Kansas City Highway Shootings Probable Cause Statement Analysis

April 21, 2014

Monday, April 21, 2014

Good morning:

I write today regarding the affidavit for probable cause in the Kansas City highway-shootings case. I conclude the affidavit contains sufficient information to establish probable cause to believe that Mohammed Pedro Whittaker shot at 12 victims in their vehicles on highways in the Kansas City area between March 18th and April 6th of 2014.

The affidavit by Detective Dawn McCamish of the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department identifies 12 victims in 11 vehicles who were shot at while exiting highways in the Kansas City area.

Three of the victims were wounded (victims 1, 9 and 11 in the affidavit). Victims 1 and 9 were shot in their right arms with the shots passing through the front seat passenger side windows. Victim 11 was shot in the lower left leg with the shot passing through the door on the driver’s side. All three are males.

Five of the 12 victims are females. Victims 3 and 4 are a mother and daughter who were in the same vehicle with the mother driving and the daughter sitting in the back seat behind her.

Bullets were recovered from each of the 11 vehicles. According to ballistic analysis, all of the bullets were fired from the same weapon, a .380 caliber handgun.

Only two of the victims saw the shooter. Victim 3, the mother driving with her daughter in the back seat, saw a black male wearing a hoodie pull beside her on the left before the shots were fired. She was unable to provide a description of the vehicle that he was driving.

Another victim, who is not identified by number, told the police that he saw a dark metallic green sedan pull alongside him driven by a male wearing a black hoodie, ski mask and dark sunglasses. The window on the passenger side of green sedan was down and front door on the driver’s side of the victim’s vehicle took the shot.

The affidavit also references tips received from three callers an April 8th and 9th.

The first tip on April 8th reported a dark green sedan, possibly a Dodge Neon with Illinois plates followed the caller.

The second tip on April 9th reported seeing a mixed race male in his early 20s wearing a black hoodie and ski mask while driving a green Dodge Neon with Illinois plates.

A third tip received on April 9th reported an encounter that she had with a person driving a light green or turquoise vehicle with damage to the rear bumper. She stopped behind the vehicle at a stop sign. The driver stared at her. He was wearing a gray hoodie and a cloth mask that covered his face.

She followed him after he pulled away from the stop sign and stayed behind him even though he hit the brakes and slowed down as if to allow her to pass him. She remained behind him until she reached the I-71 on ramp. Then she took the on ramp to get away from him.

She reported the vehicle license as Illinois plate G86 5203.

This encounter occurred on March 20th at 1900 hours when the temperature was 70 degrees. She said all of the windows in his vehicle were down.

Police ran the plate. It came back to a white Buick registered to the suspect’s father, who resides at 9624 Beacon.

Police ran an incident search on the white Buick and obtained three hits.

On August 31st, 2013 it was reported parked in front of 9624 Beacon.

On August 30th, it was parked in front of 9622 Beacon.

On August 22nd, it was parked in front of 9622 Beacon with a dark green vehicle parked behind it.

Police ran an incident search on 9622 Beacon and obtained a hit dated October 11th, 2013. On that date, the residents of the house directly behind 9622 Beacon reported that someone fired a shot into their house. The bullet was a .380 caliber.

On April 9th a witness contacted police and reported finding a plastic Walmart bag containing spent .380 caliber casings and empty boxes of .380 caliber ammunition. He found the bag beside a highway while he was searching for his cell phone that he lost.

Police identified the suspect’s fingerprint on the bag.

Police located the suspect’s green Dodge Neon on April 10th and began following him.

On April 11th they saw him contact a male and attempt to purchase a .380 caliber handgun with a laser sight. The male refused to sell the gun because the suspect said he did not have ID. The male provided police with the suspect’s cell phone number. He was able to provide the number because the suspect had texted him to express interest in purchasing the gun, which the male had advertised for sale.

Police were able to determine where the suspect was living from the cellular service provider’s GPS locator.

On April 12th, the police followed him to a parking lot where he parked and left the vehicle. While he was gone, they walked around the vehicle and noted the damaged rear fender reported by the caller who had followed him and obtained his license plate number. From outside the vehicle, they saw a hoodie and a mask in the pocket of the passenger seat.

While following him on April 13th, they saw him remove plastic covering his windows and subsequently engage in erratic driving speeding up and slowing down in his vehicle. At one point, he swerved suddenly and almost struck a Honda that he appeared to be following.

Police obtained search warrants for his residence where they found masks and a .380 caliber handgun that fired the bullets that were recovered from the 11 vehicles.

The suspect’s father told police that he gave the license plate to the suspect.

When the police interrogated the suspect, he waived Miranda and agreed to answer their questions. When they accused him of the shootings, he denied being the shooter at the Jewish Community Center. They told him that they were not talking about those shootings. They said they were talking about the highway shootings.

He denied responsibility for those shootings and then claimed to be one of the victims.

I note parenthetically that the first victim was driving a green Dodge Neon. Probably only the victim and the shooter knew that, so it seems like he was claiming to be the first victim which reminds me of the stealing-the-victim’s-scream strategy used by Zimmerman and Pistorius.

The test for probable cause is whether reasonable grounds exist to believe that the suspect shot at the 11 vehicles.

Based on the information contained in Detective McCamish’s affidavit, I believe there is probable cause to conclude that Mohammed Pablo Whittaker is the person who shot at the 12 victims in the 11 vehicles.

Probable cause is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Only two of the victims saw the shooter and his car. All of the cases are tied together by the ballistics evidence and the shooter’s modus operandi to draw next to a potential victim who is committed to an exit lane or on ramp and shooting at the victim who cannot then follow the shooter, if the victim survives the shooting.

Modus operandi evidence is admissible regarding uncharged misconduct pursuant to Rule 404(b) and here there are several instances of his erratic driving in an apparent attempt to line up a potential victim. One incident involved the woman who reported his license plate to police. Another, with police watching, involved the Honda that he nearly ran into.

