707 S.E.2d 479 (Va.App. 2011), 0580-10-1, Morris v. City of Virginia Beach

Docket Nº:Record 0580-10-1.
Citation:707 S.E.2d 479, 58 Va.App. 173
Opinion Judge:KELSEY, Judge.
Attorney:Stephen P. Pfeiffer (Wolcott Rivers Gates, on brief), Virginia Beach, for appellant. (William F. Monroe, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney, on brief), for appellee.
Judge Panel:Present: FRANK, KELSEY and McCLANAHAN, JJ.
Case Date:April 19, 2011
Court:Court of Appeals of Virginia

Page 479

707 S.E.2d 479 (Va.App. 2011)

58 Va.App. 173




Record No. 0580-10-1.

Court of Appeals of Virginia, Chesapeake.

April 19, 2011

Page 480

         Stephen P. Pfeiffer (Wolcott Rivers Gates, on brief), Virginia Beach, for appellant.

          (William F. Monroe, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney, on brief), for appellee.

          Present: FRANK, KELSEY and McCLANAHAN, JJ.

          KELSEY, Judge.

         [58 Va.App. 176] The trial court found that David M. Morris, II, a commercial truck driver, operated a tractor-trailer in violation of vehicle width and load securing requirements. On appeal, Morris claims the court should have suppressed the evidence of his violations because the investigating police officer unlawfully stopped his tractor-trailer. We disagree and affirm.


          When reviewing a denial of a suppression motion, we review the evidence " in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, giving it the benefit of any reasonable inferences." Glenn v. Commonwealth, 49 Va.App. 413, 416, 642 S.E.2d 282, 283 (2007) ( en banc ) (citation omitted), aff'd, 275 Va. 123, 654 S.E.2d 910 (2008). This standard requires us to " give due weight to inferences drawn from those facts by resident judges and local law enforcement officers." Malbrough v. Commonwealth, 275 Va. 163, 169, 655 S.E.2d 1, 3 (2008) (citation omitted). In doing so, we " consider facts presented both at the suppression hearing and at trial." Thomas v. Commonwealth, 57 Va.App. 267, 270, 701 S.E.2d 87, 89 (2010) (quoting Testa v. Commonwealth, 55 Va.App. 275, 279, 685 S.E.2d 213, 215 (2009)).

         In this case, the record shows Officer F.D. Godwin of the Virginia Beach Police Department was certified by the Commonwealth to inspect commercial tractor-trailer loads. While on a mid-morning patrol in December 2008, Officer Godwin [58 Va.App. 177] observed what he described as an " oversized load" travel down an interstate highway and onto a municipal road in Virginia Beach. On the trailer was a large prefabricated concrete wall. The width of the load extended more than one foot over each side of the trailer chassis. Atop the over-wide load, which was approximately one foot high, sat various unsecured boxes.

         Relying on his experience and training, Officer Godwin believed the trailer was the standard width of 8 feet, 6 inches. The load on this trailer, he testified, was " hanging well more than a foot on each side" — thus bringing the rig's apparent width to more than 10 feet, 6 inches. Under Code § 46.2-1109, " [n]o commercial vehicle shall exceed 102 inches [8 feet, 6 inches] in width when operating on any interstate highway or on any highway designated by the Commonwealth Transportation Board." See also Virginia Beach City Code § 21-1(a) (applying state restrictions to municipal roads). The officer also observed two escort vehicles and oversize load signage on the trailer.

         The officer stopped the tractor-trailer for exceeding the statutory maximum load width. During the stop, Officer Godwin discovered the trailer load was 12 feet, 4 inches wide— well over the statutory maximum of 8 feet, 6 inches. The officer asked Morris, the tractor-trailer driver, if he had a special permit authorizing a load exceeding the maximum statutory width. Morris produced a " blanket" hauling permit, but it did not authorize transport of a trailer load exceeding the 12-foot " maximum width that can be hauled on a blanket permit." Morris did not have a special " single-trip" permit authorizing loads wider than 12 feet. In addition, Officer Godwin observed some unsecured rebar sitting on top of the load that, he testified, was " capable of rolling around."

Page 481

          Officer Godwin cited Morris for violating Virginia Beach City Code § 21-1 in two respects: (i) by exceeding the maximum width limitations, City Code § 21-11 (incorporating [58 Va.App. 178] by reference Code §§ 46.2-1105(A)(4), 46.2-1109, 46.2-1139(A)),2 and (ii) by failing to properly secure the trailer load, City Code § 21-1 (incorporating by reference Code § 46.2-1156).3 In the trial court, Morris moved to suppress the evidence, claiming Officer Godwin had no legal basis to stop his tractor-trailer. The trial court disagreed, denied the motion to suppress, and found Morris guilty of both traffic infractions.


         On appeal, Morris argues the trial court misapplied Fourth Amendment principles. " To allow for roving warrantless inspections," Morris argues, " where an officer can pull over whomever he chooses, whenever he chooses, provides absolutely no restraints on an officer's discretion and is an affront on the Fourth Amendment." Appellant's Br. at 7-8. We appreciate the general premise but do not believe it fairly describes the circumstances of this case.

         [58 Va.App. 179] A. STANDARD OF APPELLATE REVIEW

          Faced with a suppression motion, a court should not limit itself " to what the stopping officer says or to evidence of his subjective rationale," Raab v. Commonwealth, 50 Va.App. 577, 583 n. 2, 652 S.E.2d 144, 148 n. 2 (2007) ( en banc ) (citation omitted), but instead should make " ‘ an objective assessment of the officer's actions in light of the facts and circumstances confronting him at the time,’ and not on the officer's actual state of mind at the time the challenged action was taken," Maryland v. Macon, 472 U.S. 463, 470-71, 105 S.Ct. 2778, 2783, 86 L.Ed.2d 370 (1985) (quoting Scott v. United States, 436 U.S. 128, 136, 98 S.Ct. 1717, 1723, 56 L.Ed.2d 168 (1978)).

          For purposes of assessing the legality of an officer's actions, his " subjective motivation is irrelevant." Robinson v. Commonwealth, 273 Va. 26, 37, 639 S.E.2d 217, 223 (2007) (quoting Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 404, 126 S.Ct. 1943, 1948, 164 L.Ed.2d 650 (2006)). A police officer's " action is ‘ reasonable’ under the Fourth Amendment, regardless of the individual officer's state of mind, ‘ as long as the circumstances, viewed objectively, justify [the] action.’ " Thomas, 57 Va.App. at 273, 701 S.E.2d at 90 (quoting Stuart, 547 U.S. at 404, 126 S.Ct. at 1948). Cf. Jones v. Commonwealth, 279 Va. 665, 673, 691 S.E.2d 801, 805 (2010).


          Much of the argument on brief, by both Morris and the City of Virginia Beach focuses on...

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