State Of Vt. v. Fletcher, 08-420.

Citation2010 VT 27, 996 A.2d 213
Case DateApril 01, 2010
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont

996 A.2d 213
2010 VT 27

STATE of Vermont
Bridgette Brenda FLETCHER.

No. 08-420.

Supreme Court of Vermont.

April 1, 2010.

996 A.2d 214


996 A.2d 215

¶ 1. Defendant Bridgette Fletcher appeals the Addison District Court's denial of her motion to suppress evidence seized during a traffic stop and dismiss the charges against her. Defendant contends that the law enforcement officer lacked sufficient grounds to justify the traffic stop and that the officer did not have the requisite reasonable suspicion to justify turning the traffic stop into a drug investigation. We affirm.

¶ 2. Shortly before midnight on January 31, 2008, a state trooper in a police car with a narcotics identification dog in it observed defendant's vehicle make a left turn onto Charles Avenue in Middlebury. Defendant soon approached a stop sign, stopped completely, and then put on her right turn signal and made the turn. The state trooper followed and watched defendant as she approached a second stop sign. Again, defendant put on her turn signal only after coming to a complete stop. After making a left turn, defendant continued her drive through the town, and eventually approached a third stop sign. As before, defendant did not indicate her intention to turn until after arriving at a complete stop. At that point, the state trooper pulled defendant over for violating 23 V.S.A. § 1064(d), which requires drivers to continuously signal their intention to turn for at least one hundred feet prior to turning.

¶ 3. The officer approached defendant's car and asked for her driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. Defendant told him that she did not have any of the requested items. He then asked for her name. Defendant gave the officer a false name, which the trooper did not know was false but recognized as belonging to a person who had been involved in drug activity based on information he had received in the past. The officer contacted one of his colleagues who confirmed the state police had received information that a person by that name had been involved with narcotics.

¶ 4. The state trooper also testified that during the stop he observed defendant pushing a purse under the car seat with her legs and acting quite nervously. The officer suggested that she check the purse to see if her license was in it. Defendant declined and stated that the purse did not contain the license. Defendant continued to cast nervous glances toward the purse throughout the encounter, behavior that the state trooper believed was an indication that the purse contained contraband.

¶ 5. At that point in the traffic stop, the officer informed defendant that he had a narcotics canine in his cruiser and that he would be doing an “exterior sniff” of the car. He released the dog, which alerted on the driver's side rear door. The total amount of time that passed between the traffic stop and the exterior sniff was less than five minutes, according to the officer. The officer then read defendant the probable cause consent form, and defendant agreed to allow a warrantless search of her person and her vehicle. Defendant signed the consent form, again using the false name. The state trooper searched the purse and vehicle and found drug paraphernalia, some containing heroin residue, and defendant's operator's license indicating her proper name.

¶ 6. Defendant was charged in Addison District Court with three misdemeanors: one count of possession of less than two hundred milligrams of heroin, one count of driving with a suspended license, and one count of providing false information to a

996 A.2d 216
police officer. Defendant filed an initial motion to suppress based on two arguments. First, defendant contended that § 1064(d) was overbroad and vague as applied to her. Second, she maintained that the traffic stop was “pretextual and illegal.” The court denied the motion, holding that the statute's meaning is plain and obvious. 1

¶ 7. Defendant later filed a second motion to suppress and dismiss, expanding upon her earlier arguments by maintaining that the traffic stop was pretextual because full technical compliance with the statute could not be expected from all drivers. Furthermore, defendant argued that the officer did not take any steps to investigate the alleged traffic violation, but instead immediately turned the traffic stop into a drug investigation without a proper basis for doing so. On August 26, 2008, the district court denied this second motion, finding “nothing inappropriate about [the officer's] behavior whatsoever.” Defendant then entered a conditional guilty plea agreement with the State. The Notice of Plea Agreement preserved the “suppression issue” for appeal to this Court.

¶ 8. In reviewing a denial of a motion to suppress, we apply a deferential standard of review to the trial court's findings of fact, and we review the court's legal conclusions de novo. State v. Bain, 2009 VT 34, ¶ 15, 185 Vt. 541, 975 A.2d 628. Here, defendant does not challenge the trial court's factual determinations. Rather, she contests only the court's legal conclusions. “Our examination of those legal conclusions is therefore nondeferential and plenary.” State v. Bryant, 2008 VT 39, ¶ 9, 183 Vt. 355, 950 A.2d 467.

¶ 9. Defendant's first argument on appeal is that the state trooper did not have reasonable grounds to stop her for violating § 1064(d). Under both the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article Eleven of the Vermont Constitution, a law enforcement officer must have a reasonable and articulable suspicion of wrongdoing before making a traffic stop. State v. Lussier, 171 Vt. 19, 34 n. 2, 757 A.2d 1017, 1027 n. 2 (2000). The officer's subjective intent for making the stop is irrelevant; all that is required is that the officer have an objectively valid reason for the stop. See id. at 23-24, 757 A.2d at 1020 (“In determining the legality of a stop, courts do not attempt to divine the arresting officer's actual subjective motivation for making the stop; rather, they consider from an objective standpoint whether, given all of the circumstances, the officer had a reasonable and articulable suspicion of wrongdoing.”). Here, the state trooper observed defendant's failure to use her turn signal until just before turning on three separate occasions. If this behavior violated § 1064(d), the officer had a sufficient basis for making the traffic stop.

¶ 10. Defendant contends that her behavior did not violate § 1064(d) and that the officer therefore did not have sufficient justification to make the traffic stop. Our starting point in interpreting a statute is to give effect to legislative intent. Payne v....

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28 cases
  • State v. Winters, 13–477.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • September 4, 2015
    ...appeal based on conditional plea is "limited to review of the decision on the motion specified in the plea agreement"); State v. Fletcher, 2010 VT 27, ¶ 16, 187 Vt. 632, 996 A.2d 213 (mem.) (" ‘All non-jurisdictional issues not specifically preserved in the conditional plea agreement are wa......
  • In re Kadoch, Case # 14–10552
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Second Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court —District of Vermont
    • April 3, 2015
    ...and ordinary meaning of the language used was intended.’ ” In re Patterson, 482 B.R. 755, 762 (Bankr.D.Vt.2012) (quoting State v. Fletcher, 2010 VT 27, ¶ 10, 187 Vt. 632, 635, 996 A.2d 213, 217 (2010) ). Here, the legislature's use of “the homestead” and “such homestead” as shorthand for “t......
  • State v. Kenvin, 10–138.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • November 4, 2011 Obviously, neither the provision for family members “of a minor” or an “incompetent” applies to the decedent. See State v. Fletcher, 2010 VT 27, ¶ 10, 187 Vt. 632, 996 A.2d 213 (mem.) (explaining that we begin with plain meaning of statute to determine and effectuate legislative inten......
  • State v. Young, 09–252.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • October 29, 2010
    ...Vt. 165, 932 A.2d 1039. We review a trial court's legal conclusions de novo and accordingly afford them no deference. State v. Fletcher, 2010 VT 27, ¶ 8, 187 Vt. 632, 996 A.2d 213 (mem.). We give substantial deference, however, to the trial court's findings of fact and we will uphold them u......
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