County Criminal Court: CRIMINAL LAW — DUI — Motion to Suppress —Officer had probable cause to arrest when Appellee rear-ended another car at 55 miles per hour during the afternoon and Appellee displayed several characteristics consistent with someone who was under the influence.  Trial court’s order granting motion to suppress is reversed.  State of Florida v. Christopher Dennis, No. CRC09-001587-CFAES (Fla. 6th Cir. App. Ct. May 24, 2010).

 

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 PASCO COUNTY

APPELLATE DIVISION

 

STATE OF FLORIDA,     

                        Appellant,

                                                                        UCN:              51-2009-CF-001587-A000-ES

v.                                                                     Case No:       CRC09-001587-CFAES

                                                                        Lower No:    08-8819XAUTES

                                                                                                08-3327MMAES

CHRISTOPHER DENNIS,                                                

                        Appellee.                                                      

______________________________/

Appeal from Pasco County Court

County Judge Robert P. Cole

 

Kevin Paul, A.S.A. 

for Appellant

 

Office of the Public Defender

for Appellee

 

 

 

ORDER AND OPINION

 

            Appellant appeals a county court order granting Appellee’s Motion to Suppress.  The issue on appeal is whether there was probable cause to arrest Appellee for Driving Under the Influence.  We find that there was.  This Court reverses the trial court’s order as set forth below.

 

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On May 14, 2008, Trooper Jose Ramos investigated a two-car traffic accident involving Appellee on U.S. 301 south of Rapid River Road.  It was estimated that Appellee was traveling 55 miles per hour when he rear-ended a truck during broad daylight.  Appellee’s car spun away from the truck and hit a fence with the side of his car.  Appellee’s 1997 red Pontiac had front-end damage, while the green pick-up truck had rear-end damage.  When Trooper Ramos arrived, the truck was still on the east shoulder of U.S. 301, and the Pontiac was on the west shoulder of 301 in a cow pasture.  Appellee was near his Pontaic and was determined to be its driver. 

Appellee had no signs of injuries and had apparently been wearing his seatbelt during the collision.  Appellee did not have an odor of alcohol, but was lethargic and having trouble with his balance and answering questions.  Although Appellee refused to answer most questions, the ones that he did answer were confused and he was mumbling.  Trooper Ramos could only slightly understand Appellee, as he was mumbling, confused, slurring his speech, and really slow.  Appellee had trouble maintaining his balance and needed help getting to his vehicle.  In addition, Appellee was pale and sweating.  

Appellee refused to perform any field sobriety exercises; however, Trooper Ramos observed him walking.  Appellee slightly swayed and hesitated when he moved.  Trooper Ramos noticed a slight nystagmus in his pupil contraction, but he did not perform an HGN.  Appellee also refused to perform a breath, urine, or blood test.  Appellee would not tell him whether he had any medical issues, but Trooper Ramos did not feel he had any.  Trooper Ramos believed that Appellee was under the influence of some chemical substance, but not alcohol due to the lack of that odor.

At the conclusion of the testimony, Appellee argued that there was no probable cause for the arrest, as medical conditions could not be ruled out for his behavior.  The State argued that Trooper Ramos had probable cause to arrest Appellee as his physical display indicated that Appellee was under the influence and there was no sign of an injury.  Appellee also sought the suppression of other evidence on other grounds, which were denied.  The trial court, however, granted Appellee’s portion of his motion to suppress arguing that there was no probable cause.  In granting that portion of the motion, the trial court found that the trooper was unable to articulate any facts that would indicate Appellee was impaired.  The State now appeals the granted portion of the motion to suppress. 

LAW AND ANALYSIS

A trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress presents a mixed question of law and fact.  Butler v. State, 706 So. 2d 100 (Fla. 1st DCA 1998).  A trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress is presumptively correct and will be upheld if supported by the record.  Cuervo v. State, 967 So. 2d 155, 160 (Fla. 2007); State v. Shuttleworth, 927 So. 2d 975, 978 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006).  An appellate court is bound by the lower court's factual findings if they are supported by competent, substantial evidence. Cuervo, at 160.  However, the trial court's application of the law to the facts is reviewed under the de novo standard.  Williams v. State, 769 So. 2d 404, 406 (Fla. 2d DCA 2000).

Sufficient probable cause to justify an arrest exists “where the facts and circumstances, as analyzed from the officer’s knowledge…and practical experience…are sufficient in themselves for a reasonable man to reach the conclusion that an offense has been committed.”  DHSMV v. Silva, 806 So. 2d 551, 554 (Fla. 2d DCA 2002) (quoting DHSMV v. Favino, 667 So. 2d 305, 309 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995)).  An odor of alcohol is not necessary for there to be probable cause to arrest for DUI.  Mendez v. State, 678 So. 2d 388 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996).

In this case, Trooper Ramos clearly testified that Appellee appeared to be under the influence of a controlled substance.  Trooper Ramos observed that Appellee had a pale face, mumbled and slurred words, lethargy, confused behavior, involuntary eye movements, and could not maintain his balance.  Appellee had just driven into the rear end of a truck at about 55 miles per hour in the middle of the afternoon.  Therefore, the trooper had probable cause to arrest Appellee after observing multiple signs of impairment.  The trial court’s reasoning that there was no sign of impairment is in contrast with the evidence.

The trooper consistently maintained that the collision itself was unlikely a cause of Appellee’s impairment.  Appellee had no signs of physical injury, and his car did not indicate a head impact.  Even if the collision was the cause of Appellee’s behavior, that alternate explanation goes to the weight of the evidence, not its admissibility.  Godwin v. State, 9 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 725 (Fla. 4th Cir. Ct. 2002).  It is well-settled that the credibility, bias or prejudice of witnesses who testify, as well as the weight to be given their testimony and the evidence presented, are a matter for the consideration of and determination by the jury. Slavin v. Kay, 108 So. 2d 462, 467-68 (Fla. 1958).  The motion to suppress should have been denied.  Therefore, it is

 

 

ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the order granting Appellee’s motion to suppress is hereby REVERSED, and this case is REMANDED for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

DONE AND ORDERED in Chambers, at New Port Richey, Pasco County, Florida this 24th day of May 2010.

 

Original order entered on May 24, 2010 by Circuit Judges Stanley R. Mills, W. Lowell Bray, Jr., and Daniel D. Diskey.