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People v. Vaughn

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

September 22, 2014

the People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellant:
v.
Christopher Vaughn, Defendant-Appellee:

Interlocutory Appeal from the District Court. Arapahoe County District Court Case No. 12CR2056. Honorable Marilyn Antrim, Judge.

SYLLABUS

In this interlocutory appeal, the supreme court reverses the trial court's order suppressing drug evidence that was seized after a traffic stop. The officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle and probable cause to arrest the defendant. After arresting the defendant, who was the sole occupant of the vehicle, the officer acted pursuant to standardized departmental policy in deciding to impound the vehicle and performing an inventory search. Accordingly, the supreme court reverses the trial court's suppression order because the evidence was seized as the result of a valid inventory search.

For the Plaintiff-Appellant: George H. Brauchler, District Attorney, Eighteenth Judicial District, Richard H. Orman, Senior Deputy District Attorney, Centennial, Colorado.

For Defendant-Appellee: The Reisch Law Firm, LLC, R. Scott Reisch, Shannon D. Roy, Denver, Colorado.

OPINION

Page 227

RICE, CHIEF JUSTICE.

[¶1] The People bring this interlocutory appeal pursuant to C.A.R. 4.1 and section 16-12-102(2), C.R.S. (2014), seeking review of the trial court's order suppressing drug evidence that was seized after a traffic stop.

[¶2] The undisputed evidence in this case establishes that the police officer who seized the drug evidence had reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle driven by the Defendant, Christopher Vaughn, as well as probable cause to arrest Vaughn. It also establishes that the officer acted pursuant to a standardized departmental policy in deciding to impound the vehicle--after arresting its sole occupant--and in inventorying its contents. Accordingly, we hold that the evidence was seized as the result of a valid inventory search, and we reverse the trial court's order.

I. Facts and Procedural History[1]

[¶3] In September of 2012, Officer John Moreland observed a traffic violation at the intersection of Clinton Street and East Colfax

Page 228

Avenue in Aurora, Colorado. Specifically, he saw a vehicle driven by Vaughn, traveling south on Clinton Street, turn east into the far right-hand lane of Colfax Avenue, rather than into the far left-hand lane.[2] Before stopping the vehicle, Officer Moreland used his in-car computer and received a " no record" result for the vehicle's license plates from the Department of Motor Vehicles' (" DMV" ) database. Thereafter, he pulled Vaughn over and asked for Vaughn's driver's license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. The registration information indicated that Vaughn was not the registered owner of the vehicle. Using his in-car computer and the DMV's 24-hour hotline, Officer Moreland also discovered that Vaughn's driver's license was suspended.[3]

[¶4] At the suppression hearing, Officer Moreland testified that upon discovering this license suspension he decided to arrest Vaughn for driving with a suspended license and to have the vehicle towed and impounded.[4] After calling for a backup car, he told Vaughn that his driver's license was suspended, took Vaughn's keys, and asked Vaughn to step out of the vehicle and sit on the curb. Once Vaughn was on the curb, Officer Moreland began searching the vehicle. Using the vehicle's ignition key to open the locked glove compartment, he found a larger bag containing smaller bags filled with crack cocaine. ...


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