Lewis v. State

Decision Date16 July 1998
Docket NumberNo. A98A0094.,A98A0094.
PartiesLEWIS v. The STATE.
CourtGeorgia Court of Appeals

504 S.E.2d 732
233 Ga.
App. 560


No. A98A0094.

Court of Appeals of Georgia.

July 16, 1998.

Reconsideration Denied July 27, 1998.

504 S.E.2d 733
Stephanie P. Wyatt, for appellant

J. Tom Morgan, District Attorney, Barbara B. Conroy, Gregory J. Lohmeier, Assistant District Attorneys, for appellee.


Neil Anthony Lewis, along with Warren Wilson, was indicted on one count of trafficking in cocaine and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Lewis was also indicted for possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. The jury found Lewis guilty on each of the first two counts of the lesser included offense of possession of cocaine. The jury also found Lewis guilty of the firearm charge. One of his enumerations of error is that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence that was discovered as a result of an unlawful stop.

1. "`When we review a trial court's decision on a motion to suppress, the evidence is construed most favorably to uphold the findings and judgment of the trial court; the trial court's findings on disputed facts and credibility are adopted unless they are clearly erroneous and will not be disturbed if there is any evidence to support them.' [Cit.]" Carter v. State, 229 Ga.App. 417, 418, 494 S.E.2d 108 (1997). See also Tate v. State, 264 Ga. 53, 54(1), 440 S.E.2d 646 (1994); Robinson v. State, 226 Ga.App. 406, 486 S.E.2d 667 (1997). "In considering the denial of the motion to suppress, we may consider both the transcript on the hearing and the trial transcript. [Cit.]" Beck v. State, 216 Ga.App. 532, 536(1), 455 S.E.2d 110 (1995).

504 S.E.2d 734
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to support the trial court's findings, it shows that Officers Williams and Sampsel were constitutionally permitted to stop the vehicle to make inquiry

"Supreme Court holdings sculpt out, at least theoretically, three tiers of police-citizen encounters: (1) communication between police and citizens involving no coercion or detention and therefore without the compass of the Fourth Amendment, (2) brief `seizures' that must be supported by reasonable suspicion, and (3) full-scale arrests that must be supported by probable cause. Under the first tier, a police officer may approach an individual and ask a few questions without triggering Fourth Amendment scrutiny." (Citations and punctuation omitted.) State v. King, 227 Ga.App. 466, 468, 489 S.E.2d 361 (1997). "`The second tier occurs when the officer actually conducts a brief investigative Terry stop of the citizen. In this level, a police officer, even in the absence of probable cause, may stop persons and detain them briefly, when the officer has a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the persons are involved in criminal activity.' [Cit.]" McClain v. State, 226 Ga. App. 714, 716(1), 487 S.E.2d 471 (1997). The third tier is an actual or de facto arrest which requires probable cause and involves restraint of one's liberty. Lambright v. State, 226 Ga.App. 424, 425-426(1), 487 S.E.2d 59 (1997).

Lewis's encounter with the police falls within the second tier. At [233 Ga. App. 561] that level the officer must possess more than a subjective, unparticularlized suspicion or hunch, but rather "`a founded suspicion, some necessary basis from which the court can determine that the detention was not arbitrary or harassing.' [Cits.]" Id. at 426, 487 S.E.2d 59; see Rogers v. State, 206 Ga.App. 654, 659(3), 426 S.E.2d 209 (1992); McClain, supra. A "stop" under the Fourth Amendment occurs, based on the totality of the circumstances, when a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave, that is, whether the police conduct would have communicated to a reasonable person that the person was not free to decline the officer's request or otherwise terminate the encounter. Id.

The question of whether reasonable suspicion exists to stop the vehicle must be "measured by current knowledge, i.e. at the moment the [stop] is made and not hindsight." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Lovell v. State, 178 Ga.App. 366, 367-368(1), 343 S.E.2d 414 (1986). The police did not stop Lewis until they had witnessed or had knowledge of at least five indicia which contributed to an articulable suspicion of criminal activity:

(a) Two men in a vehicle had just exited an abandoned, unlit development known for drug trafficking, late at night. This area had no buildings and had at times been posted for trespassing. The men had no apparent legitimate reason for being there.

(b) As soon as the police drove behind the car, Lewis reacted with conduct of avoidance by immediately pulling over to the curb behind another vehicle. Then, when the police did not pass but were pulling up behind him, he immediately backed up, in an apparent attempt to leave the police. The police saw this behavior as erratic.

(c) Lewis was driving a vehicle with a New Jersey license plate in an area where the residents and their kin were known by the officer to be from Georgia and to have Georgia plates on their vehicles.

(d) The...

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