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Schneider v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

April 9, 2015

JORDAN ARIE SCHNEIDER, APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS, APPELLEE

APPEAL FROM THE BENTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. NO. CR-12-1434. HONORABLE ROBIN F. GREEN, JUDGE.

Norwood & Norwood, P.A., by: Alison Lee and Doug Norwood, for appellant.

Dustin McDaniel, Att'y Gen., by: Lauren Elizabeth Heil, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

OPINION

Page 297

ROBIN F. WYNNE, Associate Justice.

Jordan Arie Schneider appeals from his convictions on charges of possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. He argues that the circuit court erred by denying his motion to suppress evidence seized following a stop of his vehicle that he claimed was illegal. Our court of appeals affirmed the decision of the circuit court. Schneider v. State, 2014 Ark.App. 711, 452 S.W.3d 601. Appellant petitioned this court for review, which was granted. When we grant a petition for review, we treat the appeal as if it had been originally filed in this court. Fowler v. State, 2010 Ark. 431, 371 S.W.3d 677. Our jurisdiction is pursuant to Arkansas Supreme Court Rule 1-2(e) (2014). We reverse and remand the circuit court's sentencing order and vacate the opinion of the court of appeals.

Appellant pled guilty to charges of possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia in the Benton County District Court. The charges arose from a traffic stop of appellant's vehicle on November 24, 2011. Appellant appealed to the Benton County Circuit Court. In the circuit court, appellant filed a motion to suppress evidence seized by police, alleging that the stop of his vehicle was unlawful.

At the suppression hearing, Dustin Wiens with the Rogers Police Department testified that he was at the intersection of North Second Street and Wood Street at approximately 1:00 a.m. on November 24, 2011, when appellant drove past him. He pulled behind appellant and ran the vehicle's license plate. The license plate returned as being registered to a blue 1992 Chevrolet Camaro. Officer Wiens testified that he noticed that the car was red when it passed him and saw that the bumper was black while he was following it. Based solely on the color discrepancy, Officer Wiens stopped the vehicle and made contact with appellant. He testified that he performed the stop in order to investigate further, check the vehicle-identification number, and determine whether the vehicle had been painted or was stolen. Appellant introduced photographs of the vehicle that Officer Wiens described as showing a car with a red door, black bumper, and other parts that were painted blue. Officer Wiens denied seeing any blue on the car before he stopped it. He repeated on cross-examination that the color of the vehicle was the only reason that he initiated the traffic stop.

The trial court denied appellant's motion to suppress. Appellant subsequently entered

Page 298

a conditional plea of guilty to the charges of possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 24.3.[1] He was sentenced to ten days in jail, with seven days suspended, and assessed fines, fees, and court costs on the charge of possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to ten days in jail, with all ten days suspended, and assessed fines, fees, and costs on the charge of possession of drug paraphernalia. This appeal followed.

When reviewing a circuit court's denial of a motion to suppress evidence, the appellate court conducts a de novo review based on the totality of the circumstances, reviewing findings of historical facts for clear error and determining whether those facts give rise to reasonable suspicion or probable cause, giving due weight to the inferences drawn by the trial court. Pickering v. State, 2012 Ark. 280, 412 S.W.3d 143. A finding is clearly erroneous, even if there is evidence to support it, when the appellate court, after reviewing the entire evidence, is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made. Id. We defer to the circuit court's superior position in determining the credibility of the witnesses and resolving any conflicts in the testimony. Id.

Appellant argues that a discrepancy between the color of a vehicle and the color listed on the registration, standing alone, is insufficient to give rise to a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity necessary to justify the stop of his vehicle by Officer Wiens. Pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.1 (2014),

[ a] law enforcement officer lawfully present in any place may, in the performance of his duties, stop and detain any person who he reasonably suspects is committing, has committed, or is about to commit (1) a felony, or (2) a misdemeanor involving danger or forcible injury to persons or of appropriation of or damage to property, if such action is reasonably necessary either to ...

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