THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
OF THE STATE OF FLORIDA IN AND FOR PINELLAS COUNTY
LESTER DREW SKELLENGER, JR.,
vs. Appeal No. CRC 01-01302 CFANO
STATE OF FLORIDA,
Appeal from denial of Motion to Suppress Pinellas County Court
County Judge Robert J. Morris, Jr.
Mark S. Thellman, Esq.
Attorney for Appellant
Erik J. Lombillo, Esq.
Attorney for Appellee
IN THIS CASE the defendant appeals from and we affirm an order denying defendant’s Motion to Suppress on the ground that the traffic stop for careless driving was justified.
“Appellate review of a motion to suppress involves questions of both law and fact and appellate court must make a de novo review of the trial court's application of the law to the facts.” Rosenquist v. State, 769 So.2d 1051, 1052 (Fla. 2d DCA 2000). Furthermore, “a ruling on a Motion to Suppress is presumptively correct, and a reviewing court should interpret the evidence and reasonable inferences and deductions drawn from the evidence in a manner most favorable to sustaining the trial court ruling.” Johnston v. State, 438 So.2d 774 (Fla. 1983); McNamara v. State, 357 So.2d 410 (Fla. 1978).
On July 22, 2000 at 1:00 a.m., Officer Kristopher Mohr of the Tarpon Springs Police Department was in his patrol vehicle in a parking lot near Klosterman Road observing northbound traffic on U.S. Highway 19 when he observed a group of four or five cars travelling on U.S Highway 19 at what Officer Mohr estimated was at or near the speed limit of 50 mph. Officer Mohr then observed another single car, driven by the defendant, quickly approach and overtake the other vehicles from the rear. Officer Mohr visually estimated the defendant’s vehicle traveling at 70 mph. Officer Mohr observed that the defendant maneuvered his car through the other cars while passing them by making “quick back and forth” lane changes from the center lane to the median lane three different times without the use of a turn signal.
At this point, Officer Mohr began to follow the defendant to effect a stop for careless driving after observing the defendant’s aggressive driving. Before he effected a traffic stop, Officer Mohr again saw the defendant change lanes back into the median lane, without the use of a turn signal, and drive very close to the yellow line on the driver’s side. Once Officer Mohr stopped the Defendant’s car he noted that the defendant exhibited classic signs of impairment. After conducting field sobriety tests, the defendant was arrested for DUI.
In denying the defendant’s Motion to Suppress, the trial court indicated that the allegations of defendant’s excessive speed and weaving out of traffic on U.S. Highway 19 were enough to justify the stop for careless driving.
On appeal, the defendant asserts that the trial court erred in finding sufficient evidence to establish probable cause to stop his vehicle.
“As a general matter, the decision to stop an automobile is reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred.” Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 116 S.Ct. 1769, 135 L.Ed.2d 89 (1996). ). In our de novo review, this Court defers to the factual findings of the trial judge but will consider whether as a matter of law those facts amounted to probable cause. In our judgment, this rule is clearly satisfied by the undisputed facts of this case. What Officer Mohr observed fully and objectively supported his decision that the defendant was not driving in a careful and prudent manner, having regard for the width, curves corners, traffic, and all other attendant circumstances. See Sec. 316.1925 Fla. Stat. (2001). Officer Mohr reasonably estimated, based on his visual perception, that the defendant was exceeding the speed limit while making abrupt lane changes in and out of traffic. (See, State v. Eady, 538 So.2d 96 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1989) where police officer’s seeing a car proceeding at “a high rate of speed” and hearing a tire screeching and a sound “like a passing gear kicking in” were sufficient to justify an officer’s stop of a vehicle even though officer could not be “sure” the defendant was exceeding the speed limit.) Accordingly, the trial court properly found sufficient evidence existed to establish probable cause for Officer Mohr to stop the defendant’s vehicle for careless driving. It is therefore
ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s Motion to Suppress is affirmed.
DONE AND ORDERED in Chambers at St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, Florida this 7th day of September, 2001.
Copies furnished to:
The Honorable Robert J. Morris, Jr.
Mark S. Thellman, Esq.
135 E. Lemon Street
Tarpon Springs, Florida 34689
Erik J. Lombillo, Esq.
Assistant State Attorney