County Criminal Court: CRIMINAL LAW — DUI — Motion to Suppress – Since the trial court rejected the only testimony to support a legal basis to conduct a traffic stop, the trial court did err by granting Appellee’s motion to suppress. Granting of motion to suppress affirmed. State of Florida v. Patricia Lynn Rucks, No. CRC-10-00446-CFAES (Fla. 6th Cir. App. Ct. November 1, 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
STATE OF FLORIDA,
v. Case No: 512010CF000446A000ES
Appeal No: 10-00446-CFAES
L.T. No: 09-5223-XCCTES
PATRICIA LYNN RUCKS,
Appeal from Pasco County Court
County Judge Robert P. Cole
Kenneth V. Compton, A.S.A.
A.R. Mander, III, Esq.
ORDER AND OPINION
The State appeals the trial court’s order granting Appellee’s motion to suppress. Appellant argues that Appellee’s erratic driving provided the officer with a legal basis to conduct a traffic stop. The trial court rejected the officer’s testimony, which was the sole evidence of any legal basis to conduct the traffic stop. Since an appellate court must defer to a trial court’s factual findings, this court affirms the trial court’s order.
At the January 12, 2010 hearing on the motion to suppress before Judge Cole, the only witness to testify was the officer who conducted the traffic stop. Officer McClintock was on patrol the evening of October 31, 2009. He was dispatched to a possible DUI on 20th Street and Austin Avenue in Zephyrhills. Appellee’s white Cadillac was traveling southbound on 20th Street, which was a straight road. Appellee drove off the right side of the road four to five feet (about half to three-fourths of the vehicle) three times for about three tenths of a mile. Officer McClintock testified that based on his training and experience, something was possibly wrong with either the vehicle or the driver, such as a medical condition or impairment.
As Officer McClintock approached Appellee, he observed a strong smell of alcohol on her. She had glassy eyes and a flushed face. Officer McClintock had to repeat himself several times. It was hard for him to understand Appellee, as she had slurred, mumbled speech. In the car, Appellee had an open bottle of Michelob. When Appellee exited the car, she was unsteady and used her arms for balance. Based on his observations, Officer McClintock testified that he believed a DUI investigation was warranted. When Officer McClintock requested that she perform field sobriety exercises, Appellee refused. Officer McClintock placed Appellee under arrest and issued citations for failure to use designated lane and having an open container. Appellee was also charged with DUI that night.
On cross-examination, Officer McClintock testified that he prepared a probable cause affidavit that evening. In the affidavit, the only reason Officer McClintock stated for initiating the traffic stop was for failure to maintain a lane. Officer McClintock did not state that he suspected DUI. Appellee appeared to be driving within the speed limit, never passed any other traffic, and never crossed the center line. Officer McClintock also testified that the DUI report only referenced Appellee’s failure to maintain a single lane. Officer McClintock admitted that neither document indicated that he suspected that Appellee was impaired, had a medical condition, or had something wrong with her car.
Appellee moved to suppress the evidence based on an illegal traffic stop. After the hearing, the trial court granted Appellee’s motion. The written order stated that (1) according to the affidavit of probable cause, Appellee was stopped for failing to maintain a single lane; (2) the DUI report indicated Appellant was stopped for failure to maintain a single lane; (3) at the suppression hearing, Officer McClintock stated that he stopped Appellee because he thought she might be impaired, which the trial court rejected; and (4) there was insufficient testimony to establish that Appellee violated § 316.089(1). The State filed a timely notice of appeal.
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).
In this case, the trial court specifically rejected Officer McClintock’s testimony. The affidavit of probable cause stated that Appellee was stopped for failing to maintain a single lane. In addition, the DUI report also indicated that Appellee was stopped for failure to maintain a single lane. At the suppression hearing, however, Officer McClintock testified that he stopped Appellee’s car because he thought she might have been impaired. In the trial court’s order, Judge Cole specifically rejected the officer’s testimony “at this hour.” With insufficient testimony to establish that Appellee violated Florida Statute 316.089(1), the stop was invalid.
An appellate court must defer to a trial court’s factual findings if they are supported by competent, substantial evidence. The trial court specifically rejected the only evidence to establish that Appellee was driving erratically to form the basis for the traffic stop. The trial court did not believe Officer McClintock’s testimony that he stopped Appellee because he thought her driving pattern indicated she was possibly impaired. The fact that the trial court rejected Officer McClintock’s belated testimony in its findings is significant in light of the trial court's superior vantage point to assess his credibility. See Reynolds v. State, 934 So. 2d 1128 (Fla. 2006). And the trial court did not have to accept the testimony as truthful, even if unrebutted. State v. Paul, 638 So. 2d 537, 530 (Fla. 5th DCA 1994). The trial court’s order should be affirmed. Therefore, it is
ORDERED that the trial court’s order granting Appellee’s motion to suppress is hereby AFFIRMED.
DONE AND ORDERED in Chambers, at New Port Richey, Pasco County, Florida this 1st day of November 2010.
Original order entered on November 1, 2010 by Circuit Judges Stanley R. Mills, W. Lowell Bray, Jr., and Daniel D. Diskey.