Released for Publication April 24, 2015.
Appeal from Coffee Circuit Court. (C-11-108; CC-11-109). Shannon R. Clark, Trial Judge.
For Appellant: Luther Strange, Attorney General, Andy Scott Poole, Assisntant Attorney General.
For Appellee: Mary Katherine Head, Elba.
WINDOM, Presiding Judge. Welch, Kellum, Burke, and Joiner, JJ., concur.
WINDOM, Presiding Judge.
The State of Alabama appeals the circuit court's decision suppressing evidence of drugs and drug paraphernalia discovered during a warrantless search of a vehicle being driven by Christopher Craig. For the reasons that follow, this Court reverses the circuit court's order and remands the cause for further proceedings.
On March 30, 2011, a Coffee County grand jury issued an indictment charging Craig with unlawful possession of a controlled substance, see § 13A-12-212, Ala. Code 1975, and possession of drug paraphernalia, see § 13A-12-260, Ala. Code 1975. On August 24, 2011, Craig filed a motion to suppress all evidence seized during the traffic stop. In his motion, Craig argued that the drug evidence was the product of an illegal search of his vehicle; therefore, all the evidence should be suppressed.
On September 14, 2011, the circuit court held a hearing on Craig's motion, during which the State presented the testimony of one witness, Officer Skip Neuwien. During
the hearing, Officer Neuwien testified that Craig's license plate was affixed incorrectly and was registered to another vehicle. Craig was able to frustrate Officer Neuwien's attempts to position his patrol car behind Craig to pull him over for the improper tag, so Officer Neuwien summoned Officer Christopher Millard for assistance. Officer Millard was able to position his patrol car behind Craig, at which time he activated the patrol car's lights. Craig, however, continued to drive " a pretty good ways before his stopped." (R. 7.) Craig passed several places where he could have stopped before eventually stopping in a Burger King fast-food restaurant parking lot.
After Craig stopped, both Officer Neuwien and Officer Millard saw Craig lean his body over and make furtive movements towards the center console of the vehicle. Officer Neuwien approached Craig and asked Craig for his driver's license. Craig gave Officer Neuwien an identification card as opposed to a driver's license. At that point, Officer Millard ordered Craig to get out of the vehicle.
As Craig was getting out of the vehicle, Officer Neuwien saw something shiny in Craig's hand. The shiny object turned out to be an " extremely sharp-pointed pair of tweezers" that could have been used as a weapon. (R. 9, 12.) Officer Neuwien explained that Craig had the tweezers " clenched in his fist in a manner [that] looked as if [he] was going to use them." (R. 42.) Because Craig got out of the vehicle with a sharp object that could have been used a weapon, the officers were concerned for their safety, so they " went ahead and secured" Craig by placing him in handcuffs and putting him in a patrol car. (R. 9.) After handcuffing Craig, Officer Neuwien looked at the seat in the vehicle where Craig had been sitting and saw a .32 caliber bullet. Upon seeing the ...