County Criminal Court:CRIMINAL LAW Ė Traffic Stop Ė motion to suppress/investigatory stop Ė trial court erred in granting motion to suppress Ė identity should be suppressed only if investigatory stop is unlawful Ė officer had reasonable suspicion to commence investigatory stop when he first determined that the registered owner had no valid license and that person driving vehicle matched description of owner Ė stop was lawful and identity should not have been suppressed Ė Order reversed and charges reinstated.State v. Haskell, No. 02-20803 (Fla. 6th Cir. App. Ct. April 28, 2003).

 

IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT OF THE STATE OF FLORIDA
IN AND FOR PINELLAS COUNTY

APPELLATE DIVISION

 

STATE OF FLORIDA,

††††††††††††††††††††††† Appellant,

 

vs.†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††† †††† APPEAL NO:CRC02-20803CFANO

 

 

RONALD C. HASKELL,

††††††††††††††††††††††† Appellee.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††† /

 

Opinion filed June _____, 2003.

 

Appeal from a decision of the

County Court for Pinellas County;

Fred L. Bryson, Senior Judge.

 

Joshua G. Sheridan, Esquire

Assistant State Attorney.

 

Brooke V. Elvington, Esquire

Assistant Public Defender.

 

ORDER AND OPINION

 

In the lower court, Haskell was charged with driving while his license was suspended or revoked; the offense date for this offense was May 20, 2002 (case number: CTC02-3872BLKANC).Additionally, Haskell was charged with operating a vehicle without a valid driverís license and possessing drug paraphernalia; the offense date for these offenses was June 12, 2002 (case numbers: CTC02-0922BOAASP and CTC02-16149MMANO respectively). [1] On or about August 6, 2002, Haskell filed a motion to suppress in the lower court, which concerned the traffic stop of his vehicle on June 12, 2002.The trial judge granted the motion, and, pursuant to the exclusionary rule, suppressed Haskellís identity and the drug paraphernalia discovered in his vehicle.The State appeals.We reverse and remand.

The suppression hearing in this case was brief.It involved a recitation of the facts by defense counsel, argument by both the State and defense counsel, and questioning by the trial judge. No testimony was taken.At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial judge orally granted the motion.He later entered a written order to the same effect, which contained all three of the above-mentioned case numbers.

The Stateís argument on appeal is twofold.First, the State argues that the case relied on by the trial judge in suppressing the evidence, State v. Perkins, 760 So. 2d 85 (Fla. 2000), is distinguishable from the facts here.Second, the State argues that the trial judge erred in granting the motion without hearing any testimony.

On June 12, 2002, Officer Schmenk of the St. Petersburg Police Department observed Haskellís vehicle parked in a parking lot and decided to conduct a random check of the tag.His check revealed that the registered owner of the vehicle possessed only a Florida identification card and not a valid driverís license.After an individual matching Haskellís description entered the vehicle and drove away, Officer Schmenk conducted a traffic stop.The stop confirmed that Haskell did not have a valid driverís license.It also uncovered drug paraphernalia.

The trial judge suppressed Haskellís identity and the paraphernalia based on Perkins.On appeal, the State contends that Perkins is distinguishable.In Perkins, an officer was on routine patrol and received a call from a fellow officer who advised him to stop the defendant because the defendant probably did not have a valid license.Subsequently, a traffic stop was initiated.The sole purpose of the stop was to check the status of the defendantís license, which was suspended.The trial court found the stop to be unlawful but held that the defendantís identity could not be suppressed based on controlling case law out of other districts.Perkins v. State, 734 So. 2d 480 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999).On appeal, the Fourth District disagreed with the trial court, found that the defendantís identity should, in fact, be suppressed, and certified conflict with the case law from other districts.Id. at 488-89.

On review, the Florida Supreme Court addressed the issue and agreed with the Fourth District that identity can and should be suppressed if the stop is unlawful.State v. Perkins, 760 So. 2d 85, 88 (Fla. 2000); Delafield v. State, 777 So. 2d 1020, 1021 (Fla. 2d DCA 2000) (ďThe gravamen of the holding in Perkins is that identity is no different from other evidence that must be suppressed following an unconstitutional stop.Ē); Turben v. State, 761 So. 2d 1243 (Fla. 2d DCA 2000).In sum, Perkins only stands for the proposition that identity, like any other evidence confiscated, must be suppressed when the stop is unlawful.

