STIGALL (MICHAEL) VS. COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKYAnnotate this Case
RENDERED: SEPTEMBER 12, 2008; 2:00 P.M.
NOT TO BE PUBLISHED
Commonwealth of Kentucky
Court of Appeals
APPEAL FROM FAYETTE CIRCUIT COURT
HONORABLE JAMES D. ISHMAEL, JR., JUDGE
ACTION NO. 07-CR-00195
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY
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BEFORE: ACREE AND CAPERTON, JUDGES; ROSENBLUM,1 SPECIAL
ACREE, JUDGE: Michael Stigall appeals a judgment of the Fayette Circuit Court
convicting him of driving on a DUI suspended license, third offense, and being a
persistent felony offender in the second degree. Stigall entered a conditional guilty
Retired Judge Paul W. Rosenblum sitting as Special Judge by assignment of the Chief Justice
pursuant to Section 110(5)(b) of the Kentucky Constitution.
plea after the trial court refused to grant his motion to suppress evidence for lack of
probable cause supporting the traffic stop. Finding no error, we affirm.
On the night Stigall was stopped, Officer Ricky Lynn was patrolling
Coolivan Apartment complex due to residents’ complaints of drug trafficking
activity. Lynn observed a yellow truck in the parking lot with a group of people
clustered around it and nearby. As the patrol car approached the group, the truck
pulled out of the parking lot and the group in front of the building dispersed.
Lynn, who had noticed that neither person in the truck was wearing a seatbelt,
called for back-up and followed the vehicle for a few blocks. Once he reached an
area with back-up in the vicinity, Lynn activated his blue lights and pulled the
truck over. When he approached the vehicle, Lynn found that Stigall and his
passenger were still not wearing seatbelts. He informed Stigall that failure to wear
a seatbelt was a primary offense in Kentucky and asked for his driver’s license and
proof of insurance. Stigall replied that his license was suspended.
Lynn ran a check and discovered that Stigall’s license was suspended
for driving under the influence. He arrested Stigall for driving on a suspended
license and issued him a warning ticket for failure to wear a seatbelt. During the
search incident to arrest, Lynn found cocaine and a crack pipe. Stigall was then
charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug
paraphernalia, but those charges were dismissed in district court. The charge of
driving on a DUI suspended license was sent to a grand jury which returned an
indictment charging Stigall with that offense, as well as with being a persistent
felony offender in the second degree. Stigall filed a motion to suppress evidence,
claiming that Lynn lacked probable cause to stop his vehicle. The trial court
overruled the motion after a hearing. Stigall entered a conditional plea and was
sentenced to one year for driving on a DUI suspended license, enhanced to five
years by the PFO, probated for a period of five years. This appeal followed.
Stigall first argues that the trial court actually concluded that Lynn
lacked a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity when he stopped Stigall’s
vehicle. During the suppression hearing, the officer admitted he did not see Stigall
or his passenger exit the truck or approach the people standing outside the
apartments. Nor did he see any items exchanged between the occupants of the
vehicle and the people standing nearby. He admitted suspecting Stigall might have
been involved in drug-related activity because, when Stigall saw the patrol car, he
drove away and the crowd dispersed. Stigall notes that his presence in an area
known for illegal drug activity does not furnish reasonable suspicion that he was
committing a crime. Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 124, 124 S.Ct. 673, 676,
145 L.Ed.2d 570 (2000). He contrasts the facts surrounding his stop with those in
Fletcher v. Commonwealth, 182 S.W.2d 556 (Ky.App. 2005), noting that the
arresting officer in Fletcher observed the suspect for ten minutes before detaining
him. Stigall misses the real distinction, however. Fletcher involved a suspect on
foot. Stigall was stopped for violating the law requiring use of seatbelts.
Stigall next contends that this Court should reconsider the issue of
whether pretextual stops violate our state constitution. In support of this argument,
he cites our decision in Garcia v. Commonwealth, 185 S.W.3d 658 (Ky.App.
2006). In Garcia, we evaluated the legality of a stop where a driver changed lanes
upon being approached by a marked police car. The driver looked nervous,
avoiding eye contact with the officer, and gripped the steering wheel tightly. The
officer additionally observed that Garcia’s windshield was cracked and, deciding
that the crack impaired Garcia’s forward vision, pulled him over. The trial court
refused to suppress drugs found in the vehicle, which this Court found to be
erroneous. Id. at 665.
