Thursday, February 8, 2007

Cox v. State (Ct. of Appeals)

Filed February 8, 2007–Opinion by Judge Clayton Greene.

Petitioner sought to suppress a baggie of marijuana seized after police had obtained information about Petitioner’s outstanding arrest warrant subsequent to an arguably illegal stop. The two issues to review were (1) whether a police encounter, in which a uniformed officer approached Petitioner on the street claiming that he "loosely fit" the description of the perpetrator of a recent string of robberies, asked Petitioner for identification, and ran a check on his identification, constituted an illegal stop in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and (2) whether a police officer’s subsequent discovery of an outstanding arrest warrant represented an intervening circumstance, such that if the stop were illegal the arrest on the warrant attenuated the taint of the illegal stop.

The Court focused on three factors: (1) the Temporal Proximity Factor, (2) the Intervening Event Factor, and (3) the Flagrancy of the Police Conduct Factor.

The Temporal Proximity Factor suggests that the greater the time lapse between the illegality and discovery of evidence, the greater the chance that the taint has been purged. In this case, there existed a mere two minutes between the illegal stop and the discovery of the marijuana. However, since the temporal proximity factor has been labeled ambiguous and the question of timing is not dispositive on the issue of taint, the court focused on the other two factors.

An Intervening Circumstance is an event that breaks the causal connection between the unlawful conduct and the derivative evidence. In this case, the officers discovered the baggie of marijuana after the police learned of Petitioner’s outstanding arrest warrant, stood Petitioner up from the curb and arrested him pursuant to that warrant. The police did not ask Petitioner to sit on the ground until after the radio alert of the outstanding warrant. Although Petitioner may have discarded the baggie while he was seated on the ground, that fact is not dispositive to the Court’s analysis or holding.

The final factor is the Flagrancy of the Police Misconduct. The Court found nothing in the record indicating the police acted in bad faith. Once the officer discovered the outstanding warrant for Petitioner’s arrest, he "gained an independent and intervening reason to arrest and search [Petitioner]." Furthermore, merely because the officer’s stop of Petitioner was determined to be invalid does not mean that his conduct was flagrant.

Assuming arguendo that the police encounter constituted an illegal stop, the ultimate question is more appropriate: whether it was proper for the trial court to grant Petitioner’s motion to suppress the evidence. The police officer’s discovery of an outstanding warrant for Petitioner’s arrest pursuant thereto represents an intervening circumstance sufficient to attenuate the taint of what appears to be an illegal stop.

The full opinion is available in PDF.

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