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Hebert v. State

Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals

October 3, 2014

Keith A. Hebert
v.
State of Alabama

         As Amended August 18, 2015.

          Appeal from Russell Circuit Court. (CC-13-147).

         For Appellant: Sirena L. Saunders, Phenix City.

         For Appellee: Luther Strange, atty. gen., and Stephen N. Dodd, asst. atty. gen.

         WELCH, Judge. Kellum and Burke, JJ., concur. Windom, P.J., and Joiner, J., concur in the result.

          OPINION

Page 920

          WELCH, Judge.

         Keith A. Hebert was charged with possession of a controlled substance, a violation of § 13A-12-212, Ala. Code 1975. He filed a pretrial motion to suppress drug evidence seized during a traffic stop. The trial court denied the motion following a hearing. Hebert then pleaded guilty to the charge, reserving for appeal the trial court's denial of the motion to suppress. The trial court sentenced Hebert, as a habitual felony offender, to 15 years in prison.

         FACTS

         The following testimony was presented at the hearing on Hebert's motion to suppress. Russell County Sheriff's Deputy Charles Hall executed a traffic stop because the driver had failed to signal before making a turn. Hebert was driving the vehicle and Karen Singleton was a passenger. Hall testified that Hebert pulled promptly to the side of the road when Hall activated the blue lights on his cruiser. Hall testified that he ran the license plate on an Internet Web site that " pulls up the person it belongs to," and that indicated the owner was " a medium threat level." (R. 6.) He stated that, because of the elevated threat level presented by Hebert indicated on the Web site, he used more caution than he would have had the threat level been lower.

         Hall approached the car and obtained Hebert's license, registration, and proof of insurance. Hebert seemed nervous, Hall said, so he asked Hebert to step out of the car. Hebert complied. Hall asked him whether he had any weapons on his person

Page 921

and Hebert said he had a knife. Hall patted Hebert down and recovered four folding knives. He then directed Hebert to stand at the rear of Hebert's car. He was not placed in handcuffs. Hall asked Singleton to step out of the car and asked her whether she had any weapons on her person. Singleton told Hall that she had no weapons, and he then directed her to move to the rear of Hebert's car. Hall stated that, while Hebert was standing by the car, he appeared very nervous and " kind of aggressive," and he moved around a lot. (R. 10.) Hall completed the traffic citation and gave it to Hebert.

         Hall testified that, once a citation is issued, he usually releases the motorist, and the motorist is free to leave. At that point in some traffic stops, Hall testified, he sometimes asks for consent to search the cockpit area of the vehicle for officer safety. Hall asked Hebert for permission to search the vehicle, but Hebert refused, said he was leaving, and walked toward his vehicle. Hall testified that he was in fear for his safety because Hebert was trying to get back to his vehicle and because Hall did not know what was in the vehicle. Therefore, Hall stated, he stopped Hebert and told him he was not leaving, handcuffed him, and placed him in the patrol car. Hall told Hebert that he was not under arrest, but that " [h]e was being detained for observation." (R. 16.) Hall explained the reasons he placed Hebert in handcuffs:

" Because he was trying to -- when I told him -- I asked him about the weapons and he was acting real nervous and then he said he was leaving and go[ing] to the vehicle, I was in fear for my safety. And they teach us that on a traffic stop, anybody can get caught in an area where they can get a weapon, they could do harm to me if I'm by myself trying to get them out of a vehicle."

(R. 17.) When he testified on cross-examination that he had detained Hebert for officer safety, he again explained, " I didn't know what was in the vehicle and the way he was acting when he went towards the vehicle, for officer safety." (R. 23.) He later stated that he had suspicions of further criminal activity " from how he was acting nervous and wanting to get to the vehicle, and I already found four knives on him, and his past criminal record." (R. 24.)

         Singleton remained at the rear of Hebert's car while Hall handcuffed and detained Hebert. Hall testified that he asked Hebert and Singleton whether there was anything in the vehicle that he needed to know about before he searched it for weapons, and Singleton told him there was a glass pipe under the front passenger seat. Hall told Singleton to get the pipe, and she walked to the vehicle by herself and reached under the passenger seat for the pipe, which she then brought back to Hall. Hall was asked on cross-examination whether, when he told Singleton to return to the car to get the pipe, he was concerned that Singleton could get a gun or other weapon that she could use to hurt him. He testified that he was concerned about officer safety, but that he watched her while she retrieved the pipe.

         Hall stated that he believed the pipe was of the type used to smoke methamphetamine, and he noted a white residue inside the pipe. Hall testified that he then asked them whether there was anything else in the vehicle he needed to know about, and Hebert told him that a bag of methamphetamine was under the floor mat on the driver's side of the vehicle. Hall walked to the vehicle to retrieve the bag, and he then observed a six-inch hunting knife between the driver's door and the seat, and two more knives in the cockpit area within arm's reach of the driver. Hebert claimed

Page 922

ownership of the methamphetamine. Hall arrested him for possession of drug paraphernalia and for possession of methamphetamine. Hall also stated that the pipe provided probable cause to arrest Hebert, and that he would have searched the car and found the methamphetamine and the knives when the car was searched ...


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