Appears to be little doubt that he intended to shoot people, not just cars, since he wounded three victims and subsequently attempted to improve his aim by purchasing a .380 caliber handgun with a laser.

Not an airtight case, but close.

Safe to say,

Bring lawyers, guns and money cuz I’m in a helluva jam.

If you appreciate what we do and have not already made a donation this month, please do so today.

Fred


Practicum: Did the police have probable cause to arrest George Zimmerman the night of the shooting

March 25, 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013

Write down or memorize these rules:

1. A police officer must have probable cause (i.e., reasonable grounds) to believe that a suspect committed a specific crime before he arrests the suspect. If he arrests a suspect without probable cause, the arrest is unlawful.

2. Whether probable cause exists depends on the totality of the circumstances.

3. A person is under arrest if a reasonable person in the same situation would not believe they were free to terminate the contact with the officer and leave the area.

4. Pursuant to the exclusionary rule, all evidence seized from a suspect after an unlawful arrest cannot be used against the suspect.

5. A person subjected to an unlawful arrest has a cause of action against the arresting officer for all damages caused by the unlawful arrest.

Now, let’s take a look at the Trayvon Martin case and decide whether the police had probable cause to believe that the defendant unlawfully killed Trayvon (i.e., that he did not kill him in self-defense).

They certainly knew he killed him because he admitted that he did.

What else did they know?

The had the recorded NEN call, the recorded 911 calls, various witness interviews at the scene of the shooting, the EMT’s report regarding the defendant’s physical condition and injuries, the photographs of the defendant taken at the station house, and the defendant’s statements at the station house.

Do not consider the results of the autopsy, forensic analysis at the crime lab, and other evidence obtained after the first night.

Pretend you are the judge.

Is that information sufficient to constitute reasonable grounds to believe the defendant did not kill Trayvon Martin in self-defense?

Next question:

Notwithstanding that he was permitted to leave the station house after submitting to an interrogation, was the defendant under arrest at any point that evening?

With the exception that I have given you the rules that must be applied and y’all can collaborate with each other, these two questions are similar to and probably were asked on more than one Criminal Procedure final exam in law school.

Who will be the first to provide an answer?


Combining the immunity hearing with the trial in the Zimmerman case is a terrible idea

March 6, 2013

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Several of you, including Xena, Southern Girl and Towerflower, have asked me to comment on the possibility of combining an immunity hearing with the trial. I do not believe that is a workable solution because it would violate the defendant’s right to remain silent and the presumption of innocence.

Let us use the defendant’s case as an example.

In a typical immunity hearing, a defendant has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely so than not so) that he acted in self-defense. He puts on his case first, since he has the burden of proof, and the prosecution goes second. If the judge concludes that he satisfied his burden, she will enter an order granting him immunity from civil suit and dismiss the criminal case.

A defendant is not required to testify at the immunity hearing, but if he testifies, and most will since they have the burden of proof, he does not waive his right to remain silent at a subsequent trial, if the judge denies his motion for immunity.

If the hearings are combined in GZ’s case, the prosecution will go first because it has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that he did not kill Trayvon Martin in self-defense.

Let us suppose for the sake of argument that the defense manages to poke some holes in the prosecution’s case such that the defendant and his lawyers are pretty confident about winning the trial without putting on a defense. They do not believe the defendant needs to testify and he does not want to testify.

The defense moves for a judgment of acquittal and for an order granting immunity.

For the purpose of the criminal case and ruling on the motion for a judgment of acquittal, the judge would be required to decide whether a rational trier of fact could find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty based on the evidence introduced during the prosecution’s case. Let us further suppose that the judge decides that a rational trier of fact could convict the defendant and denies the motion for a judgment of acquittal.

For the purpose of ruling on the immunity issue, the judge would be required to decide whether the defense had met its burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he had acted in self-defense. There is little likelihood that the judge would grant the motion because the defense has not put on its case and the defendant has not testified. Therefore, the judge would deny the motion.

Now what happens?

If this were “just” a trial, the defense would rest without introducing any evidence or putting the defendant on the stand to testify. I won about 80% of my trials by employing this strategy, including some self-defense cases by relying on the presumption of innocence and arguing reasonable doubt.

The defense cannot use that strategy, however, if it wants a shot at immunity. Since it has the burden of proof, it must put on a case and the defendant has to testify.

Do you all see the problem now?

The defendant has to give up his right to remain silent to have a shot at immunity, but if he testifies, he risks not only losing the motion for immunity, he also risks being convicted by the jury, if the jury does not believe him.

In other words, in order to exercise his statutory right to an immunity hearing, he is forced to give up his right to remain silent and be presumed innocent in the criminal case.

Notice that combining an immunity hearing with the trial only hurts a defendant.

There is a very long line of SCOTUS cases that prohibit forcing a defendant to give up one constitutional right to exercise another.

That is the problem with combining a pretrial immunity hearing with a trial.

It is also the reason why pretrial suppression hearings in criminal cases are not combined with trials.

I realize that this procedure has been followed in other cases in Florida, and Judge Nelson could decide to follow it in GZ’s case, but I think she would be unwise to do so.

For example, if the defendant were to testify, the jury found him guilty, and Judge Nelson denied his motion for immunity, you can bet that he will claim that he was forced to waive the presumption of innocence and his right to remain silent in order to exercise his statutory right to an immunity hearing and that his lawyer provided ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel by waiving his right to a pretrial immunity hearing.

I believe that the case will be reversed and remanded for a new trial, if the scenario that I have described takes place.

The scenario is not far fetched.

Frankly, I am shocked that defense counsel would even consider combining the immunity hearing with the trial. Either they are incompetent or simply using this idea as a smokescreen to conceal that they know they have no case.