Our analysis in Garcia focused on whether a cracked windshield was
a traffic violation which would support the stop. We noted that Kentucky Revised
Statute (KRS) 189.110, which contains the requirements for sunscreening, tinting,
and windshield wipers, and mandates safety glazing, does not contain any language
regarding cracks in a windshield. Another statute, KRS 189.020, requires a vehicle
to be equipped so as “to protect the rights of other traffic, and to promote the
public safety.” We concluded that a cracked windshield which unreasonably
reduced a driver’s vision would violate this statute. However, the photograph of
Garcia’s windshield did not show cracks severe enough to impede his forward
vision. With regard to the rest of the driver’s behaviors noted by the officer before
the stop, this Court stated, “[w]e believe these facts describe a substantial number
of drivers on our highways and constitute an innocuous mirage created in an
attempt to retrospectively justify the stop.” Garcia, 185 S.W.3d at 665.
Consequently, we found the stop to be improper.
Stigall claims that our holding in Garcia should apply to the case at
hand, noting that one of the actions observed by the officer who stopped Garcia
was a quick lane change – arguably a violation of KRS 189.380(1)(a). Thus,
Stigall contends, if Lynn was justified in stopping his truck under Whren v. U.S.,
517 U.S. 806, 116 S.Ct. 1769, 135 L.Ed.2d 89 (1996) and Wilson v.
Commonwealth, 37 S.W.3d 745 (Ky. 2001), then the officer who stopped Garcia
would have been justified as well. This argument fails. While an erratic lane
change was identified as a factor in suspecting criminal activity, Garcia was not
cited for violating KRS 189.380(1)(a). Stigall was cited for violating KRS
At one time, the statute prohibited an officer from stopping a driver
for failure to wear a seatbelt “if the officer has no other cause to stop or seize the
person other than a violation of subsection (6) of this section.” KRS 189.125(7).
However, when the General Assembly amended the statute in 2006, that
prohibition was stricken. This clearly signals the Legislature’s intent to authorize
police officers to stop drivers whose only unlawful conduct was a violation of KRS
The amendment’s effective date was July 12, 2006. Stigall was stopped in December 2006.
KRS 189.125(14), enacted at the same time as the amendment allowing traffic stops for failure to
wear a seatbelt, provided that law enforcement agencies would issue a courtesy warning between
the law’s effective date and January 1, 2007. Section (14) did not affect the validity of the stop
itself, however. Lynn testified that he issued such a warning ticket to Stigall.
Finally, we decline Stigall’s invitation to reconsider whether Section
10 of Kentucky’s constitution forbids stopping a driver for a traffic violation,
regardless of the officer’s subjective intent to find evidence of a greater crime. The
Kentucky Supreme Court has recognized that “Section 10 of the Kentucky
Constitution provides no greater protection than does the federal Fourth
Amendment.” LaFollette v. Commonwealth, 915 S.W.2d 747, 748 (Ky. 1996).
The United States Supreme Court determined that an officer with probable cause to
believe a suspect has violated the traffic code is permitted, under the Fourth
Amendment, to make a stop. Whren, 517 U.S. at 819. The Court further held that
“the constitutional reasonableness of traffic stops [does not depend] on the actual
motivations of the individual officers involved.” Whren, 517 U.S. at 813.
Kentucky has specifically adopted the reasoning of Whren in upholding traffic
stops for violations as permissible under Section 10 of our state constitution.
Wilson, 37 S.W.3d at 749 (“It should be noted with regard to the traffic stop, that
an officer who has probable cause to believe a civil traffic violation has occurred
may stop a vehicle regardless of his or her subjective motivation in doing so.”); see
also, Commonwealth v. Fox, 48 S.W.3d 24, 27 (Ky. 2001)(“[T]emporary detention
of a motorist upon probable cause to believe that he has violated the traffic laws
does not violate the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable
seizures, even if a reasonable officer would not have stopped the motorist absent
some additional law enforcement objective.”), citing Whren.
“The Court of Appeals is bound by and shall follow applicable
precedents established in the opinions of the Supreme Court and its predecessor
court.” Rules of the Supreme Court 1.030(8); see also, Peak v. Commonwealth, 34
S.W.3d 80, 83 (Ky.App. 2000). Since the issue has been unambiguously addressed
by the Kentucky Supreme Court, it would be improper for this Court to hold
Lynn’s stop of Stigall unconstitutional. Consequently, the trial court’s denial of
Stigall’s suppression motion must be upheld.
For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the Fayette Circuit Court is
BRIEFS FOR APPELLANT:
BRIEF FOR APPELLEE:
Erin Hoffman Yang
Assistant Public Advocate
Attorney General of Kentucky
Michael L. Harned
Assistant Attorney General