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State v. Warren

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

February 28, 2018



          Billy Joseph Harrington District Attorney COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/RESPONDENT: State of Louisiana.

          David Michael Williams Attorney at Law COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPLICANT: Reginald Taral Warren.

          Court composed of John D. Saunders, Marc T. Amy, and Candyce G. Perret, Judges.


         On June 9, 2016, Defendant, Reginald Warren, was charged by bill of information with second offense possession with the intent to distribute CDS II (methamphetamine), in violation of La.R.S. 40:967 and 40:982; possession of CDS V (promethazine), in violation of La.R.S. 40:970; third offense possession of CDS I (marijuana), in violation of La.R.S. 40:966 and 40:982; illegal window tint, in violation of La.R.S. 32:361; and driving while under suspension, in violation of La.R.S. 32:415.

         On September 22, 2016, Defendant filed two motions to suppress, alleging an illegal search of a residence and an illegal traffic stop which led to invalid consent to search a vehicle. On June 15, 2017, the trial court held a single hearing on the motions to suppress. On September 11, 2017, the trial court denied Defendant's motions, and on September 28, 2017, the trial court issued "Written Reasons for Judgment, " denying Defendant's motions to suppress.

         On September 22, 2017, Defendant filed his notice of intent to seek review and the trial court set a November 3, 2017 return date. On November 3, 2017, Defendant sought an extension of the return date from the trial court, which on November 7, 2017, extended the return date to December 18, 2017. Defendant's writ application was timely postmarked on December 18, 2017, and seeks review of the trial court's denial of the motions to suppress.


         In his sole assignment of error, Defendant alleges the trial court erred in denying his motions to suppress. Defendant breaks his argument into four parts: (1) the search of his wallet and seizure of the Motel 6 key card was illegal, (2) the search of the motel room itself should be illegal due to the illegality of the initial search of Defendant's wallet, (3) the search of the motel room was not legal "as a probationer search based on valid '[r]easonable [s]uspicion' that [he] was engaged in criminal activity[, ]" and (4) the State failed to prove the motel room was his residence to make it subject to a probationer search. We will address the legality of the initial stop of Defendant, as well as the search of the wallet, and the search of the motel room itself.

         The testimony presented at trial shows that on March 31, 2016, Defendant was stopped by two law enforcement officers who were on the look-out for him for driving a vehicle with illegal tint on the windows. Both officers smelled marijuana, leading to a K-9 open air sniff of the car. The animal alerted, and the officers searched the vehicle, finding marijuana residue. Based on information provided by a narcotics task force sergeant, the officers searched Defendant's wallet and obtained a motel room key card for a nearby Motel 6. At that time, following the arrival of Probation and Parole agents at the traffic stop, Defendant was transported to the Motel 6, and local law enforcement joined officers from Probation and Parole in entering the motel room whose key card Defendant, a parolee, had in his possession at the traffic stop. Officers found marijuana in plain sight in the room and subsequently found methamphetamine hidden in a small bag inside a clothes hamper. At that point, Probation and Parole turned the investigation over to local law enforcement. Upon taking over the investigation from Probation and Parole, local law enforcement sought a warrant for the motel room, after having already located the marijuana and methamphetamine.

         On March 31, 2016, was the defendant stopped by Deputy Brandon Smith and Sergeant Clinton Dunn for driving with illegal tint on his windows. While speaking with Defendant, both Deputy Smith and Sergeant Dunn testified they could smell marijuana. Both officers testified the tint was measured and was illegal. Agent Cory Campbell, a K-9 officer, ran his dog around the vehicle, and it alerted. Deputy Smith was clear that the vehicle was not searched until after Agent Campbell ran his K-9, which alerted. Deputy Smith testified he found "marijuana shake and residue" inside the vehicle, along with cigars and spray bottles that he would consider paraphernalia due to the residue. Deputy Smith clarified that marijuana shake was "loose marijuana that they drop on the carpet or in a vehicle, not enough for us . . . we could really charge for it, but we don't. It's just pieces of it, small pieces of it." Deputy Smith testified that he was instructed to bring Defendant to the Motel 6 by Sergeant Dunn and that he entered a motel room with several Probation and Parole officers, Sergeant Dunn, and Agent Trent Perry to clear the room for officer safety. Deputy Smith noted that while clearing the room, he observed a bag of suspected marijuana in plain view on the bed. He stated he heard the Probation and Parole officers say they were going to search the room prior to the decision to obtain a search warrant.

         Sergeant Dunn testified that after the K-9 alerted on Defendant's vehicle, he searched Defendant's wallet where he found a key to a room at Motel 6. Sergeant Dunn believed the search of Defendant's wallet was legal because he felt they had probable cause to search him as a result of the K-9 alerting on the vehicle. Sergeant Dunn testified that he did not observe or recover any narcotics in the vehicle or on Defendant's person. He testified that once he obtained the card from Defendant's wallet, he spent the remainder of the time covering logistics with Sergeant Roberts via the radio. While certain an officer from Probation and Parole eventually arrived at the traffic stop, he did not know the name of the officer. Sergeant Dunn testified the uniformed officers who entered the motel room were there specifically to assist Probation and Parole. He stated that he noticed flakes of marijuana on the table, and he was present when someone found a bag of methamphetamine in a clothes hamper, at which point Sergeant Roberts had everyone exit the room while obtaining a search warrant.

