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State v. Taylor

Court of Appeals of Utah

June 2, 2017

State of Utah, Appellee,
Roy D. Taylor, Appellant.

         Fourth District Court, Heber Department The Honorable Roger W. Griffin No. 141500331

          Corbin B. Gordon, Dan H. Matthews, and Jarom B. Bangerter, Attorneys for Appellant.

          Sean D. Reyes and Jeanne B. Inouye, Attorneys for Appellee.

          Judge Stephen L. Roth authored this Opinion, in which Judges J. Frederic Voros Jr. and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.


          ROTH, Judge.

         ¶1 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.

         ¶2 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 tip.

         ¶3 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.

         ¶4 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.

         ¶5 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.

         ¶6 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.[1]"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.

         ¶7 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)).

         ¶8 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.

         ¶9 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 ...

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