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Chambers v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fourth Division

July 9, 2019

CHAMBERS
v.
THE STATE.

          DOYLE, P. J., COOMER and MARKLE, JJ.

          PER CURIAM.

         Convicted of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, Robert Kenzie Chambers appeals, contending that (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress because his detention was not justified by exigent circumstances, and (2) his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance in failing to request a jury charge on simple possession. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, [1] the evidence shows that in January 2009, an agent with the Oconee Drug Task Force received a tip from an unpaid confidential informant. The agent had known the informant for five years, the informant's previous tips had resulted in ten to fifteen arrests, and the informant had never given the agent false information. The agent contacted members of local law enforcement and relayed the tip: Chambers was traveling to his residence in a gold Ford Explorer driven by his girlfriend and he would be carrying a large quantity of crack cocaine. The agent asked an officer with the Helena Police Department to be on the lookout for Chambers and to detain him. The officer drove to Chambers's residence and observed Chambers's girlfriend pull into the driveway in a gold Explorer, with Chambers in the passenger seat.

         The officer approached the passenger side of the vehicle and told Chambers and his girlfriend to put their hands on the dash. Meanwhile, several teenagers gathered around the vehicle. Chambers reached into his pants, pulled out a gray cloth bag, threw the bag out the window of the vehicle to his son, and told him to run. The officer asked for the bag, and Chambers's son handed it to the officer. The bag contained numerous pieces of suspected crack cocaine, three bags of suspected powder cocaine, and numerous small baggies. Subsequent testing showed the suspected narcotics to be 12.67 grams of cocaine.

         Prior to trial, Chambers filed a motion to suppress, arguing that there was no probable cause for the stop. The motion was denied from the bench following a hearing.

         At trial, the agent testified that the street value of the drugs was approximately $1, 267 and, based on his experience, Chambers did not possess the drugs for personal use. In his defense, Chambers testified and denied owning the bag. He further testified that he had given a ride to a man he knew, who had left the bag in his car, and explained that he threw the bag out of the window so that his son could throw it away.

         A jury convicted Chambers of possession with intent to distribute. He timely filed a motion for new trial in 2010, which was not denied until 2018. This appeal follows.[2]

         1. Chambers contends that the trial court erred in denying his pretrial motion to suppress because, even if the officer had probable cause to detain him, his detention was not justified by exigent circumstances.

         In reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress, this Court must construe the record in the light most favorable to the trial court's factual findings and judgment, and "all relevant evidence of record, including evidence introduced at trial, as well as evidence introduced at the motion to suppress hearing, may be considered." Pittman v. State, 286 Ga.App. 415, 416 (650 S.E.2d 302) (2007) (punctuation omitted). The trial judge sits as the trier of fact and its "findings based upon conflicting evidence are analogous to the verdict of a jury and should not be disturbed by a reviewing court if there is any evidence to support them." Brown v. State, 293 Ga. 787, 802-803 (3) (b) (2) (750 S.E.2d 148) (2013) (punctuation omitted). "A trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress will be upheld if it is right for any reason." Burkes v. State, 347 Ga.App. 790, 791 (1) (821 S.E.2d 33) (2018).

         Here, the trial court found that the informant's tip was reliable and corroborated by the officer's observations on the scene, such that there was probable cause to arrest Chambers. Without making any additional factual findings, the court also found "exigent circumstances[.]"

         Generally, the Fourth Amendment prohibits warrantless searches unless "they fall within a well-established exception to the warrant requirement, including searches conducted pursuant to consent, the existence of exigent circumstances, and searches incident to a lawful arrest." State v. Turner, 304 Ga. 356, 359 (1) (818 S.E.2d 589) (2018) (punctuation omitted). However, Fourth Amendment rights are personal, and, as such, "a defendant may move to suppress evidence obtained through an illegal search and seizure only when his own rights were violated." Jones v. State, 320 Ga.App. 681, 685 (2) (740 S.E.2d 655) (2013) (punctuation omitted).

         In this case, the unpaid informant had a history of providing reliable information to the agent, and the informant's tip was corroborated by the officer's observation at the scene that Chambers was traveling to his home in the passenger seat of his gold Explorer driven by his girlfriend. "When coupled with corroboration by the personal observation of a police officer, a reliable informant's tip is sufficient to establish probable cause for a warrantless search." Wells v. State, 212 Ga.App. 60, 63 (2) (441 S.E.2d 460) (1994). Accordingly, the officer had probable cause to detain Chambers. See id.

         Moreover, upon approaching the vehicle, the officer ordered Chambers to place his hands on the dash, but instead Chambers threw the bag out of the window. As our Supreme Court has explained, "absent physical force," an encounter with a police officer is not considered a seizure under the Fourth Amendment, unless there is "submission to the assertion of authority." State v. Walker, 295 Ga. 888, 891 (764 S.E.2d 804) (2014). Because Chambers did not comply with the officer's command, his abandonment of the bag was not the fruit of any seizure, and there was no need to suppress the bag. See id.; Sims v. State, 258 Ga.App. 662, 663 ...


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