People v. McBride, Court of Appeals No. 17CA2249

Docket NºCourt of Appeals No. 17CA2249
Citation490 P.3d 810
Case DateJuly 23, 2020
CourtCourt of Appeals of Colorado

490 P.3d 810

The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Timothy Robert MCBRIDE, Defendant-Appellant

Court of Appeals No. 17CA2249

Colorado Court of Appeals, Division V.

Announced July 23, 2020

Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General, John T. Lee, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee

Megan A. Ring, Colorado State Public Defender, Jacob B. McMahon, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant

Opinion by JUDGE GOMEZ

¶ 1 In this criminal case, we address two issues of first impression in this state: (1) whether section 42-4-206(1), C.R.S. 2019, which requires motor vehicles to be equipped with tail lamps emitting red light, prohibits tail lamps from emitting some white light along with red light; and (2) whether section 42-4-903(1), C.R.S. 2019, which requires the use of a turn signal before turning or moving right or left upon a roadway, requires drivers to signal when navigating a roundabout. We conclude that the answer to the first question is "yes" and the answer to the second is "no." We also conclude that the evidence doesn't support a finding that the defendant, Timothy R. McBride, knew about the gun found in

490 P.3d 813

the car he was driving. Accordingly, we affirm Mr. McBride's traffic infraction for a tail lamp violation but reverse his traffic infraction for failure to signal and his conviction for possession of a weapon by a previous offender (POWPO).

I. Background

¶ 2 One night, while sitting in an unmarked police car surveilling a hotel for illicit drug activity, a sheriff's deputy saw a Lincoln Town Car with two people in it pull into the parking lot, park for less than ten minutes without anyone getting into or out of the car, and drive away. He relayed his observations to another deputy, who followed the Lincoln from another unmarked police car.

¶ 3 The second deputy, as she followed the Lincoln, noticed that both of the car's tail lamps were broken and that, although the lamps had been patched with red tape, the tape was melted and the bulbs emitted some white light along with red light. The deputy also observed the Lincoln navigate a roundabout without signaling and continue straight on the same road. She radioed a third deputy in a marked patrol car to stop the Lincoln and investigate the two traffic infractions.

¶ 4 The third deputy pulled the Lincoln over and identified the driver as Mr. McBride and his passenger as M.S. Additional officers and a police dog arrived at the scene. The officers arrested Mr. McBride on an outstanding warrant. Meanwhile, the dog alerted to the presence of illegal narcotics in the car. Upon searching the car, officers found a bag of methamphetamine between the floorboards and a handgun wedged between the driver and front passenger seats under M.S.’s purse. M.S. also had drug paraphernalia on her person.

¶ 5 The prosecution charged Mr. McBride with five offenses: (1) possession of a controlled substance; (2) a special offender sentence enhancement for possession of a firearm; (3) POWPO; (4) a traffic infraction for an improper tail lamp; and (5) a traffic infraction for failure to signal for a turn.1

¶ 6 Mr. McBride filed a motion to suppress evidence of the drugs and the gun as fruits of an illegal traffic stop. After a hearing, the court denied the motion, ruling that there was reasonable suspicion to stop Mr. McBride for the two traffic infractions.

¶ 7 Mr. McBride's defense at trial was that the drugs and gun belonged to his passenger, M.S., and that he didn't see them or know they were in the car. The jury convicted him of POWPO and the two traffic offenses. It acquitted him of the drug possession charge, which mooted the special-offender enhancer. The court imposed a two-year prison sentence for the POWPO offense (an aggravated sentence due to the court's finding that Mr. McBride was on probation at the time of the offense) and assessed monetary penalties for the traffic offenses.

II. Analysis

¶ 8 Mr. McBride raises four issues on appeal: (1) the evidence doesn't support the traffic offenses for a tail lamp infraction and failure to signal; (2) the trial court erred by denying the motion to suppress; (3) the evidence doesn't support the conviction for POWPO; and (4) the enhancement of his sentence based on his probationary status at the time of the offense was illegal. On the first issue, we conclude that there is sufficient evidence to support the tail lamp infraction but not the failure to signal infraction. On the second, we conclude that, because of the tail lamp infraction, officers had reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop. And on the third, we conclude that there is insufficient evidence to support the POWPO conviction. Our conclusion on the third issue moots the fourth, and therefore we don't address it.