They may be unwilling to admit publicly that they do not really intend to pursue the request for an immunity hearing during the trial for the simple reason that they fear financial contributions to the defense would wither away to nothing.

I regard that as theft by misrepresentation.

GZ’s supporters should be screaming bloody murder about this latest turn of events.

Instead, his supporters, including some criminal defense lawyers who should know better, are calling yesterday’s decision a victory for the defense.

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US media pushes false narrative that DD (Witness 8) lied in Zimmerman case

March 6, 2013

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Exciting day yesterday with the defense decision to forego an immunity hearing. That was huge after all of the right-wing assurances that Judge Nelson was going to grant the defendant immunity from criminal prosecution and civil suits for damages.

I would be a rich man if I had a dollar for every claim that the prosecution lacked probable cause to charge the defendant with a crime and its case would never survive an immunity hearing.

One elderly Harvard law professor, who shall remain nameless out of respect for the lawyer he used to be, went so far as to accuse State’s Attorney Angela Corrie of being unethical for charging the defendant with murder 2.

Another lawyer who also shall remain nameless has been tweeting me for months telling me that this is the strongest self-defense he has ever seen and there is absolutely no way this case will survive an immunity hearing and go to trial. He expressed all sorts of creative and disparaging insults, some personal and some not, and mocked me for predicting that the defendant would be convicted.

I have been mocked, doxed, defamed, insulted, accused of being up on felony charges, faking my credentials and having sex with animals for calling it what it is; namely, an indefensible murder case. I have been doing that since I first read about it before charges were filed and we saw any discovery.

I still do not understand why what is so obvious to me is not equally obvious to everyone else, particularly to criminal defense lawyers who should know better.

Now, it should be obvious to everyone that the defense has no case. If the defendant had a legitimate claim of self-defense, the immunity hearing would have happened long ago and the defendant would be a free man.

The uncomplicated reality is that the armed defendant followed, confronted, attempted to detain, shot and killed an unarmed teenager who was walking home minding his own business while talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone.

By calling off the immunity hearing, the defense is finally admitting what should have been obvious to everyone for months.

I figured out months ago that this would happen so I was not surprised by the defense announcement yesterday.

The real eye-opener for me has been watching the media’s ongoing shameless effort since the hearing to downplay the significance of that decision while attempting to build up the significance of the prosecution’s admission that there are no hospital records that DD (AKA Witness 8) was in a hospital during Trayvon Martin’s wake or funeral.

At the press conference following the hearing, for example, one female reporter aggressively pressed the prosecutor, Bernie de la Rionda, to explain why he had not charged DD with perjury.

Now, I have heard a lot of stupid questions asked over the years, and even asked more than a few myself, but this one is quite possibly the dumbest one yet.

As I pointed out yesterday, there is no evidence that DD lied or committed perjury.

But even if she lied, and I am not conceding that she did, given the nature of the ambiguous questions she was asked, she certainly did not lie about a relevant or material matter regarding the homicide. Therefore, a perjury charge is not even a possibility.

Moreover, her alleged lie would not be admissible at the trial. The jury will not hear about it and the defense will not be permitted to mention it.

All of the media hullabaloo to create a false equivalency between DD’s alleged lie about going to a hospital instead of the wake or funeral and Shellie Zimmerman’s perjury charge for lying about her husband’s assets while under oath at a bail hearing is “baffling,” as Bernie de la Rionda snarked about the news that the defense was giving up on having an immunity hearing.

The only news organization to accurately report what happened at yesterday’s hearing was The Guardian in the UK.

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Zimmerman: Defense Motion for Prophylactic Sequestration of Witnesses Reaches a New Low

October 22, 2012

Brandi Kansas City posted this comment at 6:42 pm to my post titled, Zimmerman: Representing Him and the Inevitable Question: My God, What Have I Become?

She said,

“O’Mara filed this emergency motion can you tell me how it constitutes an emergency. If not would it be an example of him trying the case in the public?”

The motion is titled Emergency Motion for a Protective Order/Prophylactic Sequestration of Witnesses Prior to Defense Deposition.

My Answer

I believe this is an example of trying the case in the Court of Public Opinion because I have a problem with this motion and the way it was handled.

First, O’Mara is revealing the opinions of cops overseeing an investigation. Their opinions are irrelevant and inadmissible. The evidence is whatever it is and it alone constitutes probable cause to believe a crime was committed or it does not.

Second, revealing their opinions in a motion is an underhanded way of creating an excuse to publicize that they opposed charging Zimmerman with a crime.

Third, if they were genuinely concerned about a need to order witnesses to not collaborated with each other, they should have filed the motion under seal.

Fourth, it would have been in the best interest of the defense to have the witnesses collaborate with each other so that they all objected to filing criminal charges, but that sounds like what they were going to do anyway. Therefore, there was no need for the relief he sought in the order.

For all of these reasons, seems pretty obvious to me that the real purpose of the motion was to publicize what should have been kept private; namely, that the brass did not want to charge Zimmerman.

As so often happens with this case, however, the defense effort to publicize information backfires. It will backfire here because the evidence is so strong that it makes the brass look like a bunch of coconspirators plotting to let George Zimmerman get away with murder.

It becomes ever more clear to me with each passing day that the defense is desperately trying to publicize and thereby win this case in the Seminole County Court of Public Opinion, as opposed to the rest of the country or the world. The defense, in effect, appears to be trying to poison the well of prospective jurors, many of whom are extremely conservative, by publicizing irrelevant and inadmissible information that is calculated to appeal to White conservatives and their racist fear of Blacks.

In simple words, they want a jury with 6 KKK members determined to acquit George Zimmerman, regardless of the evidence and, if they can’t get 6 KKK members, they want 6 White conservatives with the same racist outlook and intention.

I do not want a gag order because I have a selfish desire to keep up with the case developments. A gag order would prevent that.

