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State v. McDowell

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, First Division

March 21, 2017

STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent,
v.
JASON MCDOWELL, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis 1422-CR00291-01 Honorable Mark H. Neill

          Lisa P. Page, Judge

         Following a bench trial, Jason McDowell ("Defendant") now appeals the trial court's judgment finding Defendant guilty of possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, in violation of Section 195.211, [1] possession of methamphetamine, in violation of Section 195.202, and unlawful use of drug paraphernalia, in violation of Section 195.233. The judgment of conviction is affirmed.

         BACKGROUND

         On January 23, 2014, an employee ("Housekeeper") of Red Roof Inn was conducting routine housekeeping functions in various hotel rooms. Upon entering Room 214, the Housekeeper encountered a "white substance" and "pipes" on the counter; at the time the Housekeeper entered Room 214, no individual was discovered therein. The Housekeeper immediately exited Room 214 and proceeded to inform the management of Red Roof Inn of his observations. The management of Red Roof Inn instructed Housekeeper to return to Room 214 to photograph the scene. Thereafter, Room 214 was placed on lockdown so as to prevent entry.

         Approximately 9:00 P.M. that same evening, Defendant-the lodger of Room 214- returned to Red Roof Inn. Upon recognizing Defendant, an employee of the Red Roof Inn contacted Officer Scott Gruswitz ("Officer Gruswitz") of the Saint Louis Metropolitan Police Department ("SLMPD"), who, fortuitously, was parked in the parking lot of the Red Roof Inn while on patrol. Officer Gruswitz was informed of Housekeeper's earlier discoveries in Room 214. Officer Gruswitz was also provided the paperwork Defendant completed upon renting Room 214, which revealed Defendant was driving a silver Chevy Impala.

         After reviewing this paperwork, Officer Gruswitz entered the relevant information through certain databases so as to determine the status of Defendant. As a result of these searches, Officer Gruswitz learned Defendant's California driver's license had been suspended or revoked and Defendant' vehicle was not registered. Shortly thereafter, Officer Gruswitz approached Defendant in the lobby of the Red Roof Inn and requested identification; Defendant provided Officer Gruswitz with a California driver's license.

         Officer Gruswitz placed Defendant under arrest for driving while his license was suspended or revoked. Defendant was searched, incident to arrest, wherein a scale with drug residue was discovered in Defendant's pocket. Officer Gruswitz, in accordance with his training and experience, ordered Defendant's automobile to be impounded because Defendant was placed under arrest, the automobile was unregistered, and Officer Gruswitz was unable to determine the identity of a third-party to remove the automobile from the Red Roof Inn parking lot. An inventory of the Defendant's automobile ensued; during that inventory search, marijuana was discovered in the trunk of the automobile.

         Upon the expiration of Defendant's lease of Room 214 the following day, Officer Gruswitz was granted access by the employees of the Red Roof Inn to examine said room. Officer Gruswitz discovered drug paraphernalia, currency, and methamphetamine during his access to Room 214.

         Defendant was thereafter charged with one count of possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, in violation of Section 195.211 ("Count I"), one count of possession of methamphetamine, in violation of Section 195.202 ("Count II"), and one count of unlawful use of drug paraphernalia, in violation of Section 195.233 ("Count III"). The trial court denied Defendant's motions to suppress and motions for judgment of acquittal. After a bench trial, Defendant was found guilty as charged and subsequently sentenced.

         Defendant now appeals.

         DISCUSSION

         Defendant submits four points on appeal. In his first and second points on appeal, Defendant contends the trial court erred in denying his motions for judgment of acquittal because the evidence was insufficient to support Defendant's convictions of Count I and Count II. Defendant argues the State failed to meet its burden of proving the substances that were discovered in his automobile and hotel room were, in fact, marijuana and methamphetamine.

         In his third and fourth points on appeal, Defendant claims the trial court erred in overruling his motions to suppress evidence relating the warrantless searches of his automobile and hotel room, respectively.

         We elect to address Defendant's Points III and IV before returning to Points I and II.

         Points III & IV

         In Points III and IV of his appeal, Defendant contends the trial court erred in denying his motions to suppress evidence discovered by law enforcement during the warrantless searches of his automobile and hotel room, respectively.

         Standard of Review

         Upon review of denial of a motion to suppress, this court determines if there was substantial evidence to support the decision and will only reverse if the trial court's ruling was clearly erroneous. State v. Nylon, 311 S.W.3d 869, 884 (Mo. App. E.D. 2010); see also State v. Martin, 79 S.W.3d 912, 915 (Mo. App. E.D. 2002) ("We will reverse the trial court's ruling only if it is clearly erroneous; that is, if we are left with a definite and firm belief that a mistake has been made."). In reviewing the trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress, the facts and any reasonable inferences arising therefrom are viewed in the light most favorable to the ruling of the trial court. State v. Taber, 73 S.W.3d 699, 703 (Mo. App. W.D. 2002). Accordingly, this court defers to the trial court's factual findings and credibility determinations. State v. Nebbitt, 455 S.W.3d 79, 85 (Mo. App. E.D. 2014). "However, we review questions of law, including whether conduct violates the Fourth Amendment, de novo." Nylon, 311 S.W.3d at 884.

         Analysis

         As set forth in the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, "[t]he right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated[.]" U.S. Const. amend IV; see also Mo. Const. art. I, § 15; State v. Ramires, 152 S.W.3d 385, 391 (Mo. App. W.D. 2004) ("The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, enforceable against the states through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, guarantees the right of the people to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures."); State v. Lee, 498 S.W.3d 442, 448 (Mo. App. W.D. 2016) ("Missouri's constitutional guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures is co-extensive with that of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.").

         It is a cardinal principle of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence that warrantless searches are prima facie unreasonable, subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions. State v. Humble, 474 S.W.3d 210, 215 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015); State v. Williams, 654 S.W.2d 238, 241 (Mo. App. S.D. 1983). If an applicable exception is invoked, the burden rests upon the State to vindicate the failure to procure a warrant. Williams, 654 S.W.2d at 241.

         A. Impoundment of Defendant's Automobile was ...


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