         Sergeant Dunn, on cross-examination, reiterated that he did not find narcotics in Defendant's car and that Defendant was not arrested for having illegal narcotics prior to the search of his wallet. He also acknowledged the K-9 alerting to the car did not create probable cause to arrest Defendant, but Defendant was detained at Probation and Parole's request. Sergeant Dunn also testified the sole purpose of searching Defendant's wallet was to obtain the motel key; he was not looking for weapons or narcotics, merely the key. Although Sergeant Dunn initially stated that Defendant was cooperative and handed over his wallet when asked, he acknowledged after reviewing body-cam footage Defendant simply acknowledged the wallet on the hood of the patrol car was his when asked. No testimony was presented to explain why Defendant's wallet was simply sitting on the hood of the car.

         Sergeant Dunn testified that Defendant told him he was coming from the mechanic's shop, which was located next to the Motel 6. As Sergeant Roberts had already told Sergeant Dunn and Deputy Smith that Defendant had left the motel, they considered his claim of coming from the mechanic a lie. Sergeant Dunn acknowledged that multiple Probation and Parole officers arrived on-scene at the traffic stop, but he did not know their names. He acknowledged Sergeant Roberts was already in contact with Probation and Parole prior to the traffic stop, though he could not say when the initial contact between them occurred. Sergeant Dunn was unsure who found the methamphetamines in the laundry basket.

         Following testimony from Deputy Smith and Sergeant Dunn, defense counsel stated he would not be challenging the validity of the K-9 alerting on the car. Subsequently, Agent Danny Green, an agent with Probation and Parole for the State of Louisiana took the stand. He testified Defendant was on parole at the time of the traffic stop, but that Agent Green was not the parole officer assigned to Defendant. Agent Green testified that if Defendant was staying at a motel, even temporarily, he was required to inform Probation and Parole where he was staying. Furthermore, he testified that Defendant's parole officer, Agent LaPoole, did not know for sure where Defendant was staying when he had been stopped on a prior traffic stop. Agent Green testified that he and other Probation and Parole officers went to the traffic stop to determine if Defendant had violated the conditions of his parole.

         Agent Green testified that while speaking with Defendant at the scene of the traffic stop, he asked Defendant "if anyone else was staying with him [at the motel], he said no[.]" Agent Green testified Defendant told him he was staying at the motel room by himself. Agent Green later clarified that Defendant did not directly admit to staying in the motel room but that when asked if anyone else was staying in the room with him, he simply said "no." He also specifically stated that he asked officers from the Natchitoches Parish Sheriff's Office to assist him in searching the motel room, as it was his intent to search the room. He stated the motel staff informed him Defendant had been staying in Room 166 for approximately five days, although he had been in multiple other rooms since February. Agent Green testified he and several other officers entered the motel room using the key card recovered from Defendant, and upon confirming no one else was in the room, he noticed a bag of marijuana on the bed. Agent Green testified that he asked the narcotics task force officers to take over the investigation once it was clear that there were narcotics in plain sight, noting they typically "let the locals" handle it since they were the ones who would need to have the narcotics tested.

         Agent Green testified that he did not remember anything other than the marijuana being found before he asked the task force officers to take over and that they chose to seek a search warrant because of departmental policy. He left prior to the search pursuant to the warrant. Agent Green testified the conditions of Defendant's parole included: "I agree to visits at my residence or place of employment by my parole officer at any time. I also agree to searches of my person, property, residence, and/or vehicle when reasonable suspicion exists that I am or have been engaged in criminal activity."[1]

         Sergeant Jonathan Roberts, a member of the Natchitoches Sheriff's Office's Drug Task Force, testified that he was conducting a narcotics investigation into Defendant based upon a complaint involving Defendant staying at the Motel 6.[2]Sergeant Roberts testified that while surveilling Defendant pursuant to the complaint, he noted a 2001 tan Chevy Tahoe parked outside the Motel 6 and that roughly thirty minutes after seeing the vehicle at the Motel 6 on March 29, he encountered Defendant driving the vehicle at a Chevron station nearby. Sergeant Roberts stated that he saw the vehicle leave the motel on March 31, at which time he alerted other officers to be on the lookout for the Tahoe. This alert led to the traffic stop by Deputy Smith shortly thereafter. Sergeant Roberts testified that he was never present at the scene of the traffic stop, but that he was the one who informed Probation and Parole that Defendant had been stopped. He testified he alerted Sedrick Smith, the Probation and Parole supervisor, who sent Agent Green to meet Sergeant Roberts at the motel. He also testified he was never instructed by Probation and Parole to detain Defendant.

         Sergeant Roberts testified Defendant had been frequenting the motel and giving an address of 1445 Grace Avenue, which he stated "prompted Agent Green to realize that something was not right" because it was not the address Defendant had reported. Sergeant Roberts testified that he was speaking to Defendant when the motel room was initially entered. Sergeant Roberts testified that when he entered the room the bag of marijuana on the bed was obvious, and he subsequently noticed a bag that was out of place in the clothes hamper. He testified there was a pencil bag which felt like it contained a "rock-like substance" in the clothes hamper. Upon opening the bag, it contained "cellophane baggies with light crystal-like substance in it. At that time, I knew that uh . . . I believed it to be methamphetamine, due to the complaint I got already." Sergeant Roberts testified that at that point he put down the bag, photographed the bag, and informed Agent Green of what he had found. Sergeant Roberts testified that he felt he was assisting Probation and ...

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