Nevertheless, I am increasingly concerned that the possibility for a fair and impartial jury is diminishing due to what the defense is doing. It needs to stop and the court needs to do something to make it stop. I think there are other things the court can do short of a gag order, possibly involving the use or threatened use of its contempt power, but enough is enough and the sooner the court acts, the better.

Finally, I was struck by the use of the term “prophylactic sequestration.” I am tempted to run with it and make fun of it, but I am going to resist the bait and simply condemn it as a theatrical trick to grab attention.

This is a really low class and undignified move that further lowers my opinion of the defense effort in this case.


Did George Zimmerman Have a Reasonable Suspicion that Trayvon Martin Intended to Commit a Crime?

August 25, 2012

I believe it may be useful to compare what a police officer may have been able to do to Trayvon Martin, if he had seen him walking in the rain.

A police officer could not have stopped Trayvon Martin and temporarily detained him to determine his identity and investigate what he was doing in the neighborhood, unless he had a reasonable suspicion that Trayvon had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime.

Whenever you see the word “reasonable,” as part of a legal test or rule, you should immediately realize that the test or rule is objective, not subjective.

Let us assume for the sake of argument that George Zimmerman actually believed Trayvon Martin was, as he put it, “up to no good.” In other words, he had a subjective hunch that Trayvon was casing the neighborhood looking for a house to burglarize or someone’s property to steal.

A subjective hunch is not a reasonable suspicion unless there were sufficient articulable facts and circumstances such that a reasonable person in George Zimmerman’s situation would have suspected Trayvon intended to burglarize someone’s home or steal someone’s property.

We know the answer to that question is “No,” because Chris Serino told him that. Based on what George Zimmerman claimed to have seen, he did not have a reasonable basis to stop and detain Trayvon Martin.

Regardless what the Zimmerman supporters say, this is an undisputed fact and conclusion of law.

Serino was right. Walking through the neighborhood looking around at houses and hanging out in the covered mailbox area while it was raining does not suggest criminal activity of any kind is about to happen.

Serino also told him that his hoodie notwithstanding, Martin was not dressed in gang attire because he was wearing tan chinos and white tennis shoes.

Therefore, a police officer would have violated Trayvon’s Fourth Amendment right to privacy, if he had stopped and detained him for a few minutes to check his identification and ask him what he was doing in the neighborhood.

Police also have a community caretaker responsibility, however, that does not necessarily involve preventing criminal activity. If an officer saw a front door open, for example, she could walk up to the open door and look inside or call out to see if anyone is home.

If she saw Trayvon walking in the rain looking around at houses, she could approach him and ask him if he needed any assistance. That type of contact does not constitute a stop because the person contacted is free to leave at any time. The protections of the Fourth Amendment do not apply to those types of contacts.

George Zimmerman passed up two opportunities to do the same thing, but declined to do so.

By the way, if you should ever find yourself in an ambiguous situation after being contacted by a police officer, just ask the officer politely if you are free to go.

If the answer is “No,” the protections of the Fourth Amendment apply to you. You can be temporarily detained long enough for the police officer to determine your identity and confirm or reject his suspicion. If the officer determines that there is probable cause to arrest, he may arrest you and take you to jail. If not, he must release you.

At any time, you may assert your 4th Amendment right to refuse to consent to a search, your 5th Amendment right to refuse to answer questions, and your 6th Amendment right to counsel. If you decide to assert any or all of these rights, do so politely.

Be advised that operating a motor vehicle is a privilege and not a right. If you are pulled over for suspicion of DUI and asked to take a breathalyzer, your refusal will result in a suspension of your license, regardless if you are subsequently acquitted of DUI. You can always insist on a blood test.

Probable cause is reasonable grounds to believe that a person has committed a crime. As such, it is more than reasonable grounds to suspect that a person has committed a crime.

I believe it’s now clear that George Zimmerman assumed Trayvon Martin was a criminal looking for a house to burglarize or some property to steal and he hunted him down with the intent of detaining him in order to prevent him from getting away. He was so determined to do that that he intentionally and willfully disregarded the Neighborhood Watch rules and the NEN dispatcher’s admonition.

Acting as a private citizen, he had no authority or right to touch Trayvon, let alone restrain him.

Now that we have reviewed and understand the SYG law, we realize that Trayvon had the right to stand his ground and use reasonably necessary force to defend himself.

I am not satisfied that he used any force to defend himself, but if he did, he had a right to do so.

Since George Zimmerman was the aggressor, he had no right to use any force, let alone deadly force to defend himself.

Assuming for the sake of argument that Trayvon Martin used excessive and deadly force to defend against George Zimmerman’s initial use of force, George Zimmerman would have been required to attempt to withdraw from the confrontation and offer to quit fighting before he could lawfully use deadly force to defend himself.

George Zimmerman never claimed that he did and there is no evidence that he did.

Therefore, George Zimmerman did not act in self-defense. He committed an imminently dangerous act with a depraved mind indifferent to human life and that is the definition of murder in the second degree.


How Could Judge Taylor Forget Garcia v. Commonwealth?

December 28, 2011

Note: I am cross posting this article from Crane Station’s site with her permission. In the article, she points out that Judge Taylor, who signed off on the opinion written by Judge Lambert in her case affirming the trial judge’s denial of her motion to suppress evidence, reached the opposite conclusion in an opinion that he wrote in Garcia v. Commonwealth. Judge Taylor was certainly free to change his mind. Judges who change their minds, typically write a concurring opinion explaining why they changed their mind. Usually a judge will change his mind because the Supreme Court has rendered a decision changing the law and the decision is binding precedent. The judge has no choice when that happens. Other times, for one reason or another, the judge will conclude that there is some significant fact in the case that differs from the earlier case causing him to reach an apparently contradictory conclusion. When that happens, the judge will write a concurring opinion distinguishing the two cases.

