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Lindsey v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Second Division

October 29, 2019


          MILLER, P. J., RICKMAN and REESE, JJ.

          Reese, Judge.

         A jury found Phillip Ray Lindsey, Jr. (the "Appellant"), guilty of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and three counts of possession of drug related objects.[1] The Appellant appeals from the trial court's denial of his motion for new trial, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence and motion to exclude statements that he made to law enforcement officers, and that the court erred in instructing the jury. For the reasons set forth infra, we affirm.

         Viewed in the light most favorable to the trial court's ruling on the motions to suppress evidence, [2] the evidence showed the following facts. At about 10:00 a.m. on November 8, 2016, Lieutenant Jason Sullivan and Detective Alan Miles of the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office's narcotics division received a request for assistance with an arrest from Detective Scott Murray of the Dalton Police Department. Det. Murray told the officers that his department had an outstanding arrest warrant for the Appellant based on a felony probation violation, [3] and Det. Murray had learned from a reliable confidential source that the Appellant currently had drugs in his possession and was staying with a woman named "Raeanna Higginbotham" in Room 201 of a certain motel in Ringgold.

         Lt. Sullivan and Det. Miles met with Det. Murray, then went to the motel's front office, where a motel clerk confirmed that Higginbotham had rented Room 201. According to the clerk, the Appellant was in Room 201 with Higginbotham, and, because Higginbotham had not renewed the room rental for another night, they both had to be out of the room by 11:00 a.m. that day. The clerk told Lt. Sullivan that the motel's normal protocol was "to give the room occupants [until] the allotted time, which is eleven a.m., to either come check out or call and re-[rent] the room for another night." Then, if the occupants had not contacted the motel's clerk or rented the room for another night by 11:00 a.m., the staff would go up to the room and check to see if the occupants were still in the room.

         At 11:00 a.m., neither Higginbotham nor the Appellant had contacted the clerk or rented the room for another night. Thus, a motel employee, accompanied by Det. Murray, Lt. Sullivan, Det. Miles, Probation Officer Justin Harris, and other law enforcement officers, went to Room 201. The motel employee knocked on the door several times, but did not receive a response. As a result, the motel employee announced who he was and started to open the door with the motel's master key. However, a woman (who was later identified as Higginbotham) partially opened the door from the inside, with the top latch still engaged. Through the door, the officers could see inside the room and saw a man jump off the left side of the bed and appear as though he was going to "take off[ ]" or try to hide. When Higginbotham saw the law enforcement officers, she tried to shut the door to keep them out, but one of the officers shoved the door open. Probation Officer Harris recognized the Appellant as the person for whom the department had an outstanding probation violation arrest warrant and advised the Appellant about the warrant. An officer searched the Appellant but did not find any weapons or contraband on his person.

         According to Lt. Sullivan, while Room 201's door was open, he saw, in plain view, a "clear crystal[-]like substance" and drug related items on a table on the left side of the bed. Lt. Sullivan testified that, based on his four to five years of experience in the narcotics division of the sheriff's office, the crystal-like substance had the "consistency and appearance of methamphetamine[.]" Lt. Sullivan also testified that the drug related items that he observed on the table included a glass smoking device that contained a residue that was consistent with methamphetamine. In addition, in plain view on a table on the other side of the bed, Lt. Sullivan observed a small glass jar containing a "green leafy substance" and two small bags of a "brown, crystal type substance[, ]" which Lt. Sullivan believed to be marijuana and methamphetamine. Based on his observation of this contraband in plain view, Lt. Sullivan secured Room 201 until a search warrant could be obtained. Because the room was small, with only the bed and one chair on which the Appellant, Higginbotham, and the officers could sit while waiting for the search warrant, the officers checked the bed for safety and found a .22 caliber handgun between the mattress and box spring.[4]

         After Det. Miles obtained a search warrant and the officers conducted the search, they placed the Appellant and Higginbotham under arrest. Lt. Sullivan testified that he advised the Appellant of his Miranda[5] rights, and the Appellant voluntarily agreed to speak with him and give a statement.[6] Lt. Sullivan denied that he had made any threats or promises or otherwise coerced the Appellant in order to get the Appellant to waive his rights.

         According to Lt. Sullivan, the Appellant admitted that "he was involved with methamphetamine and he had been dealing with methamphetamine and that he was also expecting [a man named Jason Meeks] to make a delivery that day" of an "eight ball of methamphetamine." While officers were present, the Appellant spoke to Meeks on the phone, and Meeks said that he was on his way to the motel. Shortly thereafter, Meeks did, in fact, arrive at the motel in a truck that matched the description he had given to the Appellant, which he parked in a space near Room 201. The officers detained Meeks after he knocked on the door of Room 201.

         The Appellant's appointed counsel filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized from Room 201 and a motion in limine to suppress the statements the Appellant had made to Lt. Sullivan. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the motion to suppress. And, immediately before trial, the court conducted a Jackson-Denno[7] hearing on the admissibility of the Appellant's custodial statements before denying the motion in limine based on a finding that the Appellant had voluntarily made the statements.

         At trial, the jury found the Appellant guilty of numerous drug offenses, as shown above. After conducting a hearing, the trial court denied the Appellant's motion for new trial. This appeal followed.

