State Of Conn. v. Jenkins

Decision Date07 September 2010
Docket NumberSC 18077
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

James M. Ralls, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Scott Murphy, state's attorney, and Paul Rotiroti, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellant (state).

Timothy H. Everett, special public defender, with whom, on the brief, was Christopher Houck, certified legal intern, for the appellee (defendant).

Jon L. Schoenhorn filed a brief for the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association as amicus curiae.

Norcott, Katz, Palmer, Vertefeuille and Zarella, Js.*

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In this certified appeal, we consider the limitations, under the fourth amendment to the United States constitution1 and article first, § 7, of the Connecticut constitution, 2 on police questioning and requests for consent to search automobiles conducted during the course of routine traffic stops. The state appeals, following our grant of its petition for certification, 3 from the judgment of the Appellate Court reversing the trial court's judgment of guilty of possession of narcotics with intent to sell by a person who is not drug-dependent pursuant to General Statutes § 21a-278 (b), 4 rendered after a conditional nolo contendere plea following the trial court's denial of the motion to suppress evidence found in the automobile of the defendant, Christopher Jenkins. State v. Jenkins, 104 Conn. App. 417, 934 A.2d 281 (2007). Guided by case law following the United States Supreme Court's recent decisions in Arizona v. Johnson, U.S., 129 S. Ct. 781, 172 L. Ed. 2d 694 (2009), Muehler v. Mena, 544 U.S. 93, 125 S. Ct. 1465, 161 L. Ed. 2d 299 (2005), and Ohio v. Robinette, 519 U.S. 33, 117 S. Ct. 417, 136 L. Ed. 2d 347 (1996), we agree with the state that, under the federal constitution, the detective validly searched the defendant's automobile because the traffic stop was not measurably prolonged and the defendant voluntarily had consented to the search. We further conclude that the state constitution does not provide the defendant with any increased protection with respect to nontraffic related questioning and requests for consent to search during routine traffic stops. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court.

The record reveals the following facts and procedural history. On the night of May 7, 2004, Michael Morgan, a detective with the Newington police department, was patrolling the Berlin Turnpike (turnpike) in Newington in connection with a special traffic safety detail known as turnpike traffic enforcement. Morgan drove an unmarked police cruiser, but wore a full police uniform, complete with a badge, a sidearm, and a utility belt with handcuffs, pepper spray and a Stinger flashlight. At approximately 11:15 p.m., Morgan observed a Nissan Altima (Altima), operated by the defendant and proceeding northbound on the turnpike, make two abrupt lane changes without signaling. Morgan then activated his cruiser's emergency lights and initiated a traffic stop for making lane changes without signaling in violation of General Statutes § 14-242.

After Morgan stopped the Altima on the shoulder of the turnpike near its intersection with Griswoldville Avenue, a short distance south of the former Krispy Kreme doughnut shop, he radioed the Altima's Pennsylvania license plate number to his dispatcher, who checked it and did not report any matters of concern. Morgan then approached the defendant on the driver'sside of the Altima, informed him of the reason for the stop and requested his driver's license, registration and insurance papers. Morgan also questioned the defendant regarding his travel itinerary; the defendant told Morgan that he was returning from visiting his daughter in New York. The defendant then gave Morgan a New Jersey driver's license and a valid Pennsylvania rental agreement for the Altima. Morgan testified that, during this exchange and the remainder of the traffic stop, the defendant appeared ''unusually nervous, '' gave ''quick answers'' to his questions and did not make eye contact with him.

Morgan then took the defendant's papers back to his cruiser, where he checked the defendant's personal and vehicular information with his dispatcher, and learned that there were no outstanding warrants, wants or cautions pertaining to the defendant. Morgan also requested a backup officer to respond to the scene of the traffic stop, because he had decided that he was going to ask the defendant for consent to search his vehicle. Morgan then began to write an infraction ticket for the illegal lane changes.

By the time Morgan had finished writing the ticket, the backup officer and shift supervisor, Sergeant Derrick Sutton, had arrived, also wearing a full police uniform. Morgan then approached the defendant and asked him to exit his car in order better to explain the ticket.5 Morgan then explained the ticket to the defendant, but did not give it to him at that time. On the basis of the defendant's continued nervous demeanor and account of his travels, 6 Morgan asked him whether he had anything ''illegal'' on his person. The defendant replied that he did not have anything illegal on him, and Morgan then patted down the defendant, which did not reveal any contraband.7 Morgan then asked whether the defendant had anything ''illegal'' in the Altima. The defendant replied that all he had in the car was some beer on the floor by the passenger seat, and told Morgan that he could ''go ahead and check. You can check if you want.''8 At this point, Morgan did not inquire further of the defendant, or advise him that he could refuse to allow Morgan to search the car. Morgan then instructed the defendant to stand with Sutton, and Morgan began to search the interior of the Altima. Morgan testified that, during the stop, neither he nor Sutton had drawn their weapons, nor had handcuffed, threatened or otherwise coerced the defendant.

Morgan began his search of the Altima on the driver's side of the vehicle and immediately proceeded to open a closed compartment in its center console, where he found a package wrapped in white tissue paper. The tissue paper concealed a plastic bag that contained a white powder substance that Morgan identified as cocaine. At that point, Morgan stopped the search, handcuffed the defendant and placed him under arrest.

Following the defendant's arrest, a search of the rest of the Altima, including the backseat and trunk area, revealed additional cocaine and a large quantity of heroin.9 From the time that Morgan initiated the stop, until he obtained consent to search, only ten to fifteen minutes had elapsed, a period of time that he testified was consistent with an average traffic stop. The entire stop lasted at most twenty minutes, from its inception until the defendant's arrest.

Thereafter, the state charged the defendant with two counts of possession of narcotics by a person who is not drug-dependent in violation of § 21a-278 (a) and (b), 10 and one count each of possession of narcotics in violation of General Statutes § 21a-279 (a), possession of drug paraphernalia in violation of General Statutes § 21a-267 (a), and making an improper turn without a signal in violation of § 14-242. The defendant then moved to suppress all evidence seized from him and his vehicle, claiming that the traffic stop was impermissibly extended without probable cause or reasonable and articulable suspicion, and also that he had not voluntarily consented to the search of his vehicle.

The trial court, Alexander, J., following an evidentiary hearing at which Morgan was the only witness, denied the defendant's motion to suppress. The trial court found that the state had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant had ''freely and voluntarily given consent... in the search of his motor vehicle'' because ''the initial motor vehicle stop was a result of observed traffic violations; the length of the stop was brief (no more than fifteen minutes); the conduct of the officer was professional and not overbearing; the defendant told the officer to check his vehicle for illegal items; [and] the defendant did not withdraw his consent at any time.'' Noting that it was appropriate for Morgan to ask the defendant to exit his car during the stop; see generally Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 98 S. Ct. 330, 54 L. Ed. 2d 331 (1977); State v. Dukes, 209 Conn. 98, 547 A.2d 10 (1988); the trial court then specifically declined to credit the defendant's claim that ''his statement to the police that evening was meant only to have the officer look at...

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