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Tolbert v. State

Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals

October 12, 2018

Dwaun Manriquez Tolbert
State of Alabama

          Appeal from Pike Circuit Court (CC-17-251 and CC-17-252)

          KELLUM, JUDGE.

         Pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement, the appellant, Dwaun Manriquez Tolbert, pleaded guilty to robbery in the first degree, see § 13A-8-41, Ala. Code 1975, and to breaking and entering a motor vehicle, see § 13A-8-11, Ala. Code 1975. The circuit court sentenced Tolbert to 240 months' imprisonment for the robbery conviction and 60 months' imprisonment for the breaking-and-entering conviction; the sentence was split and he was ordered to serve 3 years' imprisonment, followed by 24 months' supervised probation. The circuit court ordered Tolbert to pay $3, 250 in restitution, $50 to the crime victims compensation fund and court costs.

         Before pleading guilty, Tolbert reserved for appellate review the circuit court's denial of his motion to suppress the evidence found as a result of the warrantless search of the content of his cellular telephone found at the crime scene.

         The circuit court conducted a suppression hearing on January 30, 2018. At the hearing, Detective Terry Miles with the Troy Police Department testified that on December 18, 2016, he was assigned to investigate a robbery that took place at the Courtyard Marriott motel in Troy. Steven Smith, who was visiting from Florida, parked in the parking lot next to the door of his motel room. Detective Miles testified that Smith took some of his property into the motel room and, when he returned to the car to get some more things, Smith saw a black male sitting in his car. When Smith told the man to get out of his car, the man pointed a gun at Smith and took Smith's iPhone cellular telephone, as well as other property that was in Smith's car before fleeing the scene on foot. A K9 unit was called and was dispatched in the direction in which the perpetrator ran, but the dogs lost the scent around the M section of the Oak Grove Apartments. Detective Miles also "pinged" Smith's cellular telephone, and it appeared around apartment M-4 of the Oak Grove Apartments.

         The following day, Smith found a cellular telephone in his car and telephoned Detective Miles. Detective Miles picked up the cellular telephone, put a property receipt on it, and logged it into evidence. Detective Miles testified that he then contacted the district attorney's office and was told that he did not need a search warrant for the phone, but that he should contact the district court judge to verify that. Detective Miles then contacted the judge, who explained that Detective Miles would not need a search warrant if he used the telephone only to identify the owner.

         Detective Miles testified that he was unable to obtain the name of the owner of the cellular telephone from the "My Information" section on the telephone but did find the telephone number. Detective Miles then took a picture of the telephone number and scrolled through some of the photographs saved on the telephone in order to determine the owner of the cellular telephone. Detective Miles testified that he recognized the people in the pictures as Tolbert and his girlfriend, Octavia Brunson. Detective Miles subsequently learned that Brunson lived in apartment M-4 and that Tolbert lived there with her.

         Detective Miles obtained a search warrant for Brunson's apartment. During the search of the apartment, Detective Miles found all of Smith's stolen property, with the exception of a computer. When interviewing Tolbert, Detective Miles learned that Tolbert's cellular telephone number was the same as the number for the cellular telephone found in Smith's car.

         Tolbert's sole contention on appeal is that the circuit court erred when it denied his motion to suppress evidence of the contents of his cellular telephone and all the evidence obtained as a result of the warrantless search of his cellular telephone. Specifically, Tolbert contends that the warrantless search was unreasonable because, he says, none of the exceptions to the warrant requirement apply, he "had a subjective and objective expectation of privacy over the contents of his cell phone," and leaving his cellular telephone at the crime scene did not evidence his intent to relinquish his expectation of privacy in the contents of the cellular telephone. (Tolbert's brief, p. 14.) The State contends that Tolbert abandoned his cellular telephone when he left it at the scene of the crime and, therefore, that Tolbert no longer had an expectation of privacy in his telephone after he left it in Smith's car.

         "This Court reviews de novo a circuit court's decision on a motion to suppress evidence when the facts are not in dispute. See State v. Hill, 690 So.2d 1201, 1203 (Ala. 1996); State v. Otwell, 733 So.2d 950, 952 (Ala.Crim.App.1999)." State v. Skaggs, 903 So.2d 180, 181 (Ala.Crim.App.2004). In the instant case, the facts are uncontested; the only issue is the circuit court's application of the law to those facts. Therefore, this Court affords no presumption in favor of the circuit court's ruling.

         Warrantless searches are per se unreasonable, unless they fall within one of the recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement. Urioso v. State, 910 So.2d 158, 159 (Ala.Crim.App.2005); Baird v. State, 849 So.2d 223, 229 (Ala.Crim.App.2002); Chevere v. State, 607 So.2d 361, 368 (Ala.Crim.App.1992).

"Those exceptions include: objects in plain view, consensual searches, a search incident to a lawful arrest, hot pursuit or emergency situations, probable cause coupled with exigent circumstances, and a Terry [v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968)] 'stop and frisk' situation. Daniels v. State, 290 Ala. 316, 276 So.2d 441 (1973). Where a search is executed without a warrant, the burden falls upon the State to show that the search falls within an exception. Kinard v. State, 335 So.2d 924 (Ala. 1976)."

Ex parte Tucker, 667 So.2d 1339, 1343 (Ala. 1995).

         "'It is well settled that "'[a] warrantless search or seizure of property that has been "abandoned" does not violate the fourth amendment. See e.g. Abel v. United States, 362 U.S. 217, 241, 80 S.Ct. 683, 698, 4 L.Ed.2d 668 (1960).'" Smith v.State, 557 So.2d 1322, 1325 (Ala.Crim.App.1989)(quoting Un ...

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