County Criminal Court: CRIMINAL LAW --- Search and Seizure --- Miranda --- Traffic stop and issuance of a citation for a criminal traffic offense did not place the appellants “in custody” and therefore Miranda warnings were not required and the appellants’ statements made during the stop were admissible.  Procedural requirements for motions to suppress discussed.  Order reversed.  State v. Schmotzer, No. CRC 07-00052APANO and State v. Carpenter, No. CRC 07-00053APANO (Fla. 6th Cir. App. Ct. June 26, 2008).

 

 

NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES FOR REHEARING

AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

 

 

IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT

OF THE STATE OF FLORIDA IN AND FOR PINELLAS COUNTY

 

 

STATE OF FLORIDA

 

            Appellant,

 

Appeal No. CRC 07-00052APANO UCN522006CT125721XXXXXX

 

KYLE WILLIAMS SCHMOTZER

 

            Appellee.

__________________________________/

 

 

STATE OF FLORIDA

 

            Appellant,

 

Appeal No. CRC 07-00053APANO UCN522007AP00053XXXXCR

 

MARCUS CHRISTOPHER CARPENTER

 

            Appellee.

__________________________________/

 

Opinion filed June ___ 2008.

 

Appeals from an Order Granting

Motion to Suppress

Entered by the Pinellas County Court

County Judge Edwin B. Jagger

 

James Peterson, Esquire

Attorney for Appellant

 

Jennifer M. D’Angelo, Esquire

Attorney for Appellee,

Kyle Williams Schmotzer

 

Rick Silverman, Esquire                       

Attorney for Appellee,

Marcus Christopher Carpenter

 

 

ORDER AND OPINION

 

            PETERS, Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Appellant, State of Florida’s appeal from the order granting motions to suppress entered by the Pinellas County Court.  These cases were consolidated for trial and for the proceedings on the motions to suppress.  After reviewing the briefs and record, this Court reverses the order granting the motions to suppress.

Factual Background and Trial Court Proceedings

On August 21, 2006, at approximately 1:00 a.m., Deputy Charles Campbell of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office was on patrol in the area of the Gandy Bridge in Pinellas County.  There is a problem with motorists racing on that bridge.  Deputy Campbell was proceeding westbound on the Gandy Bridge and was almost to the end of the bridge when he observed two cars come out and “stage” in the westbound two lanes.  The deputy saw the cars were stopped, side by side and their brake lights came on and then they “took off”.   They proceeded side by side for five-tenths of a mile.  This is the distance required for a quarter-mile race and then slowing down prior to reaching the first location where a turn back to the east bound lane can be made.  Deputy Campbell, who was behind the two vehicles, tried unsuccessfully to determine their speed and accelerated his cruiser up to eighty miles an hour in that attempt.  The Deputy then activated his overhead lights to initiate a traffic stop as the vehicles were about to turn and proceed back to the east.  The vehicles made the turn and pulled over to the side of the road.  The Deputy pulled his cruiser in behind the two vehicles.  He got out and made contact with the Appellee Kyle Schmotzer in the first vehicle in front of his cruiser.  Mr. Schmotzer stayed in his vehicle.  Deputy Campbell obtained the driver licenses from both Appellees.  He does that so that the other vehicle will not leave the scene while he talks with the first vehicle.  The Deputy spoke in turn with both Appellees and told them that he had stopped them because they were racing.  The Deputy does not remember the exact conversations but did tell them they could go to jail for racing.  The Appellees in the course of the conversations admitted they were racing.  Deputy Campbell gave them each a citation for racing.  Eventually each had to get out of their cars to sign the citations.  Each Appellee then drove away.  Deputy Campbell did not read the Appellees their Miranda rights. 

These cases were consolidated for trial.  On May 29, 2007, the morning a jury trial was scheduled to begin, the Defendants made pre-trial motions to suppress.  These motions to suppress were not in writing and the exact substance of those initial motions is not clear from the record nor is it clear exactly when the motions were articulated.  The record reflects no advance notice that the motions would be made or heard, the formalities required of all motions to suppress are not set out in the record and the record further reflects no initial determination by the trial court that the motions were legally sufficient.  The record transcript in this case contains only the evidentiary hearing and arguments made on the motions.  At the conclusion of those arguments and after a recess the trial court granted the motions to suppress and ordered that the statements and admissions made by the Defendants at the roadside traffic stop be excluded from evidence at trial.  The trial was continued and the trial court signed a written order granting the motions on June 8, 2007.   The State filed these appeals from those orders.