Judge Taylor, however, has remained silent, even though Crane’s lawyer handling the appeal specifically mentioned the contradiction in her Petition for Rehearing.

I suspect the answer may be due to the panel’s false assumptions (1) to rely on after-acquired and false information to support the trial judge’s clearly erroneous findings of fact and (2) to falsely declare that her lawyer failed to challenge any of the trial court’s findings of fact. I specifically addressed and shot down these false assumptions in The Decision From Hell (Part 1).

Judge Taylor’s refusal to explain himself and the panel’s refusal to mention and explain why the United States Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Hensley does not require reversal is inexcusable and reflects poorly on the judges who decided the case, the Court of Appeals, and the legal system in general.

For those of you following the legal case, bear in mind that the case is no longer about me. The fact that the Kentucky Court of Appeals has designated the opinion in my case “to be published” means that they have deemed the case serious and important enough that it has precedential value for any and all related cases in the future; the Court seeks to make the Leatherman case available for future citation as binding case law.

In the Petition for Rehearing, Hon. Julia Pearson discussed a published Kentucky case, Garcia v. Commonwealth.

This Court also ignored Garcia v. Commonwealth, in which a member of this panel found the police did not have reasonable suspicion to stop a driver who “quickly changed to the right lane” as a Kentucky State Police Trooper approached the vehicle. 185 S.W.3d 658, 660-661 (Ky. App. 2006). The panel found that “Garcia’s nervousness, lane change, failure to make eye contact, ‘death grip’ on the steering wheel, and out-of-state license plate. . . . describe a substantial number of drivers on our highways.” Further, the panel said, “[i]f we were to accept the Commonwealth’s argument, ordinary law abiding citizens could be subjected to a stop by police based upon routine driving habits.” Id., at 665.

Contrast Garcia’s behavior with that of Rachel Leatherman in the case at bar. According to the officers in each case, both Leatherman and Garcia appeared nervous and changed lanes and had out-of-state license plates. The difference is that Leatherman driving with a turn signal blinking is somehow seen as suspicious behavior rather than the routine (for some drivers) driving habit that it unfortunately is.

The author of the published opinion in Garcia v. Commonwealth is Judge Taylor. Judge Taylor was a member of the panel in Leatherman as well. The Petition for Rehearing in Leatherman v. Commonwealth was denied without comment by judges Taylor, Lambert and Isaacs.

Note the ultimate irony, as stated by Hon. Julia Pearson:

The ultimate irony for this case is that after the hour and one-half Deputy McGuire held Rachel Leatherman on the side of the road, he found nothing illegal. This Court stated as much when it said, “consent searches of her automobile and her person did not reveal any heroin or any other illegal substance.” Leatherman, supra, 2011 WL 181251, at *7.

Such was not the case in Garcia.

Judge Taylor wrote the Garcia opinion. How could he sign off on, and seek publication of, the Leatherman opinion, reaching the opposite conclusion that he reached when he wrote Garcia? We do not know the answer to this question. At the vary least, Judge Taylor should have written a concurring opinion explaining why he reached the opposite conclusion, but he did not. His silence is deafening.

Here is the Garcia opinion that Judge Taylor wrote:

Garcia v. Commonwealth

THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF KENTUCKY

February 24, 2006

FRANCISCO GARCIA APPELLANT
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY APPELLEE
HEINRICH LETKEMAN APPELLANT
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY APPELLEE

APPEAL FROM FRANKLIN CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE WILLIAM L. GRAHAM, JUDGE ACTION Nos. 04-CR-00045-001 & 04-CR-00045-002.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Taylor, Judge

TO BE PUBLISHED

OPINION

(1)REVERSING AND REMANDING APPEAL NO. 2004-CA-002271-MR

(2) AFFIRMING APPEAL NO. 2004-CA-002283-MR

BEFORE: MINTON, SCHRODER, AND TAYLOR, JUDGES

Francisco Garcia brings Appeal No. 2004-CA-002271-MR from an October 4, 2004, judgment of the Franklin Circuit Court entered upon a conditional plea of guilty to trafficking in marijuana. Heinrich Letkeman brings Appeal No. 2004-CA-002283-MR from an October 4, 2004, judgment of the Franklin Circuit Court entered upon a conditional plea of guilty to trafficking in marijuana. We reverse and remand Appeal No. 2004-CA-002271-MR. We affirm Appeal No. 2004-CA-002283-MR.

On March 6, 2004, Garcia and his passenger, Letkeman, were traveling upon Interstate 64 in a 1993 Dodge Caravan. Kentucky State Trooper Jeremy Devasher approached the vehicle and noticed the vehicle quickly changed to the right lane. The trooper testified that he pulled his cruiser alongside the vehicle. Trooper Devasher thought that the driver, Garcia, looked nervous because he avoided making eye contact with the trooper and kept a “death grip” on the steering wheel of the vehicle. The trooper then observed cracks in the windshield of Garcia’s vehicle and thought the cracks impaired Garcia’s forward vision. At this point, Trooper Devasher stopped the vehicle for a traffic violation.

Trooper Devasher testified that he asked Garcia a series of questions in both English and Spanish; consequently, the trooper believed Garcia spoke English very well. Trooper Devasher testified that Garcia and Letkeman’s stories concerning their travel plans fell apart upon further questioning. The trooper also noted that neither had any luggage for a purported trip to Virginia.

The trooper issued a citation for a cracked windshield pursuant to Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS) 189.110. After issuing the citation, the trooper informed Garcia the traffic stop was complete and he was free to leave. Trooper Devasher then asked Garcia for permission to search the vehicle. The trooper testified that Garcia nodded affirmatively and pointed to the vehicle. A search was commenced, and ten bricks of marijuana were seized from the vehicle.

