Lorenzo J. Benson
State of Alabama
Released for Publication April 13, 2015.
Appeal from Hale Circuit Court. (CC-12-32). Trial Judge: Marvin Wayne Wiggins
REVERSED AND REMANDED.
For Appellant: Robert Dale Bryant, Marion.
For Appellee: Luther Strange, atty. gen., and Jean A. Therkelsen, asst. atty. gen.
KELLUM, Judge. Windom, P.J., and Welch, Burke, and Joiner, JJ., concur.
The appellant, Lorenzo J. Benson, was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of marijuana in the first degree, a violation of § 13A-12-213, Ala. Code 1975, trafficking in cocaine, a violation of § 13A-12-231, Ala. Code 1975, and possession of drug paraphernalia, a violation of § 13A-12-260, Ala. Code 1975. Pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement, Benson pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana in the first degree and the remaining charges were dismissed. The circuit court subsequently sentenced Benson to 10 years' imprisonment; the court split the sentence and ordered Benson to serve 12 months in the Hale County jail followed by 3 years' supervised probation. The circuit court further ordered Benson to pay all mandatory fines, fees, and assessments.
Before pleading guilty, Benson filed a pretrial motion to suppress evidence and statements to police on the grounds that
the search and seizure in this case was illegal. Following an evidentiary hearing, the circuit court denied Benson's motion to suppress. Benson pleaded guilty but reserved the right to appeal the circuit court's denial of his motion to suppress the narcotics recovered from his house and his statement to police. This appeal followed.
At the suppression hearing, the circuit court considered the following evidence. On November 30, 2011, Timothy Dillard, an officer with the Hale County Sheriff's Department, was notified by the United States Marshal's Office that they had an arrest warrant for a person named Michael Nolan. Nolan was wanted for attempted murder in Tuscaloosa County. Dillard " put word out on the street to a couple of [his] contacts" and received a telephone call around 3:00 p.m. from a reliable confidential informant who informed Dillard that Nolan was at Benson's house playing video games. (R. 5.) Benson's house was known as a house where drugs were sold, and drug arrests had been made there on previous occasions.
Dillard notified the United States Marshal's Office that he had received a tip from a reliable confidential informant that Nolan was at Benson's residence. The agents from the Marshal's Office met with officers from the Moundville Police Department and traveled to Benson's house for the purpose of arresting Nolan. The officers arrived at Benson's house between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. Although the officers possessed an arrest warrant for Nolan, they had no search warrant for Benson or his house. The agents from the Marshal's Office knocked on the front door and then entered Benson's house while Dillard and another officer guarded the back of the residence.
When the agents entered the house, Nolan was sitting on the couch. The agents saw Benson toss an unknown amount of crack-cocaine on the floor when they entered the house. When Dillard entered the residence seconds after the agents, they informed Dillard of Benson's actions. Dillard saw, in plain view, what was later determined to be 46 grams of crack-cocaine lying on the floor; he also saw a half-pound bag of what appeared to be marijuana in plain view on a table. Benson and three other males were in the house. The evidence was secured and sent to the Alabama ...