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Fricks v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

September 21, 2016



          Bill Luppen, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Brad Newman, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          BART F. VIRDEN, Judge

         Appellant Frederick Fricks entered a conditional guilty plea in the Nevada County Circuit Court to offenses involving drugs and firearms. He was sentenced as a habitual offender to an aggregate term of thirty years' imprisonment. On appeal, he argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress (1) evidence found in a search of his vehicle and (2) an incriminating statement he made while in custody. We affirm.

         I. Suppression Hearing[1]

         Trooper Aaron Easley with the Arkansas State Police was patrolling Interstate 30 in a "stealth" car on April 22, 2014, at approximately 4:22 p.m. when he observed a black truck with a license-plate tag that he testified "didn't look right." Easley explained that Arkansas's expiration tags are color coded and alternate every three years with yellow, blue, and red. Easley cited as an example that the tags in 2011 and 2014 were yellow. According to Easley, the "4" on the truck's yellow tag "looked a little funny." When he ran the license plate, he discovered that the tags had expired in 2011. Easley then initiated a stop of the vehicle.

         Easley made contact with Fricks, the driver of the truck. Easley relayed to Fricks that someone had taken a "magic marker" and changed the second "1" in "2011" to a "4". According to Easley, Fricks did not have a driver's license and said that he had borrowed the truck from a friend. When Easley entered Fricks's name into NCIC (National Crime Information Center), he learned that Fricks had a warrant for a parole violation. Fricks informed Easley that he was on parole for a drug offense. Easley confirmed the warrant and was advised to take Fricks into custody. Before the tow truck arrived, Easley and another officer searched the truck. Under the driver's seat, Easley found a Smith and Wesson handgun and a box of ammunition. Behind the passenger's seat, he found a clear plastic bag containing what appeared to be marijuana and a set of scales.

         Easley testified that he completed a form ASP 168 in connection with an inventory search at the tow yard about an hour after the initial search where he had secured the contraband mentioned above. Easley stated that he had decided to impound the vehicle as soon as he learned about Fricks's warrant and reasoned that the vehicle was neither licensed nor insured. Easley said that, anytime the police remove a vehicle from the road, they conduct an inventory pursuant to police policy. The "Law Enforcement Policy Manual" on administrative inventory of vehicles provides that

[a]n Arkansas State Police officer directing that a motor vehicle be seized, towed or impounded as a consequence of an arrest or for other good cause shall conduct an administrative inventory of the motor vehicle pursuant to the following procedures: The Arkansas State Police officer should perform the inventory in the location at which the vehicle is seized, towed from or impounded unless limited by reasons of safety or practicality. If the inventory is not conducted prior to the vehicle being transported, the inventory may be conducted within a reasonable time following seizure, towing or impoundment as reasonably necessary for safekeeping of the vehicle and its contents.

         Easley said that typically he has the wrecker driver sign the form, and he then gives a copy to the wrecker driver. He said that, when the owner arrives to pick up his vehicle, the wrecker driver obtains that person's signature on the copy and mails it to Troop G. Easley testified that this did not happen in the present case because he did not receive the returned copy and could not locate the original.

         Special Agent Corwin Battle with the Arkansas State Police testified that he made contact with Fricks at the jail. Although Battle went over a Miranda rights form with Fricks, Fricks refused to sign it, and the interview ended. According to Battle, it is common for officers to seize contraband prior to towing a vehicle. He stated that Easley transferred the items seized from Fricks's truck to him, and he then accompanied Easley to the tow yard to conduct a more thorough search of Fricks's truck. Easley did not have his inventory book with him in the stealth car, so Battle gave him a brand new book that Battle did not need. Battle said that he saw Easley fill out the inventory form and give a copy of it to the wrecker driver.

         Detective Todd Lauterbach with the Hope Police Department testified that he went to the Nevada County jail to speak with Fricks after learning that a stolen gun had been found in Fricks's vehicle. Lauterbach stated that Fricks told him that he had been given his Miranda rights but had not invoked his right to counsel. When Lauterbach asked to speak with him, Fricks refused. Lauterbach then informed Fricks that the Arkansas State Police was charging him with theft by receiving and that he could be charged by the Hope Police Department as well. Lauterbach testified that Fricks then said that he did not remember where he had gotten the gun but that he thought he had bought it from someone in Hope.

         Fricks agreed making the statements attributed to him by Lauterbach, but he testified that he had raised the possibility that police could have planted the gun in his truck. Also, he stated that Lauterbach had originally mentioned a burglary. Fricks and his father, the owner of the truck, testified to items of value that had been inside ...

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