Garcia and Letkeman were indicted by the Franklin County Grand Jury upon the offense of trafficking in marijuana over five pounds (KRS 218A.1421(4)). Thereafter, Garcia and Letkeman filed motions to suppress the evidence seized (marijuana) from the search of the vehicle. After an evidentiary hearing, the circuit court denied both motions to suppress.

Garcia and Letkeman entered conditional pleas of guilty to the offenses of trafficking in marijuana. Pursuant to the conditional pleas, Garcia and Letkeman preserved the issue of whether the circuit court properly denied their motions to suppress. See Ky. R. Crim. P. 8.09. On October 4, 2004, Garcia and Letkeman were each sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment with one year to serve and the remaining sentence probated for a period of five years. These appeals follow.

Appeal No. 2004-CA-002271-MR

Garcia contends the circuit court erroneously denied the motion to suppress evidence seized from his vehicle. Specifically, Garcia contends the stop of his vehicle based upon the cracked windshield was improper. Garcia argues that the cracked windshield was not a violation of KRS 189.110. Thus, he contends the initial stop of the vehicle was without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and the circuit court erred by denying his motion to suppress evidence.

Our standard of review of a suppression determination is succinctly set forth in Stewart v. Commonwealth, 44 S.W.3d 376, 380 (Ky.App. 2000)(footnote omitted):

First, the factual findings of the court are conclusive if they are supported by substantial evidence. The second prong involves a de novo review to determine whether the court’s decision is correct as a matter of law.

We observe that resolution of this appeal involves issues of both fact and law.

It is well-established that the stopping of a vehicle and detaining of its occupants amounts to a seizure under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and under Section 10 of the Kentucky Constitution. It is equally axiomatic that a police officer may stop a motor vehicle if that officer possesses reasonable suspicion that criminal activity has occurred or is imminent. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648 (1979). The occurrence of a traffic violation is recognized as sufficient justification to warrant a stop of a motor vehicle.

The initial stop of Garcia’s vehicle was originally premised upon Trooper Devasher’s belief that the cracked windshield constituted a violation of KRS 189.110. This statute provides as follows:

(1) A windshield in a fixed and upright position, that is equipped with safety glazing as required by federal safety-glazing material standards, is required on every motor vehicle which is operated on the public highways, roads, and streets, except on a motorcycle or implement of husbandry.

(2) A person shall not operate a motor vehicle on a public highway, road, or street with any sign, sunscreening material, product, or covering attached to, or located in or upon the windshield, except the following:

(a) A certificate or other paper required to be displayed by law;

(b) Sunscreening material along a strip at the top of the windshield, if the material is transparent and does not encroach upon the driver’s direct forward viewing area as defined in Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards No. 205 as the AS/1 portion of the windshield.

(3) A person shall not operate a motor vehicle required to be registered in the Commonwealth, on a public highway, road, or street on which vehicle the side wings and side windows on either side forward of or adjacent to the operator’s seat are composed of, covered by, or treated with any sunscreening material or other product or covering which has the effect of making the window nontransparent or which would alter the window’s color, increase its reflectivity, or reduce its light transmittance, except as expressly permitted by this section. A sunscreening material may be applied to the windows if, when tested on one-eighth (1/8) inch clear glass, the material has a total solar reflectance of visible light of not more than twenty-five percent (25%) as measured on the nonfilm side and a light transmittance of at least thirty-five percent (35%) in the visible light range.

(4) A person shall not operate a motor vehicle required to be registered in the Commonwealth, on a public highway, road, or street on which vehicle any windows behind the driver are composed of, covered by, or treated with any sunscreening material, or other product or material which has the effect of making the window nontransparent or which would alter the window’s color, increase its reflectivity, or reduce its light transmittance, except as specified below:

(a) Sunscreen material consisting of film which, when tested on one-eighth (1/8) inch clear glass, has a total solar reflectance of visible light of not more than thirty-five percent (35%) as measured on the nonfilm side and a light transmittance of at least eighteen percent (18%) in the visible light range; however, sunscreen material which, when tested on one-eighth (1/8) inch clear glass, has a total solar reflectance of visible light of not more than thirty-five percent (35%) as measured on the nonfilm side and a light transmittance of at least eight percent (8%) in the visible light range may be used on multipurpose passenger vehicles;

(b) Perforated sunscreening material which, when tested in conjunction with existing glazing or film material, has a total reflectance of visible light of not more than thirty-five percent (35%) and a light transmittance of no less than thirty percent (30%). For those products or materials having different levels of reflectance, the highest reflectance from the product or material will be measured by dividing the area into sixteen (16) equal sections and averaging the overall reflectance. The measured reflectance of any of those sections may not exceed fifty percent (50%).

(5) A person shall not operate a motor vehicle required to be registered in the Commonwealth, upon a public highway, road, or street, on which vehicle the rear window is composed of, covered by, or treated with any material which has the effect of making the window nontransparent, unless the vehicle is equipped with side mirrors on both sides.

(6) Each installer or seller of sunscreening material shall provide a pressure-sensitive, self-destructive, nonremovable, vinyl-type film label to the purchaser stating that the material complies with the provisions of KRS 189.010(20) to (23) and subsections (1) to (5) of this section. Each installer shall affix the required label to the inside left door jamb of the motor vehicle. In addition, the label shall state the trade name of the material and the installer’s or seller’s business name. Labeling is not required for factory glazing which complies with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 205.

(7) Every percentage measurement required by subsections (3) and (4) of this section is subject to a tolerance of plus or minus three percent (3%).

(8) A person shall not install window tinting materials on a vehicle that fails to meet the minimum standards for light transmission pursuant to subsections (3) and (4) of this section. Tinted material that fails to meet the minimum standards for light transmission pursuant to subsections (3) and (4) of this section shall be removed immediately.

(9) A person who applies sunscreening materials in violation of this section shall be guilty upon conviction of a Class B misdemeanor.