A. Traffic Infractions

¶ 9 Mr. McBride contends that there is insufficient evidence to support the two traffic infractions. We disagree as to the tail lamp infraction but agree as to the failure to signal infraction.

1. Standard of Review

¶ 10 We review sufficiency of the evidence challenges de novo, applying the substantial evidence test.

490 P.3d 814

People v. McCoy , 2015 COA 76M, ¶ 37, 444 P.3d 766, aff'd on other grounds , 2019 CO 44, 442 P.3d 379. Under this test, we consider whether the evidence, viewed as a whole and in the light most favorable to the prosecution, is sufficient to support a rational conclusion that the defendant is guilty of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Id.

¶ 11 Where a sufficiency of the evidence challenge requires our interpretation of a statute, our goal is to effectuate the General Assembly's intent. Id. at ¶ 38. To determine that intent, we start with the language of the statute, giving words and phrases their plain and ordinary meanings. Id. We must read and consider the statutory scheme as a whole, giving consistent, harmonious, and sensible effects to all of its parts. Id. If the language is clear and ambiguous, we will apply it as written, without resorting to further statutory analysis. Id.

2. Tail Lamp Infraction

¶ 12 Mr. McBride's sufficiency challenge to the tail lamp infraction turns on interpretation of the applicable statute. That statute, section 42-4-206(1), provides that

[t]o be operated on a road, every motor vehicle ... must be equipped with at least one tail lamp mounted on the rear, which, when lighted as required in section 42-4-204, emits a red light plainly visible from a distance of five hundred feet to the rear ....

(Emphasis added.) The statute further provides that vehicles manufactured after 1958, like the vehicle in this case, "must be equipped with at least two tail lamps mounted on the rear ... which ... comply with this section." Id. Section 42-4-204, C.R.S. 2019, in turn, requires vehicles to display lighted lamps between sunset and sunrise and at other times when conditions are unfavorable.

¶ 13 The parties dispute whether section 42-4-206(1) requires that tail lamps shine only red light, or whether it simply requires that lamps shine red light without prohibiting lamps from also shining other colors. We conclude, for several reasons, that the statute requires tail lamps to shine only red light.

¶ 14 First, giving the words their plain and ordinary meanings, the statute signifies that tail lamps must shine only red. The statute doesn't say a tail lamp must shine red, along with any other colors. It only says "red." Further, allowing the use of additional colors would detract from uniformity and uniform enforcement of the law. If tail lamps had red light mixed with a host of other colors, there would no longer be uniformity in tail lamps shining as red. And if a tail lamp shone a lot of white light with a smidge of red but could be perceived as faintly red at a 500-foot distance, that would introduce subjectivity on the part of police. Therefore, to promote uniformity and apply the plain language of the statute, "red" must mean "red" and only "red." See People v. Wright , 742 P.2d 316, 321 n.7 (Colo. 1987) ("In Colorado, the legislature has expressly stated that, as a matter of policy, traffic laws and enforcement throughout the state should be uniform." (citing § 42-4-102, C.R.S. 2019 )).

¶ 15 Second, another subsection of section 42-4-206 requires "a tail lamp or a separate lamp" to illuminate the rear registration plate "with a white light." § 42-4-206(3). This provision suggests that tail lamps can include white lights, but only for the purpose of illuminating the rear plate.

¶ 16 Third, other provisions of the traffic code allow or require lamps in colors other than red. For instance, section 42-4-215(1), C.R.S. 2019, requires vehicles to have stop lamps on the rear that "display a red or amber light, or any shade of color between red and amber" when the driver applies the brake. Section 42-4-215(2) requires vehicles to have flashing turn signal lamps in the front "display[ing] a white or amber light, or any shade of color between white and amber" and in the rear "display[ing] a red or amber light, or any shade of color between red and amber." Section 42-4-215(7) permits vehicles to have hazard lights on the front flashing "white or amber lights, or any shade of color between white and amber"...

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