[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
FROM THE SEVIER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 67CR-17-116],
HONORABLE CHARLES A. YEARGAN, JUDGE
D. Watson, Attorney at Law, PLLC, by: Brett D. Watson, for
Rutledge, Atty Gen., by: Pamela Rumpz, Asst Atty Gen., for
T. WHITEAKER, Judge
Appellant Karen Sossamon was charged with three counts of
possession of controlled substances with intent to deliver,
one count of possession of drug paraphernalia, and one count
of obstructing governmental operations. Before trial,
Sossamon filed a motion to suppress the evidence. The circuit
court held a hearing on her suppression motion and denied it.
A Sevier County jury subsequently convicted Sossamon on all
five counts and sentenced her to a total of seventy-three
years and one month in the Arkansas Department of Correction.
On appeal, Sossamon does not challenge the sufficiency of the
evidence supporting her convictions; rather, she argues that
the circuit court erred in denying her motion to suppress. We
find merit to her arguments, and we reverse and remand.
begin by examining the facts underlying Sossamons
motion. Sossamon was pulled over for speeding
by officer Justin Gentry at approximately 2:30
a.m. She was driving a vehicle that
belonged to Selah Dyer, who was a passenger in the back seat.
A third woman, Angela Kush,
was the front-seat passenger. After initiating the stop,
Gentry called for backup.
approached the drivers-side window and asked Sossamon for
her name and drivers license. Sossamon provided a false
name, "Tonya Adams," and a birth date and told
Gentry that she did not have her drivers license. Gentry ran
a search on the name "Tonya Adams" and the birth
date Sossamon gave him, and they came back to a valid
license; he was thus unaware that Sossamon had provided false
information and believed he was dealing with Tonya Adams.
Gentry then obtained identification from the other two
passengers in the car. He ran Dyers and Kushs information
through the system and discovered that Dyer had a felony drug
history on her criminal record. Gentry asked Sossamon, Dyer,
and Kush what they were doing and where they were going. They
responded that they were on their way to the casino. Gentry
was suspicious of this answer because, in his experience,
people were generally leaving the casino at 2:30 a.m., not
going to the casino, and Kush was wearing pajama bottoms.
Gentry was gathering information, Dyer told Gentry that she
was the owner of the vehicle. Gentry asked Dyer if she had
anything illegal in the vehicle, and she replied that she did
not. He then asked Dyer if she would consent to a search of
the vehicle, and she agreed. Gentry asked Sossamon and Kush
to step out of the vehicle and advised them that Dyer had
given consent to search. Sossamon immediately became agitated
and yelled that she did not want Gentry searching her bags.
Gentry told her that she was free to tell him which bags
belonged to her, and he would remove them from the car for
her. Sossamon pointed out two bags in the back seat, and
Gentry allowed her to retrieve them.
Sossamon got her bags out of the car, Gentry began his search
of Dyers car and its contents. He searched a purse in the
back seat that contained a makeup bag. Inside the makeup bag,
Gentry found what he believed was some type of pipe inside a
"bunch of wadded up tissue paper." In addition to
the pipe, he found a bag containing a substance he believed
to be methamphetamine. Gentry asked all three women who owned
the purse, and Dyer answered that it was hers. Gentry found
nothing further in his search of Dyers car or its contents.
Because of his discovery of the drugs inside Dyers purse
within her vehicle, Gentry called his sergeant and asked if
he was allowed to search the bags that previously had been
taken out of the car. The sergeant advised him that he had
probable cause to search the other bags that had already been
removed from the car. Gentry went to Sossamon and told her
what he had found in the car, and he asked her if she had
anything illegal in her bags that she had taken out of the
car. Sossamon replied that she did not, and Gentry advised
her that he was going to search them anyway on the basis of
what he had found in the car. Gentry then proceeded to search
Sossamons bags and discovered marijuana, hydrocodone,
methamphetamine, scales, baggies, and other paraphernalia. At
the time of his search of Sossamons bags, Gentry was still
unaware that the name and information that she had previously
provided were false.
Sossamon filed a motion to suppress the drugs and
paraphernalia seized from her bags, arguing that Gentry
lacked probable cause to conduct the warrantless search of
her possessions. After a hearing, the court denied Sossamons
motion, stating from the bench that "as soon as the
officer found contraband in that car, he had probable cause
to proceed and search the other items that were within reach
of any of the other occupants, and they did not have an
unreasonable right to deny their search in violation of the
Fourth Amendment." The matter subsequently proceeded to
trial, and as noted above, Sossamon was convicted on all
counts. She timely appealed.
Standard of Review
reviewing a circuit courts 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 inferences drawn by the circuit court and proper deference
to the circuit courts findings. Jackson v. State,2013 Ark. 201, at 5-6, 427 S.W.3d 607, 611-12; Menne v.
State,2012 Ark. 37, 386 S.W.3d 451. A finding is
clearly erroneous, even if there is evidence to support it,