(10) Nothing in this section shall prevent the display of a representation of the American flag on the rear window of any motor vehicle, including any vehicle owned by a local or state government, provided that the representation does not exceed a size of five (5) inches by eight (8) inches and is placed in a lower corner of the rear window.

(11) The windshield on every motor vehicle shall be equipped with a device for cleaning rain, snow or other moisture from the windshield. The device shall be so constructed as to be controlled by the operator of the vehicle.

(12) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the use of any window which is composed of, covered by, or treated with any material or component in a manner approved by federal statute or regulation if the window was a component part of a vehicle at the time of the vehicle manufacture, or the replacement of any window by a covering which meets these requirements.

KRS 189.110.

A reading of KRS 189.110 reveals that it provides requirements for window sunscreening and tinting. It also sets forth mandatory safety glazing of glass and windshield wiper requirements. It, however, does not set forth any express or implied proscriptions against cracks in a vehicle’s windshield. Based upon the plain language of KRS 189.110, a cracked windshield simply does not constitute a violation of its provisions. As a cracked windshield is not a violation of KRS 189.110, we believe the Commonwealth cannot justify the stop of Garcia’s vehicle upon same.

Alternatively, the Commonwealth argues the traffic stop was lawful because the cracked windshield was a violation of KRS 189.020, which states as follows:

Every vehicle when on a highway shall be so equipped as to make a minimum of noise, smoke or other nuisance, to protect the rights of other traffic, and to promote the public safety.

The interpretation of a statute is a matter of law for the court. City of Worthington Hills v. Worthington Fire Prot. Dist., 140 S.W.3d 584 (Ky.App. 2004). When interpreting a statute, a word is to be afforded its ordinary meaning unless it has acquired a technical meaning. Id. Upon examination of KRS 189.020, we must initially decide whether a cracked windshield constitutes an “other nuisance” within its meaning. When interpreting the term “other nuisance” in KRS 189.020, we are guided by the rule of statutory interpretation called ejusdem generis:

[W]here, in a statute, general words follow or precede a designation of particular subjects or classes of persons, the meaning of the general words ordinarily will be presumed to be restricted by the particular designation, and to include only things or persons of the same kind, class, or nature as those specifically enumerated, unless there is a clear manifestation of a contrary purpose.

Steinfeld v. Jefferson County Fiscal Court, 312 Ky. 614, 229 S.W.2d 319, 320 (1950)(citations omitted). Applying the rule of ejusdem generis to KRS 189.020, the term “other nuisance” is preceded by the particular designation of “noise” and “smoke.” To effectuate legislative intent, we believe “other nuisance” should be interpreted as including only those nuisances of a similar kind as noise and smoke. Accordingly, we do not interpret the term “other nuisance” in KRS 189.020 as encompassing a cracked windshield.

KRS 189.020 also requires a vehicle to be equipped so as “to protect the rights of other traffic, and to promote the public safety.” A cracked windshield that unreasonably impairs the vision of a driver certainly increases the risk and likelihood of an accident. The increased risk would undoubtedly present a significant threat to public safety and would adversely affect the rights of other traffic. Therefore, we hold that a cracked windshield must unreasonably impair the vision of a vehicle’s driver to constitute a violation of KRS 189.020. We emphasize that a cracked windshield is a violation of KRS 189.020 only if it is of sufficient severity to unreasonably reduce the driver’s visibility.

In the case at hand, Trooper Devasher testified that he believed the cracked windshield impaired Garcia’s forward vision. The circuit court concluded:

Courts hold that stopping a vehicle for a traffic law violation is constitutionally permissible under the Terry test. Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996); Commonwealth v. Fox, Ky., 48 S.W.3d 24 (2001). That is the situation here. Before stopping the Defendants’ vehicle, the officer observed two cracks in the vehicle’s windshield. The officer believed the cracks impaired the driver’s vision and violated KRS 189.110. The officer subsequently stopped the vehicle and issued Defendant Garcia a citation for this violation. The vehicle stop, therefore, did not contravene the Constitution.

In the record, there exists a photograph of Garcia’s vehicle, which provides a full view of the windshield. Upon examination of the photograph, the cracks do not appear to be of sufficient severity to unreasonably impair Garcia’s forward vision. We observe that mere hairline cracks of a vehicle’s windshield are not typically of sufficient severity to constitute a violation of KRS 189.020. Hence, we are of the opinion that the cracks in the windshield of Garcia’s vehicle were not of sufficient severity to constitute a violation of KRS 189.020.

We also reject the Commonwealth’s attempt to justify the stop as an investigatory stop based upon reasonable suspicion of criminal activity under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). The Commonwealth particularly argues:

Furthermore, given the training and experience of this officer, other indicia were present that suggested criminal activity might be afoot. The nervousness displayed by the driver, the erratic lane change upon observing that the officer was near, the failure to make eye contact, the “death grip” on the steering wheel, and the foreign license plate (knowing that the drug interdiction training indicated that illegal drugs typically travel east to west) led to further suspicion.

Commonwealth’s Brief at 12.

In Commonwealth v. Banks, 68 S.W.3d 347, 350-351 (Ky. 2001), the Supreme Court emphasized:

[T]he test for a Terry stop . . . is not whether an officer can conclude that an individual is engaging in criminal activity, but rather whether the officer can articulate reasonable facts to suspect that criminal activity may be afoot . . . . The totality of the circumstances must be evaluated to determine the probability of criminal conduct, rather than the certainty.

In the case sub judice, the articulated facts set forth by Trooper Devasher were Garcia’s nervousness, lane change, failure to make eye contact, “death grip” on the steering wheel, and out-of-state license plate. We believe these facts describe a substantial number of drivers on our highways and constitute an innocuous mirage created in an attempt to retrospectively justify the stop. If we were to accept the Commonwealth’s argument, ordinary law abiding citizens could be subjected to a stop by police based upon routine driving habits. Simply put, such routine driving habits do not warrant a police stop under Terry. As such, we do not believe that Trooper Devasher possessed the requisite reasonable suspicion to justify an investigatory stop of Garcia’s vehicle.

