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Taylor v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fifth Division

September 14, 2017


          MCFADDEN, P. J., BRANCH and BETHEL, JJ.

          BETHEL, JUDGE.

         Derwin Miles Taylor appeals from the denial of his motion for a new trial following his conviction on a single count of trafficking in marijuana, for which he was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment. On appeal, as in his motion for a new trial, he contends that the trial court erred in pretrial proceedings by denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained from a search of his vehicle during a traffic stop. Because we agree with the trial court that the law enforcement officer who stopped Taylor articulated a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity sufficient to allow him to detain Taylor for further investigation, we affirm the trial court's denial of Taylor's motion to suppress and his motion for a new trial.

         On appeal from a denial of a motion to suppress, "this Court must construe the evidence most favorably to uphold the ruling of the trial court." Jones v. State, 253 Ga.App. 870, 870 (560 S.E.2d 749) (2002) (citation omitted). The "trial court's application of law to facts which are undisputed is subject to de novo review." Id. (citation omitted).

         Here, the relevant evidence consisted entirely of testimony at a hearing on Taylor's motion to suppress by the deputy who performed the search on Taylor's vehicle. The deputy was a canine handler with the county's uniform patrol division. He testified that he stopped Taylor while driving on Interstate 75 for failure to maintain lane and for having window tint that was too dark. As Taylor was providing the deputy with his license and registration, the deputy observed in Taylor's car numerous air fresheners and packages that were releasing an "overwhelming" odor of air freshener. The deputy also noticed Taylor's hands shaking as he provided his license and registration, a reaction the deputy took as a sign of nervousness on Taylor's part.

         Taylor exited his vehicle at the deputy's request, and he stood outside the vehicle as the deputy wrote two traffic warnings for Taylor. The two had a prolonged discussion outside the vehicle in which Taylor answered a number of the deputy's questions, including where he was coming from at the time of the traffic stop. Taylor told the deputy he had been in Atlanta visiting his uncle in the hospital but struggled to identify where he was hospitalized or why he was sick. The deputy also testified that, in the course of their discussion, Taylor gave conflicting statements about where he had stayed the night before, first telling him that he stayed in an apartment and later saying that he had stayed in a hotel.

         During a break in this conversation, the deputy stepped away for a moment to call for backup and then returned to speak to Taylor again.[1] The deputy completed the forms for the two warnings and then placed a call to the dispatcher with Taylor's driver's license and tag number. The deputy then asked Taylor for consent to search his vehicle, telling Taylor that he was aware of "a lot of criminal activity going up and down this interstate." Taylor refused the deputy's request for consent to search. At that time, the deputy was still holding Taylor's license and registration along with a written warning for the traffic offenses, and the dispatcher had not yet confirmed Taylor's license and registration information.

         After Taylor refused to allow the deputy to search the vehicle, the deputy indicated to Taylor that he was going to bring over a K-9 dog with specialized narcotics training to sniff Taylor's vehicle. As the deputy was walking to his patrol car to retrieve the dog, the dispatcher replied to the deputy confirming Taylor's license and registration information. After collecting the dog from his patrol car, the deputy brought the dog to Taylor's car to conduct a sniff of the vehicle. The dog provided a positive response to the sniff, and the deputy proceeded to search Taylor's vehicle, whereupon he found a large suitcase in the trunk containing a significant quantity of marijuana.

         Taylor was arrested and charged with trafficking in marijuana. Before trial, Taylor moved to suppress all evidence seized from his vehicle by the deputy. The trial court denied the motion through a series of orders.[2] A bench trial followed at which evidence from the search of the vehicle was admitted. Taylor was convicted, and he filed a motion for a new trial. The trial court denied that motion, and this appeal followed.

         Taylor argues that the deputy lacked a reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity sufficient to detain Taylor for a drug sniff of the vehicle after the purpose of the traffic stop had concluded. Absent such reasonable suspicion, the extension of an otherwise completed traffic stop in order to conduct a free-air search of a vehicle using a drug dog violates the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1614 (191 L.Ed.2d 492) (2015). An officer who initiates a lawful traffic stop, however, can shift into a criminal investigation so long as the officer can articulate reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is occurring. See Rodriguez v. State, 295 Ga. 362, 369 (761 S.E.2d 19) (2014).

To satisfy this "reasonable suspicion" standard, the officer's investigation must be justified by specific articulable facts sufficient to give rise to a reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct. Articulable suspicion requires a particularized and objective basis for suspecting that a citizen is involved in criminal activity. Although this suspicion need not meet the higher standard of probable cause, it must be more than a mere caprice or a hunch.

State v. Whitt, 277 Ga.App. 49, 50 (625 S.E.2d 418) (2005) (citation and emphasis omitted).

To determine whether a reasonable articulable suspicion exists, courts must look to the totality of the circumstances. Based upon that whole picture the detaining officers must have a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity.

State v. Thompson, 256 Ga.App. 188, 189-90 (569 S.E.2d 254) (2002) (citations and punctuation omitted). Ultimately, "[t]he State bears the burden of proving that the search of the car was lawful, and to carry this burden, the State must show that it was lawful to detain [the defendant] until the time the drug dog indicated the presence of drugs." Dominguez v. ...

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