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State v. Goucher

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Special Division

July 30, 2019

DAWN GOUCHER, Respondent.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Henry County, Missouri The Honorable James K. Journey, Judge.

          Before Zel M. Fischer, Special Judge, Presiding, Gary D. Witt, Judge and Thomas N. Chapman, Judge

          Gary D. Witt, Judge.

         The State brings this interlocutory appeal, challenging the trial court's grant of Dawn Goucher's ("Goucher") motion to suppress her statement to law enforcement and seizure of physical evidence relating to a charge of possession of a controlled substance. The State argues that the trial court erred in granting Goucher's motion to suppress because Goucher's statement to law enforcement was made voluntarily and not during a custodial interrogation. Further, the State argues that the trial court erred in granting Goucher's motion to suppress physical evidence based on an unreasonable search because Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper Dodson ("Trooper Dodson") had reasonable suspicion to continue the traffic stop and search Goucher's purse subsequent to a lawful stop of a vehicle in which she was a passenger. We affirm.

         Statement of Facts

         On September 16, 2017, Goucher was a passenger in a motor vehicle that was owned by Goucher's mother, who was not present. The vehicle was driven by Eric Ingaman ("Driver"). Trooper Dodson initiated a traffic stop of the vehicle for allegedly failing to have a properly functioning rear license plate light and, after following the vehicle, for traveling briefly over the fog line on the right side of the roadway. Upon initial contact, Trooper Dodson obtained identification from both occupants of the vehicle, removed the Driver from the vehicle and had him sit in the passenger seat of his patrol vehicle. Another officer, Deputy Swindell, was on patrol when he observed Trooper Dodson making the traffic stop and pulled over to assist the Trooper. Deputy Swindell exited his patrol car and stood by the side of the vehicle while Trooper Dodson questioned Driver in his vehicle.

         When Trooper Dodson informed Driver that the reason for the stop was the license plate light, Driver informed him that it was probably just dirty because Goucher lived on a gravel road. Trooper Dodson acknowledged that, when he came up behind the car, he noticed the car was very dirty.[1] Trooper Dodson told Driver he would write him a couple of warnings regarding the traffic issues. While in the patrol car, Trooper Dodson asked Driver if there was any illegal contraband in the car, to which Driver responded that, to his knowledge, there was none. Trooper Dodson then asked Driver if he could have permission to search the vehicle, to which Driver said it was not his car so he could not give permission. Driver informed him that the car belonged to Goucher.

         The insurance provided to Trooper Dodson by Goucher was expired. He left Driver in the patrol car and approached the passenger side of the vehicle to ask Goucher if she had current proof of insurance. When Trooper Dodson made contact with Goucher he noticed that she spoke quickly and that the appearance of her face at the time of the traffic stop was more "sunken in" than it appeared on her driver's license photograph. Goucher informed Trooper Dodson that she was unable to locate current proof of insurance but offered to call her mother, who was the actual owner of the vehicle, to obtain the current insurance. Trooper Dodson told her not to worry about it because he did not want to wake her mother since it was past midnight. He informed her that he was not concerned about the insurance. Trooper Dodson then asked if he could search the car. Goucher asked Trooper Dodson if he was going to tear up the car. Trooper Dodson said he would not as it was not his property. Trooper Dodson then asked again if he could search the car, to which Goucher assented.

         Approximately fifteen minutes after the initial stop of the car, Trooper Dodson instructed Goucher to get out of the car and leave her purse in the car so he could search both. Goucher refused to give permission for Trooper Dodson to search her purse and stated this was due to the presence of personal items. Trooper Dodson continued to ask Goucher to get out of the vehicle and leave the purse. Goucher continued to refuse to let Trooper Dodson search her purse. Goucher eventually exited the vehicle with her purse. Trooper Dodson then instructed Goucher to put her purse on the top of the car. Goucher continued to refuse to let go of her purse and allow Trooper Dodson to search it. Trooper Dodson ordered Goucher to move to the back of the vehicle, put her purse on the trunk, and then lean back against hood of his patrol car. She complied.

         Trooper Dodson went to his patrol car and retrieved gloves in order to perform the search. Trooper Dodson picked up the purse and asked if there is anything illegal in the purse. Goucher did not respond. Trooper Dodson told Goucher he appreciates honesty and will be more helpful to her if she is honest. Trooper Dodson again asked while holding her purse with his hand partially inside if she had any illegal substances in the purse. After additional pressure from Trooper Dodson, Goucher told him she had a "little bit of meth." At no time up to this point had Goucher been given her Miranda[2] rights. Trooper Dodson then searched the contents of the purse and found the methamphetamine inside a makeup case within the purse. Goucher was placed under arrest approximately 20 minutes after the stop began.

         Goucher was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance and the misdemeanor of unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia (a cut off straw was also found in the purse). Goucher filed a motion to suppress evidence, requesting the trial court to suppress her statements to Trooper Dodson regarding the presence of drugs within the purse as well as to suppress the contraband found in her purse. On October 18, 2018, the trial court heard evidence in a suppression hearing. At the hearing, Trooper Dodson testified and the State provided the dash cam video of the traffic stop. Deputy Swindell was not called as a witness. Goucher testified on her own behalf.

         On December 10, 2018, the trial court granted Goucher's motion to suppress as to both the statements and the items seized. The trial court found, as set forth in its order:

According to the [Arresting Officer], his suspicions of illegal activity were aroused by the car's single swerve to the right, Defendant's appearance was different from her driver's license photo, and because Defendant talked fast.
The Court finds that the search of Defendant's purse was unreasonable under the circumstances. There was no objective indicia of presently occurring illegal activity by the Defendant or the driver of the vehicle in which she was the occupant. There was no smell of drugs or alcohol. There was no plain view of paraphernalia or items commonly associated with drug use. While the questioning of the driver resulted in his admission that he had been on probation for drug charges there was nothing indicating present drug use. While the officer may have believed that Defendant's appearance and her speech patterns ...

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