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State v. Coffee

Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, District II

April 24, 2019

State of Wisconsin, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
Mose B. Coffee, Defendant-Appellant.

          APPEAL from judgments of the circuit court for Winnebago County No. 2017CF542: JOHN A. JORGENSEN, Judge. Affirmed.

          Before Reilly, P.J., Gundrum and Hagedorn, JJ.

          GUNDRUM, J.

         ¶1 Mose Coffee appeals from judgments of conviction for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OWI), second offense, and possession of THC with intent to deliver. He asserts the circuit court erred in denying his motion to suppress drug evidence found pursuant to a search of his vehicle following his arrest for OWI. Specifically, he argues the evidence should be suppressed "because there was no reason to believe that evidence of the OWI arrest would be found in the area of the vehicle searched by the officers." We conclude the court did not err, and affirm.

         Background

         ¶2 The following relevant evidence was presented at the hearing on Coffee's suppression motion.

         ¶3 During a traffic stop, Officer Timothy Skelton observed Coffee to have slurred speech and "very glazed over and bloodshot" eyes and detected the "strong odor" of intoxicants emanating from either Coffee or his vehicle. Following field sobriety tests, Coffee was arrested and secured in the back of Skelton's squad car.

         ¶4 Skelton informed two other officers who arrived on the scene as to the reason for Coffee's arrest-OWI-and asked them to search the vehicle. One of these officers located a tote-like bag on the floor behind the driver's seat. The officer testified that the set up of the vehicle was such that "anybody in the front could immediately access the back because there's nothing blocking the front of the car from the back of the car."[1] Searching the bag, the officer moved various items and eventually located two mason jars containing what he believed, based on his experience, to be flakes of marijuana. The bag also contained multiple cell phones and a package with a large number of small, clear plastic baggies. Following these discoveries, the officers searched the trunk, finding more marijuana and drug paraphernalia, which led to drug-related charges against Coffee, in addition to an OWI charge.

         ¶5 Coffee moved to suppress all of the drug evidence on the basis that he was originally arrested for OWI and it was not reasonable for officers to believe OWI-related evidence would be found near the bottom of the bag. The circuit court denied the motion, and Coffee pled to a charge of OWI, second offense, and possession of THC with intent to deliver. Coffee appeals.

         Discussion

         ¶6 The review of a circuit court's order granting or denying a suppression motion presents a question of constitutional fact. State v. Dearborn, 2010 WI 84, ¶13, 327 Wis.2d 252, 786 N.W.2d 97. We will uphold the court's factual findings unless they are clearly erroneous, but we independently apply constitutional principles to those facts. State v. Robinson, 2010 WI 80, ¶22, 327 Wis.2d 302, 786 N.W.2d 463.

         ¶7 The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and article 1, section 11 of the Wisconsin Constitution protect against unreasonable searches. State v. Reed, 2018 WI 109, ¶52, 384 Wis.2d 469, 920 N.W.2d 56. "[W]arrantless searches are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, subject to a few carefully delineated exceptions." State v. Sanders, 2008 WI 85, ¶27, 311 Wis.2d 257, 752 N.W.2d 713. One such exception is the search of a vehicle incident to arrest "when it is reasonable to believe that evidence of the offense of arrest might be found in the vehicle." Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 335 (2009). The State bears the burden of proving such an exception applies. State v. Denk, 2008 WI 130, ¶36, 315 Wis.2d 5, 758 N.W.2d 775.

         ¶8 In contending the circuit court erred in denying his suppression motion, Coffee argues

[a]lcohol, a legal substance, is generally consumed at home or at a bar or ...

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