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State v. Navarro

Court of Appeals of Utah

June 22, 2017

State of Utah, Appellee,
Chance Aric Navarro, Appellant.

         Fifth District Court, St. George Department The Honorable John J. Walton No. 131501328

          Gary W. Pendleton, Attorney for Appellant

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

          Judge Stephen L. Roth authored this Opinion, in which Judges David N. Mortensen and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.


          ROTH, Judge:

         ¶1 This case is about the reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment of a warrantless vehicle search which uncovered weapons, drugs, and drug paraphernalia. Chance Aric Navarro appeals the district court's denial of his motion to suppress the evidence. We affirm.

         ¶2 One night in August 2013, Officer Parry of the Washington County Drug Task Force was conducting surveillance of a St. George tire shop, trying to find a person for whom the task force had an arrest warrant.[1] Parry never found his target, but he did watch Navarro and several others as they hung out at the shop and in its parking area. At one point, Navarro opened the front door of his SUV, and, when he did so, Parry noticed the SUV's window was darkly tinted. Parry "was very confident that the window was too dark" and "believed it was going to be a tint violation."[2]

         ¶3 Later, Navarro opened the SUV's rear hatch and Parry saw "what appeared to be a rifle case." The case concerned Parry because he "believed that Mr. Navarro was a felon, and he may have [had] a weapon with him."[3] Parry's belief was based on his personal involvement in a proceeding from several years earlier in which Navarro had agreed to plead guilty to felony charges.[4]Parry was also concerned that Navarro might have a gun because the drug task force had information from two sources that Navarro "was involved with the distribution of drugs, " was "in possession of weapons, " and "was possibly looking to shoot it out with officers . . . if he was caught."

         ¶4 A short time before midnight, Navarro got in his SUV and left the tire shop in a convoy with three other cars. Parry used his radio to alert other members of the task force to Navarro's presumed tint violation and to warn them to use caution dealing with him. Officers Jessop and Nutchatelli responded to the radio call and paralleled the convoy as it stopped briefly at a Wendy's restaurant. The convoy broke up in the Wendy's parking lot, with Navarro's SUV and another car driving to a nearby Denny's restaurant.

         ¶5 Jessop and Nutchatelli followed both cars into the Denny's parking lot and turned on their patrol car's lights to initiate a traffic stop of the vehicles. Both Navarro's SUV and the other vehicle stopped. The other driver got out of her car and headed quickly for the Denny's. Jessop and Nutchatelli, with the assistance of other officers arriving on the scene, stopped her and then approached Navarro's SUV. After a short delay, Navarro complied with officer requests to show his hands and get out of his vehicle. Navarro notified the officers that he had a knife on his belt and a firearm in the SUV; they frisked Navarro for other weapons, found none, and then placed him in handcuffs.

         ¶6 Around this time, Parry left his surveillance position, went to Navarro's location, and discussed the possible tint violation with him. Because none of the officers on the scene had a tint meter with them, the officers waited for one to arrive so they could confirm their suspicion that Navarro's window tint violated the statute.

         ¶7 While the officers were waiting for the tint meter, several other things happened. First, an officer with a computer arrived and determined that Navarro was not a felon by running a criminal history check. Second, Parry called an officer with a drug dog, who arrived shortly after the call. The dog alerted on Navarro's SUV, and the officers searched it. The search uncovered two guns, drug paraphernalia, and a substance alleged to be methamphetamine. Eventually, a tint meter arrived and confirmed that the SUV's windows were tinted too darkly. The State charged Navarro with two counts of possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person, [5] possession or use of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, and illegal window tinting.

         ¶8 Navarro moved to suppress the evidence of drugs and weapons on the ground that the police search of his vehicle was illegal under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Navarro's basic argument was that the police stopped him on the pretext of a window tint violation, but they immediately detoured into an investigation for drugs and weapons without doing any of the normal activities associated with clearing a traffic stop for a tint violation. This investigatory detour, he claimed, was outside the scope of a reasonable investigation necessary to resolve the window tinting pretext, and thus was illegal under the Fourth Amendment. Navarro requested an evidentiary hearing on the issue.

         ¶9 At the suppression hearing, the trial court heard testimony from officers Parry, Jessop, and Nutchatelli. Much of the testimony related to the timeline of events before and during the stop, the search of Navarro's SUV, and the pretextual nature of the stop. Testimony showed that Navarro left the tire shop at 11:39 p.m. Several minutes passed before he arrived at the Denny's, where he was stopped at roughly 11:45 p.m. Parry testified that, based on his phone records, he had called for the drug dog at 12:03 a.m. and that the search of Navarro's SUV began at 12:12 a.m. after the dog alerted to the possible presence of drugs. No officer was able to remember when the tint meter was requested or who requested it, but Nutchatelli testified that he had been informed that Parry "was going to get ahold of a ...

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