State of Utah v. Green

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State v. Green. Filed May 6, 1999 IN THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS


State of Utah,
Plaintiff and Appellant,


Marvin Newell Green,
Defendant and Appellee.

(Not For Official Publication)

Case No. 981332-CA

May 6, 1999
  1999 UT App 147 -----

Fourth District, Provo Department
The Honorable Ray M. Harding, Sr.

Jan Graham and Marian Decker, Salt Lake City, for Appellant
Randall K. Spencer, Provo, for Appellee


Before Judges Billings, Davis, and Jackson.


The State of Utah (the State) appeals the trial court's granting of defendant Marvin Green's (Green) motion to suppress evidence. We reverse.

On January 3, 1998, at approximately 10:30 p.m., Springville Police Officer Robert Edwards (Edwards) noticed a car with a single occupant parked in a church parking lot. Edwards decided to check on the vehicle since it was late in the evening, and because he had recently received a report of a broken window in the area.

As Edwards approached the vehicle, he noted the license plate tags had been expired for over two years. Edwards tapped on the driver's window. The occupant, Green, slowly rolled the window down. Edwards asked if Green was okay. Green was very slow to respond to the question, saying nothing for 45-60 seconds, and finally asked if he was doing anything wrong.

Edwards asked Green for identification and if he could run a warrants check. Green agreed. Green slowly reached for his wallet, and after some difficulty, got his driver's license out of his wallet. Edwards then returned to his car and ran a routine computer check on Green's license, including a warrants check. The warrants check revealed outstanding warrants on Green. Edwards then returned to the parked car and arrested Green based on the warrants.

In a search of Green's person and car incident to the arrest, Edwards found controlled substances and drug paraphernalia. Green was charged with possession of cocaine and possession of paraphernalia, in violation of Utah laws. Green moved to suppress the evidence, claiming the search and seizure violated the Fourth Amendment.

The trial court granted Green's motion to suppress the evidence. The court concluded Green was seized when Edwards took his license. Though the court acknowledged that Edwards detained Green "because the initial inquiry raised some suspicion that the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol," the court determined that Edwards lacked sufficient reasonable suspicion to detain Green because Edwards did not perform field sobriety tests to confirm his suspicion.

On appeal the State argues that Green's seizure was supported by reasonable suspicion. For purposes of this appeal, and as admitted by the State before the trial court, we assume Green was seized. Accordingly, we limit our analysis to the legality of that seizure, specifically, whether it was supported by reasonable suspicion and was reasonable in duration.

An officer must have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, based on articulable facts and inferences, to justify a seizure. See State v. Struhs, 940 P.2d 1225, 1228 (Utah Ct. App. 1997). "[I]t is settled that a police officer may detain and question an individual 'when the officer has reasonable, articulable suspicion that the person has been, is, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity.'" State v. Chapman, 921 P.2d 446, 450 (Utah 1996)(emphasis added)(citations omitted).

Here, Edwards articulated several specific facts which gave rise to a suspicion that Green "had committed or was about to commit a crime," either by driving under the influence of alcohol or by driving with an expired license plate. Struhs, 940 P.2d at 1228. As Edwards approached Green's vehicle, he observed that the registration tags had been expired for over two years. Edwards did not observe Green driving with expired tags, since he encountered Green in a parking lot. However, the totality of the circumstances support a reasonable suspicion that Green had driven, or was about to drive, with expired license plates, thereby committing a crime.

Moreover, Edwards noted that Green's responses to questions were delayed, slow, and non-responsive. Green displayed an inability to concentrate, moved slowly, had difficulty getting his driver's license from his wallet, and had trouble holding onto the license. Given these facts, which could indicate alcohol use, a reasonable officer would have developed a reasonable suspicion that Green was impaired. It is a violation of Utah law to be in actual physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. See Utah Code Ann. §41-6-44(2)(a)(ii) (1998). Thus, Edwards had a reasonable suspicion that Green was engaged in criminal activity, which supported an investigatory detention.

Once a person is properly detained, an officer is entitled to run a routine warrants check "'so long as it does not significantly extend the period of detention.'" Chapman, 921 P.2d at 452 (quoting State v. Lopez, 873 P.2d 1127, 1133 (Utah 1994)). In Chapman, the Utah Supreme Court held that where officers properly detained a suspect for loitering in a school parking lot, running a warrants check was permitted, thereby extending the principles which apply to routine traffic stops to other types of detentions. See id. at 452-53. The warrant check here was part of a routine license check and did not improperly extend the detention. When Edwards discovered the outstanding warrants, he properly arrested Green on that basis, and no longer needed to pursue a DUI investigation.

In sum, we find that Edwards's seizure of Green was supported by reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and was reasonable in duration, and therefore did not violate constitutional standards. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's granting of the motion to suppress.

Judith M. Billings, Judge



James Z. Davis, Judge

Norman H. Jackson, Judge