The Curious Case of the Three Suppression Orders (Part 2)
Author’s note: In case y’all missed it or want to refresh your recollection, Part 1 is here.
Deputy McGuire testified at the suppression hearing that he was dispatched by 911 to investigate a call by a citizen who reported that, “There’s this lady walking around in my neighbor’s yard talking to my neighbor and writing stuff down in a notebook and she mentioned something about tar heroin and all that stuff.”
The caller identified himself and described the woman and her vehicle. He also reported that the vehicle had a WA license and provided the number. He did not indicate if he had spoken with the woman; if he was present when the conversation took place; who told him about it if he was not present; or what she was writing down.
When he arrived in the area, the deputy searched for but he did not find the woman or the vehicle and he cleared the call without talking to the 911 caller. As he was approaching the traffic-controlled Cairo Road intersection in the passing lane on Highway 60, he noticed that he was passing a vehicle with its left turn signal blinking. The vehicle had WA plates and both the driver and the vehicle matched the description provided by the caller. He decided to pull her over and investigate.
He slowed down, allowing her to move ahead, and then he fell in directly behind her. She reacted by activating her right turn signal and moved over into the emergency lane along the right shoulder of the highway. As she did, he activated his emergency lights, moved over with her, and stopped behind her.
Upon request, she produced her license, registration, and proof of insurance without difficulty.
When he ordered her to get out of her vehicle, she did so without stumbling, and she followed his instructions without exhibiting any confusion or mental impairment. Other than “glassy” eyes and nervousness, he saw no signs of possible impairment. He administered a portable breath test (PBT) that she passed, effectively ruling out alcohol intoxication. Although she “failed all six clues” on the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (HGN), he administered the test improperly, according to the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) because he positioned her facing the headlights of oncoming traffic and his patrol cruiser’s emergency lights. NHTSA, which developed the test, warns police not to do that because the lights produce a false nystagmus.
The deputy conceded that he did not witness any bad driving and her blinking left-turn signal could have been due to her intending to move into the left lane, but his approaching vehicle in that lane prevented her from doing so.
After he placed her under arrest for DUI, he transported her to a hospital for a blood draw and discovered an apparent rock of crack next to her watch in the seatbelt crack of his back seat next to where she was sitting.
Author’s note: In another post we discussed his prior testimony under oath at the preliminary hearing and the grand jury in which he said he found her watch and the rock of crack under his back seat. In other words, he did not find it in plain view on the seat beside her. He said he pulled the back seat forward to look for her watch after she told him that it had fallen off and slipped behind the seat. She asked him to retrieve it because she was handcuffed and could not do it herself.
The trial judge entered three suppression orders.
1. The First Order.
On January 11, 2007, Judge Clymer issued his first order denying the motion to suppress evidence. Although all of the material findings of fact and conclusions of law were clearly erroneous, one finding of fact and its corresponding conclusion of law merit special consideration. In Finding of Fact 5, Judge Clymer wrote,
When Defendant first exited the [her] vehicle the Deputy observed a wristwatch in close proximity to a baggie with apparent controlled substance inside the car. Defendant denied the apparent controlled substance was hers but acknowledged the wristwatch was hers.
This did not inspire confidence as one can only wonder how the judge forgot or became confused and thought that the rock of crack was discovered in her vehicle rather than the police cruiser.
Not to worry, we thought. We pointed out that and other errors and asked him to reconsider his order, which he agreed to do.
2. The Second Order
On January 18, 2008, Judge Clymer entered his second order concerning the defense suppression motion. He found that while driving “in a right hand traffic lane with her left turn signal activated, [the appellant] did not turn but pulled to the right side of the roadway and stopped.” (Finding of Fact 3) “The deputy pulled in behind the stopped vehicle and activated his emergency lights.” (Finding of Fact 4) He concluded that the arresting officer “did not conduct a stop of the appellant’s vehicle” because she “pulled off the roadway and stopped” before “he pulled in behind her and turned on his emergency lights so as to investigate.” (Conclusion of Law 1)
Author’s note: We have already discussed whether this was an investigatory stop initiated by a police officer or a voluntary citizen initiated contact with a police officer. This was an investigatory stop.
Judge Clymer also concluded that “[t]he combination of a report of an unknown person, driving a Washington state licensed vehicle in a Paducah, Kentucky residential area, asking about tar heroin, later observed to signal a left turn but pull off the roadway to the right, constitutes reasonable suspicion to investigate and possibly cite for improper signal.” (Conclusion of Law 2)
Author’s note: A person who calls 911 to report a possible crime is presumed to have provided reliable information if he identifies himself and provides a current address. Since the caller in this case provided the requisite information, he would be presumed to have provided reliable information. However, even if one assumes that his information was accurate and reliable, he did not describe criminal activity. In addition, the judge’s findings of fact conflict with the information provided by the caller and the deputy’s testimony, which described an alert driver operating her motor vehicle in compliance with the traffic laws. He could not have cited her for “improper signal” because no such statute exists. Since the information provided by the presumptively reliable caller and the deputy described lawful activity, the judge erroneously concluded that the deputy had a reasonable suspicion “to investigate and possibly cite for improper signal.”
Regarding the appellant’s arrest, he found as fact that the appellant admitted that she had taken several prescription medications, including Clonazepam. (Finding of Fact 6) He also found that “[t]he maker of Clonazepam warns that it should not be used when driving a vehicle and that the drug causes abnormal eye movements.” (Finding of Fact 7) He concluded, “[d]efendants inquiring about heroin, failing an HGN test, signaling a left turn and pulling off the road to the right, and stating she was taking medication that would cause her to fail the test, constitutes probable cause to arrest for DUI.” (Conclusion of Law 4).
Author’s note: We have already discussed the HGN and Clonazepam issues noting that the product insert does not warn “that it should not be used when driving a vehicle and that the drug causes abnormal eye movements.” It advises physicians to warn their patients for whom they first prescribe Clonazepam to be careful because the drug might cause drowsiness and impair their ability to operate a motor vehicle or other machinery. If that happens, the dosage can be lowered to avoid impairment. This is actually a common warning given for many drugs that are prescribed to improve functioning. Clonazepam is such a drug and it is prescribed to enhance function by reducing anxiety and to control seizures. Dosage is critical. Assuming the judge was honest, the rest of the finding establishes that he was thinking of a different case when he crafted this effort.
To be continued.