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State v. Peterson

Supreme Court of Connecticut

March 15, 2016

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
KYLE PETERSON

         Argued November 3, 2015.

Page 687

          Substitute information charging the defendant with two counts of the crime of possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell, and with one count each of the crimes of possession of a controlled substance within 1500 feet of an elementary school and possession of a controlled substance, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Britain, where the court, Alander, J., denied the defendant's motion to suppress certain evidence; thereafter, the defendant was presented to the court, Strackbein, J., on a conditional plea of nolo contendere to one count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell; subsequently, the state entered a nolle prosequi as to the remaining charges, and the court, Strackbein, J., rendered judgment of guilty in accordance with the plea, from which the defendant appealed to the Appellate Court, Keller and Schaller, Js., with Bear, J., dissenting, which reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case with direction to vacate the plea of nolo contendere and to grant the defendant's motion to suppress, and the state, on the granting of certification, appealed to this court.

          SYLLABUS

         The defendant, who was convicted of possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell on a conditional plea of nolo contendere following the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress, appealed to the Appellate Court, claiming that the trial court improperly denied his motion to suppress certain evidence seized from his vehicle. On the basis of information received from two individuals who had been arrested on possession of marijuana charges and who had named the defendant as their source, the police began conducting surveillance of the defendant's residence. The defendant was observed making a trip to a particular three-story, multifamily residence in New Britain, which also had been identified as a location from which a confidential police informant had admitted to purchasing marijuana. The defendant parked in the driveway, entered the residence for approximately five minutes, and then left. A few weeks later, the police observed the defendant leaving his residence carrying a weighted plastic bag and they followed him to the same multifamily residence. When the defendant entered the driveway of the residence, the police blocked him in, believing that the defendant was making a marijuana delivery. The police approached the defendant's vehicle and ordered him to exit his vehicle, and subsequently executed a patdown search of the defendant's person. While outside the vehicle, the police observed a plastic bag that appeared to contain marijuana in plain view on the floor behind the front passenger seat. The police then searched the defendant's vehicle and seized the plastic bag, and a field test of the substance in the bag confirmed that it was marijuana. Prior to his trial, the defendant sought to suppress the evidence seized from his vehicle, claiming that the police did not possess a reasonable and articulable suspicion that he was engaged in or about to engage in criminal activity when the police blocked his vehicle in the driveway. The trial court denied the defendant's motion to suppress, finding that, on the basis of the information the police had received and on their observation of the defendant leaving his residence and traveling to the particular multifamily residence, the police had a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the defendant of criminal activity, specifically, the delivery of marijuana. Accordingly, that court concluded that the police had an appropriate basis to stop the defendant and to investigate further. On appeal, the defendant again claimed, inter alia, that the police lacked a reasonable and articulable suspicion that he was engaged in or about to engage in criminal activity when they detained him. The Appellate Court agreed, concluding that the presence of the defendant with a plastic bag at a location where he was believed to have previously delivered drugs once before, without more, was insufficient to particularize the general suspicion of the police officers. That court concluded that any suspicion the police had was founded in conjecture, and that the trial court's determination that the police possessed a reasonable and articulable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot was legally and logically incorrect. Accordingly, the Appellate Court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case with direction to vacate the defendant's plea and to grant his motion to suppress. From that judgment, the state, on the granting of certification, appealed to this court. Held that under the totality of the circumstances of this case, the police possessed a reasonable and articulable suspicion to detain the defendant, the trial court's findings regarding the information that the police possessed before stopping the defendant having allowed a rational inference to be drawn that the defendant was at the location to deliver drugs, and, therefore, the trial court's conclusions were legally and logically consistent with those facts: although the defendant was still parked in the driveway of the multifamily residence when he was detained, based on the totality of the information available to the police that he was an admitted marijuana trafficker, that he was carrying a weighted plastic bag, and that he had pulled into a driveway of a known drug location where police had observed him engage in conduct consistent with drug activity, it was not logically and legally incorrect for the trial court to have found that the police had a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the defendant was there to deliver drugs, and that the plastic bag did not contain innocuous items; furthermore, there was no merit to the defendant's alternative claim that even if the police had the authority to detain him, they exceeded the permissible scope of a stop pursuant to Terry v. Ohio (392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889) by asking him to exit his vehicle, the trial court here having found that the police had a reasonable and articulable suspicion to have suspected that the defendant was armed.

         Timothy J. Sugrue, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Brian W. Preleski, state's attorney, and Christian Watson, assistant state's attorney, for the appellant (state).