When reviewing a trial court's decision on a motion to suppress, our responsibility is to ensure that there was a substantial basis for the decision. The evidence is construed most favorably to uphold the trial court's findings and judgment and the trial court's findings on disputed facts and credibility of the witnesses are adopted unless they are clearly erroneous. Nevertheless, when the evidence is uncontroverted and no question regarding the credibility of witnesses is presented, the trial court's application of the law to undisputed facts is subject to de novo appellate review.[8]

         With these guiding principles in mind, we turn now to the Appellant's specific claims of error.

         1. The Appellant contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence that law enforcement officers seized, allegedly in violation of his Fourth Amendment protections against illegal searches and seizures. The Appellant argues that he had stayed in Room 201 overnight and, thus, had a reasonable expectation of privacy that was violated when the officers illegally entered the room without a warrant, probable cause, or consent. We disagree.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section I, Paragraph XIII of the Georgia Constitution guarantee the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures. The touchstone of Fourth Amendment analysis is whether a person has a constitutionally protected reasonable expectation of privacy. The Amendment does not protect the merely subjective expectation of privacy, but only those expectations that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable.[9]
(a) "[A] hotel guest has a reasonable expectation of privacy in his room if certain factors are present, "[10] such as if the guest properly checked into and paid for the room.[11] In contrast, "mere unlawful possession of a [motel] room does not warrant a reasonable expectation of freedom from governmental intrusion[.]"[12] Thus, the question presented is whether, at the time the motel employee allowed the officers to enter Room 201, the Appellant was a "guest" of the motel that entitled him to a reasonable expectation of privacy and gave him standing to contest the officers' entry and the seizure of evidence that followed.[13]

         OCGA § 43-21-1 (1) defines the term "guest" as "a person who pays a fee to the keeper of an inn for the purpose of entertainment at that inn." Under OCGA § 43-21-3.2,

[a] written statement prominently setting forth in bold type the time period during which a guest may occupy an assigned room, when separately signed or initialed by the guest, is a valid nonassignable contract. At the expiration of such time period, the guest may be restrained from entering such room and any property of the guest may be removed by the innkeeper to a secure place where the guest may recover his or her property without liability to the innkeeper, except for damages to or loss of such property attributable to its removal.

         In this case, the motel's registration form that shows Higginbotham's payment for Room 201 stated, in bold text near her signature, "Check-in time: 3:00 PM" and "Check-out time: 11:00 AM[.]" Thus, pretermitting whether the Appellant was ever a "guest" of the motel under OCGA § 43-21-1 (1), under the plain terms of the registration contract, neither the Appellant nor Higginbotham was a "guest" after 11:00 a.m. on November 8, 2016, due to their failure to pay for another night's stay.[14]

         At that point, control over Room 201 reverted back to the motel, [15] and the motel was within its rights to evict the Appellant and Higginbotham from Room 201 without notice.[16] It follows, therefore, that the Appellant had no legal possession or control of Room 201 after 11:00 a.m. on November 8, 2016, so any expectation of privacy he may have claimed prior to that time had terminated[17] and he had no standing to contest the officers' entry into and search of the room.[18]

         Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to upholding the trial court's judgment, [19] we hold that the officers entered Room 201 after 11:00 a.m. on November 8, 2016, when the Appellant was not a "guest" of the motel and, thus, had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the room.[20] Consequently, the officers legally entered the room and did not violate the Appellant's Fourth Amendment rights.

         Further, because the officers observed contraband in plain view once they were inside the room, they were authorized to seize that contraband, and it was admissible at trial.[21]

         Consequently, the trial court did not err in denying the Appellant's motion to suppress the evidence seized from Room 201 of the motel.

         (b) Given this ruling, the Appellant's remaining arguments challenging the legality of the officers' entry into Room 201 are moot. Further, to the extent the Appellant contends that the motel employee was not authorized to allow anyone, including police officers, into Room 201 for any reason, he failed to raise that argument in the trial court. Thus, it was waived.[22]

         2. The Appellant contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to exclude statements that he made to Lt. Sullivan, [23] arguing that the statements were the fruit of an illegal entry into Room 201 that violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Specifically, he argues that the officers' "[i]llegal entry into the room led to the detention of [the Appellant], which, in turn led to his confession. Without entering the room illegally to find [the Appellant], law enforcement [officers] could not have detained [the Appellant] and subjected him to the questioning." Given our ruling in Division 1, supra, however, the Appellant cannot prevail on this alleged error.

         3. The Appellant also argues that the trial court should have suppressed the incriminating statements he made to Lt. Sullivan while in custody in Room 201, arguing that he gave the statements "under the duress of illegal police activity" and that they were obtained in violation of his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

         "[I]ncriminating statements are admissible against the accused at trial only if they are voluntary, and the State has the burden of proving voluntariness by a preponderance of the evidence."[24]

In deciding the admissibility of a statement during a Jackson-Denno hearing, the trial court must consider the totality of the circumstances. . . . After the trial court determines that the State has met its burden of demonstrating that a defendant's statement was freely and voluntarily given in compliance with Jackson v. Denno, it may permit the statement to come into evidence. On appeal, this Court will not disturb the trial court's factual findings and credibility determinations unless they are clearly erroneous.[25]

         During the Jackson-Denno hearing in this case, Lt. Sullivan testified that, after he advised the Appellant of ...

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