County Criminal Court:  CRIMINAL LAW – Traffic Stop – curtilage of defendant’s home – accessibility and visibility are the determinative factors in analyzing whether a driveway is within the curtilage of a house – defendant had no reasonable expectation in his driveway after being observed running a stop sign – trial court’s denial of motion to suppress DUI evidence must be affirmed -- Order affirmed.  Knight v. State, No. 03-00047 APANO (Fla. 6th Cir. App. Ct. Sept. 8, 2004).

 

 

IN THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR THE SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT

IN AND FOR PINELLAS COUNTY, FLORIDA

APPELLATE DIVISION

 

JEFFREY D. KNIGHT,

                        Appellant,

vs.                                                                                            Appeal No. CRC 03-00047 APANO

                                                                                                UCN522003AP000047XXXXCR

STATE OF FLORIDA,

                        Appellee.

____________________________________/

 

Opinion filed ________________________

 

Appeal from Judgment of Guilt

Judge William Overton

 

Ronnie G. Crider, Esquire

Attorney for Appellant

 

Erin K. Barnett, Assistant State Attorney

Attorney for Appellee

 

ORDER AND OPINION

 

            THIS CAUSE came before the Court on appeal, filed by Jeffrey D. Knight (Knight), from the Judgment of Guilt for DUI, entered June 16, 2003.  Knight enter a plea of no contest after the trial court denied his motion to suppress DUI evidence in which Knight argued that he was unlawfully detained in his driveway.  Upon review of the briefs, the record, and being otherwise fully advised, the Court affirms the judgment as set forth below.

            The record shows that on April 13, 2002, at approximately 12:15 a.m., Officer Griffin, of the Indian Shores Police Department, was completing paperwork and monitoring a four-way intersection posted with a stop sign when he observed a vehicle drive through the stop sign at a constant speed.  The vehicle made a right-hand turn, drove approximately 100 yards, or 4 houses from the stop sign, and pulled into a private driveway.  Officer Griffin immediately made a U-turn to follow the vehicle.  Officer Griffin parked his patrol vehicle at an angle behind Knight’s truck, blocking it, and illuminated the vehicle with his spotlight.  Knight was exiting his vehicle, parked about 5 feet from the entrance to the residence, as Officer Griffin approached.  Officer Griffin intended to give Knight a warning for running the stop sign and had no intention of writing a traffic citation.  Upon making contact with Knight, Officer Griffin observed signs of impairment and initiated a DUI investigation.  Knight failed the subsequent field sobriety tests and was arrested for DUI.  The results of the breath tests showed an unlawful breath alcohol level of .160 and .177.  Officer Griffin also issued Knight a citation for failure to comply with license restriction, not wearing corrective lenses. 

            On appeal, Knight argues that the trial court erred in ruling that Officer Griffin was justified in entering Knight’s property to issue him a warning for running the stop sign.  In interpreting the evidence in a manner most favorable to sustaining the trial court’s ruling and in applying a de novo review of the application of law to the facts, the Court finds that the trial court’s ruling must be sustained.  See Nicholas v. State, 857 So.2d 980, 981 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003).  Initially, the Court finds that both parties concede that once Officer Griffin parked his patrol vehicle behind Knight’s truck a detention occurred.  However, Knight argues that the detention for a civil traffic infraction was unlawful because Officer Griffin was not in fresh pursuit and detained Knight within his home’s curtilage.

            The Court agrees that Office Griffin was not in fresh pursuit under the facts of this case; hence, the de minimis standard utilized in such cases, and applied by the trial court in denying Knight’s motion to suppress, is inapplicable to this case.  See e.g. Gasset v. State, 490 So.2d 97 (Fla. 3d DCA 1986)(finding that intrusion into defendant’s garage to make arrest was de minimis following officers high speed chase after serious traffic infraction was observed); Dyer v. State, 680 So.2d 612 (Fla. 3d DCA 1996)(concluding that officer’s intrusion into defendant’s backyard was slight as the officer was in hot pursuit of defendant after observing criminal activity).  However, the Court disagrees with Knight’s argument that he was in the curtilage of his home thereby entitling him to a reasonable expectation of privacy that would prohibit a warrantless arrest.  Accessibility and visibility are the determinative factors in analyzing whether a driveway is within the curtilage of a house.  See United States v. Smith, 783 F.2d 648, 651 (6th Cir. 1986).  As stated in Maisano v. Welcher, 940 F.2d 499, 503 (9th Cir. 1991), “[i]n order to establish a reasonable expectation of privacy in their driveway, the plaintiffs must support that expectation by detailing the special features of the driveway itself (i.e. enclosures, barriers, lack of visibility from the street) or the nature of activities performed upon it.”   

               The only evidence presented by Knight in support his argument is that his driveway is used to “store” his vehicle and that he parked his vehicle within 5 feet of his front door.  The Court finds that this evidence is insufficient to support a finding of a reasonable expectation of privacy.  Indeed, Florida courts have upheld searches and seizures in places less conspicuous then Knight’s driveway.  See e.g. State v. Duhart, 810 So.2d 972 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002)(holding that the defendant lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in “garage” area that was open to public view); State v. Sarantopoulos, 604 So.2d 551 (Fla. 2d DCA 1992)(finding that police officer’s entry into neighbor’s yard to look over six-foot fence into defendant’s backyard did not violate defendant’s constitutionally protected right to privacy). 

            Although the trial court did not make a specific finding on whether the driveway was within the curtilage of Knight’s home, in citing to Cresswell v. State, 564 So.2d 480 (Fla. 1990), the trial court implicitly ruled that Knight had no reasonable expectation of privacy in finding that Officer Griffin’s detention of Knight to give him a warning for running the stop sign was lawful.  Once Knight was lawfully detained, Officer Griffin developed a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to support the resulting DUI investigation and arrest.  See id.; see also Sanchez v. State, 847 So.2d 1043, 1046 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003)(finding that once a police officer stops a car for a traffic infraction, the officer is justified in detaining the driver only for the time necessary to issue a citation or warning, unless he has a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity).  Accordingly, although the reasoning used by the trial court in denying Knight’s motion to suppress was improper or incomplete, the order must nevertheless be sustained.  See Florida Emergency Physicians-Kang and Associates v. Parker, 800 So.2d 631, 634 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001)(stating that “[e]ven though a trial court’s ruling is based on improper reasoning, the ruling will be upheld if there is any theory or principle of law in the record which would support the ruling”).  Therefore, it is,

            ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the Judgment of Guilt is affirmed.

            DONE AND ORDERED in Chambers, at Clearwater, Pinellas County, Florida this ________ day of September 2004.

 

 

                                                                        ___________________________________

                                                                        ROBERT J. MORRIS, JR.

                                                                        Circuit Judge

 

 

 

 

                                                                        ___________________________________

                                                                        IRENE SULLIVAN

                                                                        Circuit Judge

 

 

 

 

                                                                        ___________________________________

                                                                        DAVID A. DEMERS

                                                                        Circuit Judge

 

Copies furnished to:

Judge William Overton

 

Ronnie G. Crider, Esquire

1550 S. Highland Ave., Suite C

Clearwater, FL  33756

 

Erin K. Barnett, Assistant State Attorney