District Court, Heber Department The Honorable Roger W.
Griffin No. 141500331
B. Gordon, Dan H. Matthews, and Jarom B. Bangerter, Attorneys
D. Reyes and Jeanne B. Inouye, Attorneys for Appellee.
Stephen L. Roth authored this Opinion, in which Judges J.
Frederic Voros Jr. and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.
Roy D. Taylor challenges the trial court's denial of his
motion to suppress evidence of drugs discovered during a
consent search of his car. The court admitted the evidence,
and a jury convicted Taylor of possession of a controlled
substance with intent to distribute and possession of drug
paraphernalia. We affirm.
In October 2014, Officer Paul Scott saw Taylor traveling
toward Heber City. Taylor and his car matched the description
given to police by a confidential informant who indicated
Taylor would be transporting methamphetamine. Scott then
followed behind Taylor and saw him commit a traffic violation
by following the car in front of him too closely. Scott
pulled Taylor's car over for the violation. He later
admitted that the stop was a pretext designed to give him an
opportunity to follow up on the confidential informant's
Officer Scott asked Taylor for his license and registration.
Taylor had a friend in the passenger seat, so he separated
the two for his safety by having Taylor stand by the front
bumper of the police cruiser while the passenger remained in
the stopped car. Scott then began checking Taylor's
documentation, which took roughly "three to five
minutes." While the records check was ongoing, two other
officers, having learned of the stop over the radio, arrived
on the scene. One of them spoke with Taylor and asked to
search his car. Taylor consented. The search uncovered a
glass pipe with residue and burn marks, a box of clear
plastic bags, and a digital scale. The officers arrested
Taylor and transported him to jail. They later discovered
that he had stashed a bag of methamphetamine in the police
car along the way.
The State charged Taylor with possession or use of a
controlled substance with intent to distribute under Utah
Code section 58-37-8(2)(a)(i) and possession of drug
paraphernalia under section 58-37a-5(1). Taylor moved to
suppress the drug evidence uncovered during the search on the
alternative theories that either the stop was not supported
by reasonable suspicion or Taylor's detention exceeded
the permissible scope of the traffic stop. The State opposed
the motion and the trial court held a hearing on the matter.
At the end of the hearing, the court stated that it found
Officer Scott's "testimony [to be] credible."
And based on that testimony, the court found "that the
defendant [Taylor] was following too closely so that the stop
was proper." The court then requested additional
briefing to address a lingering legal question about the
validity of pretext stops. The State briefed the issue, and
Taylor's counsel conceded the State's position,
namely that a traffic stop motivated by pretext is valid so
long as a legal basis for the stop exists. The court did not
enter a formal order regarding the motion to suppress, but it
is apparent that the motion was denied because the contested
evidence was presented at trial. The jury found Taylor guilty
as charged, and he timely appealed.
Taylor raises three arguments on appeal: (1) the stop of his
vehicle was illegal under the Fourth Amendment to the United
States Constitution because police "fabricated" the
reason for the stop; (2) the police questioning and request
for consent to search his vehicle "impermissibly
broadened and extended and thus exceeded the scope of the
stop" in violation of the Fourth Amendment; and (3) his
trial counsel provided ineffective assistance during the
suppression phase of his case."We review a trial
court's decision to grant or deny a motion to suppress
for an alleged Fourth Amendment violation as a mixed question
of law and fact." State v. Fuller, 2014 UT 29,
¶ 17, 332 P.3d 937. "While the court's factual
findings are reviewed for clear error, its legal conclusions
are reviewed for correctness, including its application of
law to the facts of the case." Id. And
"[w]hen a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is
raised for the first time on appeal, there is no lower court
ruling to review and we must determine whether the defendant
was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel as a
matter of law." State v. Tirado, 2017 UT App
31, ¶ 10, 392 P.3d 926.
We begin by examining Taylor's Fourth Amendment claims.
"[T]he touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is
reasonableness, " which "is measured in objective
terms by examining the totality of the circumstances."
Ohio v. Robinette, 519 U.S. 33, 39 (1996) (citation
and internal quotation marks omitted). "To decide
whether police conduct during a traffic stop is reasonable,
we consider whether the stop was (1) 'justified at its
inception' and (2) carried out in a manner
'reasonably related in scope to the circumstances [that]
justified the interference in the first place.'"
State v. Martinez, 2017 UT 26, ¶ 12 (alteration
in original) (quoting United States v. Sharpe, 470
U.S. 675, 682 (1985)).
Taylor's first argument is that the stop was not
justified at its inception. In essence, he asserts that
Officer Scott wanted to search Taylor for drugs and, when he
could not find a valid reason to stop Taylor, he made one up.
Specifically, Taylor claims that Scott "followed
[Taylor's] vehicle for a period of time and[, ] finding
no reason to pull him over, the officer fabricated an
offense, claiming he could tell that [Taylor's] car was
following too close to the vehicle ahead of him." In
other words, Taylor alleges that Scott lied.
Taylor bases much of his legal position on our supreme
court's holding in State v. Lopez,873 P.2d 1127
(Utah 1994). In Lopez, the court noted that "an
officer's subjective suspicions unrelated to the traffic
violation for which he or she stops a defendant can be used
by defense counsel to show that the officer fabricated the
violation." Id. at 1138. The court explained
that subjective intent exists on a sliding scale: "The
more evidence that a detention was motivated by police
suspicions unrelated to the traffic offense, the less
credible the officer's assertion that the traffic offense
occurred." Id. at 1138-39. Taylor essentially
argues that, because Officer Scott admitted the stop was a