In sum, we hold the initial stop of Garcia’s vehicle was improper and the circuit court erred by denying Garcia’s motion to suppress the marijuana subsequently seized from the vehicle.

We view Garcia’s remaining contentions as moot.

Appeal No. 2004-CA-002283-MR

Letkeman argues that the circuit court improperly denied his motion to suppress the evidence seized from the vehicle.*fn1 Specifically, Letkeman contends that a cracked windshield is not a violation of KRS 189.110; thus, the initial stop was invalid. Letkeman further maintains that Garcia did not voluntarily consent to the search of the vehicle.

It has been recognized that the protection of the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure is a personal right and cannot be vicariously asserted. Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128 (1978)(citing Alderman v. United States, 394 U.S. 165 (1969)). To have standing to contest a search and seizure, an individual must possess a legitimate expectation of privacy in the area searched or property seized. Rakas, 439 U.S. 128. The United States Supreme Court has developed a two-step analysis for determining whether a legitimate expectation of privacy exists:

[W]hether the individual has exhibited a subjective expectation; and whether such subjective expectation, viewed objectively, is justifiable under the circumstances.

United States v. Thornley, 707 F.2d 622, 624 (1st Cir. 1983) (citing Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979)).

In the case at hand, we cannot say that Letkeman possessed a reasonable expectation of privacy in the vehicle. The record indicates that Letkeman was a passenger in the vehicle and did not assert an ownership or possessory interest in the vehicle. A mere passenger in a vehicle generally does not have the requisite expectation of privacy to raise the issue of the legality of the vehicle’s search. Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128 (1978).

Letkeman also claims ownership of the marijuana seized from the vehicle and believes that such ownership in the property seized confers standing. The ownership and possession of seized property is not dispositive upon the issue of expectation of privacy; rather, such are simply factors to be considered. United States v. Salvucci, 448 U.S. 83 (1980).

In this case, the seized property was wrapped bricks of marijuana. These bricks were hidden in the vehicle’s rear storage compartments. Applying the two-part analysis for determining whether an expectation of privacy existed, we believe Letkeman satisfied the first part because it is uncontroverted he possessed a subjective expectation of privacy in the marijuana. However, the second part of the test requires that the subjective expectation of privacy be objectively reasonable under the circumstances.

The facts reveal that Letkeman was only a passenger in the vehicle and did not have control over its contents. Specifically, it appears that Letkeman did not possess the legal right to exclude third parties from exercising possession or control over the vehicle or its contents. Moreover, the marijuana bricks were not concealed by Letkeman in luggage or other baggage. Rather, the bricks were simply hidden in the vehicle’s rear storage compartments. Considering the unique circumstances of this case, we cannot say Letkeman possessed an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in the seized marijuana.

In sum, we are of the opinion that Letkeman did not possess the requisite expectation of privacy to establish standing to contest the legality of the vehicle’s stop or of the marijuana’s seizure.

Letkeman also argues that his detention following the vehicle’s stop was unreasonably long and constituted a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Section 10 of the Kentucky Constitution. Letkeman particularly maintains he was detained by Trooper Devasher for some thirty minutes while waiting for another trooper to arrive. Letkeman contends that Trooper Devasher lacked reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to warrant the thirty-minute detention and that the citation took only a few minutes to issue.

In Ohio v. Robinette, 519 U.S. 33 (1996), the Supreme Court recognized that the legality of a continued detention following a stop for a traffic violation is a question of reasonableness. It has been held:

Questions that hold potential for detecting crime, yet create little or no inconvenience, do not turn reasonable detention into unreasonable detention. They do not signal or facilitate oppressive police tactics that may burden the public-for all suspects (even the guilty ones) may protect themselves fully by declining to answer. Nor do the questions forcibly invade any privacy interest or extract information without the suspects’ consent.

United States v. Burton, 334 F.3d 514, 518 (6th Cir. 2003).

In the case sub judice, the record indicates that Trooper Devasher questioned Letkeman and Garcia, checked the vehicle’s registration and license plate, and checked Garcia’s out-of-state driver’s license. Upon the whole, we believe the continued detention of Letkeman for some thirty minutes after the initial traffic stop was reasonable.

Letkeman additionally maintains the statement he made to police following his arrest should be suppressed.*fn2

Specifically, Letkeman alleges he did not voluntarily and knowingly waive his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Letkeman contends he was advised of his Miranda rights in English but that he “did not understand English sufficiently to make a valid waiver of these important rights.” Letkeman Brief at 19. Letkeman claims his primary language is Spanish.

In its order denying Letkeman’s motion to suppress, the circuit court found:

Detective Brennan testified that Letkeman spoke English to him, answered everything asked of him, and he and Letkeman could communicate with each other.” (Comm. Br. at 13). Trooper Devasher testified that Letkeman answered “yes” when Devasher asked him if he understood his Miranda rights. Devasher also testified that Letkeman knew English better than he originally led the trooper to believe. Though Letkeman testified that he does not speak English and did not understand everything that Trooper Devasher said, the Court finds in favor of the Commonwealth based on the testimony by Brennan and Devasher.

Based upon the testimony of Detective Brennan and Trooper Devasher, we conclude the circuit court’s findings that Letkeman understood English and understood he was waiving his rights under Miranda were not clearly erroneous. See Stewart, 44 S.W.3d 376.

For the foregoing reasons, Appeal No. 2004-CA-002271-MR is reversed and this cause remanded for proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion, and Appeal No. 2004-CA-002283-MR is affirmed.

ALL CONCUR.


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