Standard of Review

Our review of a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress evidence involves a mixed question of law and fact. We accord a presumption of correctness with regard to the trial court's determination of facts where the trial court's factual findings are supported by competent, substantial evidence. However, we review the trial court's application of the law to those facts de novo. Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 699, 116 S.Ct. 1657, 134 L.Ed.2d 911 (1996); Connor v. State, 803 So.2d 598 (Fla.2001); State v. Pruitt, 967 So2d 1021 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2007).

Miranda & Traffic Stops

Persons temporarily detained in ordinary traffic stops are not “in custody” for purposes of Miranda. Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 440, 104 S.Ct. 3138, 82 L.Ed.2d 317 (1984), see Pennsylvania v. Bruder, 488 U.S. 9, 11, 109 S.Ct. 205, 102 L.Ed.2d 172 (1988); State v. Marshall, 695 So.2d 719, 721 (Fla. 3d DCA 1996), opinion adopted, 695 So.2d 686, 687 (Fla.1997). Miranda warnings need not be administered, and statements made in response to the police officer's questions at roadside are admissible. See Berkemer, 468 U.S. 420 at 442, 104 S.Ct. 3138; See also State v. Poster, 892 So.2d 1071 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2004); State v. Alvarez, 776 So2d 1060 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2001).

In determining whether Miranda warnings are required the question in an ordinary traffic stop is not whether a suspect reasonably feels free to leave.  “Certainly few motorists would feel free either to disobey a directive to pull over or to leave the scene of a traffic stop without being told they might do so.”  Berkemer, 468 U.S. 420 at 436, 104 S.Ct. 3138 at 3148.  The question is whether a traffic stop exerts upon a detained person pressures that sufficiently impair his or her free exercise of the privilege against self-incrimination to require that he or she be warned of their constitutional rights.  In other words, the relevant inquiry is how a reasonable person in the suspect's position would understand the situation. Poster, 892 So.2d at 1072.  In addressing this issue, the noncoercive aspects of ordinary traffic stops prompted the United States Supreme Court to hold that persons temporarily detained pursuant to such stops are not “in custody” for the purposes of Miranda.  Berkemer, 468 U.S. 420 at 440, 104 S.Ct. 3138 at 3150.  The Court explained:

Two features of an ordinary traffic stop mitigate the danger that a person questioned will be induced “to speak where he would not otherwise do so freely,” Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S., at 467, 86 S.Ct., at 1624. First, detention of a motorist pursuant to a traffic stop is presumptively temporary and brief. The vast majority of roadside detentions last only a few minutes. A motorist's expectations, when he sees a policeman's light flashing behind him, are that he will be obliged to spend a short period of time answering questions and waiting while the officer checks his license and registration, that he may then be given a citation, but that in the end he most likely will be allowed to continue on his way. In this respect, questioning incident to an ordinary traffic stop is quite different from stationhouse interrogation, which frequently is prolonged, and in which the detainee often is aware that questioning will continue until he provides his interrogators the answers they seek. See id., at 451, 86 S.Ct., at 1615. (Footnotes omitted)

 

Second, circumstances associated with the typical traffic stop are not such that the motorist feels completely at the mercy of the police. To be sure, the aura of authority surrounding an armed, uniformed officer and the knowledge that the officer has some discretion in deciding whether to issue a citation, in combination, exert some pressure on the detainee to respond to questions. But other aspects of the situation substantially offset these forces. Perhaps most importantly, the typical traffic stop is public, at least to some degree. Passersby, on foot or in other cars, witness the interaction of officer and motorist. This exposure to public view both reduces the ability of an unscrupulous policeman to use illegitimate means to elicit self-incriminating statements and diminishes the motorist's fear that, if he does not cooperate, he will be subjected to abuse. The fact that the detained motorist typically is confronted by only one or at most two policemen further mutes his sense of vulnerability. In short, the atmosphere surrounding an ordinary traffic stop is substantially less “police dominated” than that surrounding the kinds of interrogation at issue in Miranda itself, see 384 U.S., at 445, 491-498, 86 S.Ct., at 1612, 1636-1640, and in the subsequent cases in which we have applied Miranda.

 

Berkemer, 468 U.S. 420 at 437, 104 S.Ct. 3138 at 3148.  This rule is subject to the qualification that “[i]f a motorist who has been detained pursuant to a traffic stop thereafter is subjected to treatment that renders him ‘in custody’ for practical purposes, he will be entitled to the full panoply of protections prescribed by Miranda.  Berkemer, 468 U.S. 420 at 440, 104 S.Ct. 3138 at 3150; State v. Whelan, 728 So.2d 807 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1999).  It is settled that the safeguards prescribed by Miranda become applicable as soon as a suspect's freedom of action is curtailed to a “degree associated with formal arrest.” California v. Beheler, 463 U.S. 1121, 1125, 103 S.Ct. 3517, 3520, 77 L.Ed.2d 1275 (1983) (per curiam).”  Berkemer, 468 U.S. 420 at 440, 104 S.Ct. 3138 at 3150. 