The holding of Perkins presupposes that the initial stop is deemed to be unlawful.We must therefore determine whether the initial traffic stop in this case was valid.To do so, we must decide whether Officer Schmenk had a reasonable or founded suspicion to suspect that a crime had been, was, or was about to be committed.Popple v. State, 626 So. 2d 185, 186 (Fla. 1993).†† The case of Smith v. State, 574 So. 2d 300 (Fla. 5th DCA 1991), which is the case cited by the State at the suppression hearing, is controlling.

In Smith, the law enforcement officer ran a check of the defendantís license tag and discovered that the defendant did not possess a valid driverís license.Id.He then initiated a traffic stop whereupon a weapon was located, which led to a charge of carrying a concealed weapon.Id.The trial court denied the defendantís motion to suppress.On appeal, the Fifth District affirmed, holding that ďan officerís investigatory detention of a vehicleís driver is supported by a well founded suspicion of unlawful activity when the officer first determines that the vehicleís registered owner does not possess a valid driverís license.ĒId. at 301.The Fifth District added ď[i]n such an instance, the officerís conduct is not dictated by personal whim or capriciousness.ĒId.

Perkins did not overrule Smith because the cases speak to different issues.†† Because Smith holds that an officer has a reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop when he first determines that the driver has no valid license, which is was occurred here, we reverse the trial judgeís ruling on Haskellís motion to suppress.Here, Officer Schmenk had a reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop of Haskellís vehicle.His check of the computer records showed that the legitimate owner of the vehicle did not possess a valid driverís license.He testified that the person who entered the vehicle and drove away matched the physical description of the registered owner.This was sufficient to create a reasonable suspicion.As such, the stop was lawful, and Perkins does not apply.

Although the second issue is moot in light of our holding above, the State argues that the trial judge erred in granting Haskellís motion without hearing an adequate factual basis.The State argues that it never stipulated to defense counselís recitation of the facts, and that it had a witness at the hearing who could have testified.

We have reviewed the entire transcript from the suppression hearing.Never once did the State request that the trial judge hear any testimony.Never once did the State object to defense counselís recitation of the facts.In fact, the State said nothing when the trial judge asked, at the conclusion of argument, ďAnybody else got anything you want to tell me?ĒThe State cannot expect to prevail in raising a claim such as this where the State fails to apprise the trial judge that it had a witness at the hearing or that it wishes to elicit testimony on the matter.

††††††††††† Reversed and remanded with directions for the county court to reinstate the charges against Haskell.

DONE AND ORDERED in Chambers, at Clearwater, Pinellas County, Florida this _______ day of June, 2003.

 

____________________________________

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† JOHN A. SCHAEFER, Circuit Judge

 

 

 

____________________________________

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† W. DOUGLAS BAIRD, Circuit Judge

 

 

 

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ____________________________________

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† NANCY MOATE LEY, Circuit Judge

 

cc:††††††† Joshua G. Sheridan, Esquire, Assistant State Attorney

††††††††††† Brooke V. Elvington, Esquire, Assistant Public Defender

††††††††††† Staff Attorney/mec

 

 



[1] Both briefs on appeal indicate that Haskell, on June 12, 2002, was cited for driving while his license was suspended.This is incorrect.The citations and other court documents reflect that Haskell, on June 12, 2002, was cited for operating a vehicle without a valid driverís license (whereas, on May 20, 2002, he was cited for driving while his license was suspended or revoked).It appears as though, on May 20, 2002, Haskell offered law enforcement his Massachusetts driverís license, which was suspended or revoked, because the citation issued on this date contains his Massachusetts driverís license number and reflects that there were ďmultiple suspensions.ĒConversely, on June 12, 2002, law enforcement was never offered a license but simply ďranĒ a check on the vehicleís tag, after which it was discovered that the registered owner of the vehicle only had a Florida identification card and not a valid Florida driverís license.