         Jon L. Schoenhorn, with whom, on the brief, was Irene J. Kim, for the appellee (defendant).

         Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Zarella, McDonald, Espinosa, Robinson and Vertefeuille, Js. ROGERS, C. J. In this opinion the other justices concurred.

          OPINION

Page 688

         [320 Conn. 723] ROGERS, C. J.

         The principal issue in this case is whether, under the totality of the circumstances, the police possessed a reasonable and articulable suspicion to detain the defendant, Kyle Peterson. After the defendant's motion to suppress was denied, the defendant entered a conditional plea of nolo contendere, pursuant to General Statutes § 54-94a,[1] to possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell in violation of General Statutes § 21a-277 (b). The trial court thereafter rendered judgment in accordance with the defendant's plea and sentenced him to three years imprisonment. The state appeals from the judgment of the Appellate Court reversing the judgment of the trial court and [320 Conn. 724] remanding the case with direction to vacate the conditional plea of nolo contendere and to grant the defendant's motion to suppress, after the Appellate Court concluded that the police did not possess a reasonable and articulable suspicion that " criminal activity was afoot . . . ." State v. Peterson, 153 Conn.App. 358, 376, 101 A.3d 337 (2014). The state argues that, under the totality of the circumstances, the police had a reasonable and articulable suspicion to detain the defendant outside a known drug location where the defendant had acted in a manner consistent with drug activity once before. We agree and, accordingly, reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court.

         The trial court's findings and the record reveal the following undisputed facts and procedural background relevant to this appeal. " On March 10, 2010, officers of the New Britain Police Department were conducting surveillance [of] the residence of

Page 689

Pedro Ayala, a suspected marijuana trafficker. On the same date, the police observed the defendant arrive at Ayala's residence in a Jeep Cherokee, stay for approximately five minutes, and then leave. Once the defendant left Ayala's residence in his vehicle, the police stopped him, searched him, and discovered $4000 in cash on his person. Thereafter, on March 23, 2010, the police executed a search warrant on Ayala's residence and discovered more than two pounds of marijuana, a firearm, and what the police described as `drug proceeds.' The police arrested Ayala who, in turn, told the police that the defendant was one of his several sources of marijuana and [that], on March 10, 2010, he had paid the defendant $4000 in cash for marijuana.

         " Approximately six months later, on September 29, 2010, the police arrested Eric Cedeno for the sale of marijuana. While in police custody, Cedeno told Officer Joseph Lopa that he regularly purchased marijuana from an individual named Kyle Peterson, whom Cedeno [320 Conn. 725] described as a twenty-five year old male who drove two different Jeep Cherokees. Lopa, on the basis of past investigations involving the defendant, corroborated that Cedeno was describing the defendant.

         " On the basis of the information received from Ayala and Cedeno that the defendant was selling marijuana in large quantities, the police began conducting surveillance of the defendant's New Britain residence in early October, 2010. In the course of their surveillance, the police observed the defendant make a single trip to 33 Thorniley Street . . . ." Id., 361-62. During that trip, at 33 Thorniley Street, a three-story, multifamily residence in New Britain, the police observed the defendant " park in the driveway, enter the residence for approximately five minutes, and then leave." Id., 362. Just before this observation, on October 7, 2010, " the police arrested Leonardo Soares, a registered confidential informant for the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration, for the illegal possession of prescription drugs. Soares told the police that he had purchased marijuana from an unidentified male living on the third floor of 33 Thorniley Street." Id. Soares said that he had been inside the third floor apartment several times in the past and had witnessed several pounds of marijuana and a large quantity of cash. Id. " On the basis of this information, as well as information previously obtained from Ayala corroborating that the defendant's March, 2010 visit to Ayala's residence involved the sale of marijuana, the police believed that the defendant's October, 2010 visit to 33 Thorniley Street, insofar as the defendant quickly entered and exited the residence, was consistent with drug activity." Id.

         The following week, " [o]n October 13, 2010, Lopa contacted Adrian Arocho, a registered confidential informant for the police who had previously provided reliable information, and requested that he make a controlled purchase of marijuana from the defendant. In [320 Conn. 726] addition to agreeing to make the controlled purchase, Arocho indicated that he was familiar with the defendant and knew that the defendant sells marijuana. Lopa provided Arocho with a telephone number that he received from Cedeno. With Lopa seated next to him and the speakerphone activated, Arocho called the number from his cell phone. When an individual answered his call, Arocho told the individual that he wanted to purchase marijuana but his usual supplier, Cedeno, did not have any. The individual ...


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