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Cagle v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

February 6, 2019

DONALD COLUMBUS CAGLE APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT [NO. 66FCR-16-1094] HONORABLE STEPHEN TABOR, JUDGE

          Fuqua Campbell, P.A., by: J. Blake Hendrix and Annie Depper, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Kathryn Henry, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, JUDGE

         Appellant Donald Cagle entered a conditional plea of guilty to one count each of possession of methamphetamine with purpose to deliver and possession of drug paraphernalia. His conditional plea reserved his right to appeal from the circuit court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence. On appeal, Cagle contends that the initial traffic stop of his vehicle was invalid and that the subsequent search of his vehicle was unlawful. We find no error and affirm.[1]

         I. Background

         Cagle was pulled over for alleged traffic violations by Officer Keith Shelby of the Fort Smith Police Department. During the traffic-violation investigation, Officer Shelby conducted a canine search and found contraband in Cagle's car. Cagle was arrested on charges of possession of methamphetamine with purpose to deliver and possession of drug paraphernalia. Cagle subsequently filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized during that traffic stop. The circuit court held a hearing on Cagle's suppression motion and subsequently entered an order denying Cagle's motion to suppress. Cagle then entered a conditional plea of guilty pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 24.3(b), reserving his right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion. The circuit court sentenced him to ten years in the Arkansas Department of Correction with an additional ten years' suspended imposition of sentence. Cagle filed a timely notice of appeal and now urges that the circuit court's denial of his suppression motion was erroneous.

         II. Standard of Review

         When reviewing a circuit court's denial of a motion to suppress evidence, we conduct 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 circuit court. Bathrick v. State, 2016 Ark.App. 444, 504 S.W.3d 639. A finding is clearly erroneous when, even if there is evidence to support it, the appellate court, after reviewing the entire evidence, is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made. Prickett v. State, 2016 Ark.App. 551, 506 S.W.3d 870. We defer to the circuit court's superior position in determining the credibility of the witnesses and resolving any conflicts in the testimony. Pickering v. State, 2012 Ark. 280, 412 S.W.3d 143. We now turn our attention to the evidence before the court at the suppression hearing.

         III. The Suppression Hearing

         Cagle filed a motion to suppress, alleging that the initial traffic stop was invalid pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.1 and that the subsequent search of his vehicle by a canine officer followed an "unlawfully prolonged" delay. At the motion hearing, the circuit court heard evidence that Shelby effectuated a traffic stop of a Chevy Tahoe driven by Cagle. Shelby observed the Tahoe traveling northbound. Cagle initially had his turn signal on; however, when he saw Shelby and his marked patrol unit, he "acted nervous, turned his blinker off, and kept going straight." Based on this, Shelby pulled in behind the Tahoe and ran its tags.[2] Shelby discovered that there was no insurance on file for that vehicle and began to follow the Tahoe. Cagle turned into a Mini Mart parking lot without activating his turn signal one hundred feet before the turn, according to Shelby. Shelby believed that Cagle was trying to evade him, so he pulled in behind the vehicle at the gas pump and activated his blue lights.

         Cagle got out of his car and appeared nervous and acted as though he did not want Shelby looking in the vehicle. Shelby asked multiple times for consent to search the vehicle, which Cagle eventually denied. Shelby then got his canine out of his car and had the dog perform a sniff of Cagle's vehicle. The dog alerted twice on the Tahoe, and Shelby's subsequent search uncovered a "rather large bag" of methamphetamine and a meth pipe. The court reviewed a video of the incident. According to the video, no more than eight minutes elapsed between Shelby's initial contact with Cagle and the discovery of the drugs.

         IV. Validity of the Traffic Stop

         In its order denying Cagle's motion to suppress, the circuit court found that four separate issues justified Shelby's decision to stop Cagle's vehicle: (1) Cagle's "last-second decision" to abandon his turn when he saw the officer's vehicle; (2) the lack of valid insurance on Cagle's vehicle; (3) Cagle's failure to activate his right-hand-turn signal more than one hundred feet before his turn into the gas-station parking lot; and (4) the totality of the previous circumstances leading Shelby to believe that Cagle was attempting to evade or avoid him. The court found that the "possible insurance violation and the obvious turn signal violation in and of themselves individually justified ...


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