The Present Case

In the present case the record reflects several issues or facts that are not in dispute.  The roadside traffic stop was lawful.  The deputy’s observations reasonably led him to believe the Appellees were racing on a public highway.  The record reflects there was just one deputy involved in the traffic stop of the two Appellees.  For the most part the Appellees remained in their own vehicles.  They were never put in handcuffs, placed in a law enforcement vehicle or otherwise restrained.  They were not searched.  Their vehicles were not searched.  They were not commanded by the deputy to do anything other than possibly to step out of their cars to sign the citations.  The deputy asked Appellees a limited number of questions and the traffic stops were not prolonged given the circumstances.  The Appellees were not arrested.  Instead they were given citations and left the scene.

            The defense repeated argument that this situation was “custodial” or amounted to an arrest is simply not supported by the facts of record.  The Appellees were temporarily detained in an ordinary roadside traffic stop, not subjected to custodial interrogation at a police station.  The fact that the traffic stop was in response to a criminal traffic offense rather than a traffic infraction does not transform the stop into an arrest.  The fact that the lone deputy involved talked with Appellees about the reason for the stop, the nature of the alleged offense and asked questions about his observations of Appellees’ alleged racing does not transform this stop into an arrest.  Any assertion that the Appellees could not have felt reasonably free to leave is beside the point and does not transform this stop into an arrest.  The Appellees freedom of action was never curtailed to a “degree associated with formal arrest.”  No reasonable person in the Appellees’ position would have believed they were under arrest.  The facts of record do not establish that any arrest occurred nor did any restraint to a “degree associated with formal arrest” occur in the present case.  Miranda warnings were not required, and any statements made in response to the deputy's questions at roadside are admissible.

Procedural Requirements for Motions to Suppress

This Court would be remiss if it did not review several fundamental requirements related to suppression motions.   Motions to Suppress must be in writing.  Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.190 (a) and (h); Fla. R. Traf. Ct. 6.160.  Every motion to suppress evidence shall clearly state the particular evidence sought to be suppressed, the reasons for suppression and a general statement of the facts on which the motion is based.  Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.190 (h)(2).  Before hearing evidence, the court shall determine if the motion is legally sufficient. If it is not, the motion shall be denied. If the court hears the motion on its merits, the defendant shall present evidence supporting his or her position and the state may offer rebuttal evidence.  Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.190 (h)(3).  The motion to suppress shall be made before trial unless opportunity therefor did not exist or the defendant was not aware of the grounds for the motion, but the court may entertain the motion or an appropriate objection at the trial.  Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.190 (h)(4).

In the present case several of these requirements were ignored.  The motions to suppress were not in writing, the formalities required of all motions to suppress are not set out in the record, the record reflects no advance notice that the motions would be made or heard, and the record further reflects no initial determination by the trial court that the motions were legally sufficient.  It is not clear from the record when the motions were articulated, exactly what the substance of those initial motions were or the extent of any preparation made by involved counsel for the hearing which was hastily conducted on the morning the trial was to begin.  Only one witness testified at the short evidentiary hearing and the arguments presented by counsel to the trial court were simple and brief with limited citations to authority.  The Defense made reference to only one specific appellate case and the State read from or referenced citations contained in a legal manual.  None of this presents an issue in this appeal because no one objected.  See Sarmiento v. State, 371 So2d 1047 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1979).  However, while intending no disrespect, the parties are reminded of their responsibility to follow the rules of court.  Without further elaboration, this Court will only state that those procedural rules exist for good reason and this case is an example of what can happen when they are disregarded.

Conclusion

            This court concludes that the order of the trial court granting Appellees’ Motions to Suppress should be reversed.

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the order of the trial court granting Appellees’ Motions to Suppress is reversed and these cases are remanded to the trial court for further action. 

            ORDERED at Clearwater, Pinellas County, Florida this ____ day of June, 2008.

 

 

 

_____________________________

Michael F. Andrews                                                 Circuit Court Judge

 

 

 

                                                            _____________________________

Raymond O. Gross

Circuit Court Judge

           

 

 

                                                            ____________________________

                                                                        R. Timothy Peters

                                                                        Circuit Court Judge

 

 

 

 

           

cc:        Honorable Edwin B. Jagger

            Office of the State Attorney

            Jennifer M. D’Angelo, Esquire

            Rick Silverman, Esquire