivarez was charged with multiple offenses based on the
evidence gathered during the traffic stop and inventory
search. Olivarez moved to suppress this evidence, arguing
that "the method by which [he] changed lanes complied
with applicable Utah law" and that the officer made a
"mistake in law" by requiring that Olivarez pause
"for any particular time in lane 3 before going over to
lane 4." Olivarez further argued that the vehicle
impound was improper under both the Fourth Amendment to the
United States Constitution and the Salt Lake City Police
Department's impound policy because the car "was
[in] a safe place, not blocking traffic" and because
"Olivarez had called his brother and told [the officer]
he wanted his brother to come take possession of the car and
the officer refused to do that."
The Salt Lake City Police Department's impound policy
requires officers to "use discretion in determining
whether or not a vehicle should be impounded" to
"avoid needless expense and inconvenience to the vehicle
owner." The policy also restricts officers from
impounding vehicles solely due to a lack of insurance or for
an expired registration of less than ninety days when the
vehicle is occupied by the owner or a responsible party.
The district court denied the motion to suppress, concluding
that (1) "the stop was justified at its inception"
because the officer "directly observed a traffic
offense"; (2) "the officer's decision to
impound the vehicle did not exceed the scope of the purpose
of the stop" because "the officer determined that
the driver did not have a valid license[, ] that he was the
only occupant[, ] and that the driver was not the
owner"; and (3) the officer "conducted the impound
pursuant to his department impound policy."
After the court denied his motion to suppress, Olivarez
entered a conditional guilty plea to possession of
methamphetamine and heroin, while ...