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Berry v. State

Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals

September 20, 2019

Frederick Leterrence Berry
State of Alabama

          Appeal from Pike Circuit Court (CC-18-107)


         Frederick Leterrence Berry appeals his guilty-plea conviction for possession of a controlled substance, see § 13A-12-212(a)(1), Ala. Code 1975, and his sentence of 24 months in prison. That sentence was suspended and he was ordered to serve 24 months of supervised probation. Before pleading guilty, Berry preserved and reserved his right to appeal the circuit court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence discovered and seized as the result of a warrantless arrest.

         On April 6, 2017, a be-on-the-lookout bulletin was issued to officers with the Troy Police Department for a female who had been reported by her family as a missing person. Lt. Matthew Raiti located the missing female's vehicle in a motel parking lot. Lt. Raiti spoke to the motel clerk, who directed him to room 120. Lt. Raiti knocked on the door to Room 120 but received no response. Lt. Raiti knocked again and heard noise coming from inside the motel room. The officer could see through a gap in the curtains a male walking toward the door while a female, who matched the description of the missing female, walked toward the bathroom.

         The male opened the door, and Lt. Raiti spoke to him about the missing female. Berry identified himself to Lt. Raiti. Lt. Raiti gave Berry's name to police dispatch and learned that there were two outstanding warrants for Berry's arrest.

         Berry was placed under arrest, and Lt. Raiti performed a search incident to arrest. In Berry's right front pocket, Lt. Raiti found 15 Alprazolam pills; 3 blue oval pills, which he could not identify; and cash. After confirming that the female in the motel room was the missing female, Lt. Raiti took Berry to the police station for processing. There Berry was given copies of the outstanding warrants for his arrest.

         Berry argues on appeal, as he did below, that his arrest was illegal because Lt. Raiti did not have possession of the arrest warrants at the time Berry was placed under arrest. Thus, Berry asserts, that his arrest was illegal and that the drug evidence was due to be suppressed as the product of an illegal arrest.

         Here, Lt. Raiti was the only witness and the facts are not in dispute. Therefore, this Court will review de novo the circuit court's denial of Berry's motion to suppress. See State v. Otwell, 733 So.2d 950, 952 (Ala.Crim.App.1999) (citing State v. Hill, 690 So.2d 1201 (Ala. 1996); Barnes v. State, 704 So.2d 487 (Ala.Crim.App.1997)).

         Although Lt. Raiti knew of the existence of warrants for Berry's arrest, he did not possess them at the time Berry was arrested. This fact alone, of course, does not render Berry's arrest illegal. Law-enforcement officers are authorized to arrest individuals with or without a warrant. § 15-10-1, Ala. Code 1975. Even so, an officer's authority to arrest without a warrant is limited. Section 15-10-3, Ala. Code 1975, establishes the circumstances under which an officer may arrest an individual without an arrest warrant. Many of these circumstances are inapplicable here, though, because there was no indication that Berry had committed an offense at the time of his arrest. The State asserted that the arrest was lawful pursuant to § 15-10-3(a)(6), which states that an officer may arrest a person without a warrant, on any day and at any time

"[w]hen the officer has actual knowledge that a warrant for the person's arrest for the commission of a felony or misdemeanor has been issued, provided the warrant was issued in accordance with this chapter. However, upon request the officer shall show the warrant to the arrested person as soon as possible. If the officer does not have the warrant in his or her possession at the time of arrest the officer shall inform the defendant of the offense charged and of the fact that a warrant has been issued."

         Berry argues that his arrest did not comply with § 15-10-3(a)(6) because his outstanding arrest warrants were not issued for the "commission of a felony or misdemeanor." Indeed, Lt. Raiti testified that the arrest warrants were issued by the Troy Municipal Court for "possession of marijuana second and ... driving while [his license was] revoked," (R. 12), both of which are misdemeanor offenses. See §§ 13A-12-214(b) and 32-6-19(a)(1), Ala. Code 1975. However, Lt. Raiti later clarified that the warrants were capias warrants. "Capias" is "[a]ny of various types of writs that require an officer to take a named defendant into custody[, and] is often issued when a respondent fails to appear or when an obligor has failed to pay child support." Black's Law Dictionary, 249-50 (10th ed. 2014). Lt. Raiti did not specifically identify the acts or omissions that led to the issuance of Berry's capias warrants, but did explain that capias warrants are typically issued after "they've been in front of a judge and have pled guilty or been found guilty and essentially they owe money to the Court or ... [are] not complying with conditions of their probation." (R. 18.) Lt. Raiti agreed on cross-examination that, despite his earlier testimony, neither capias warrant was a warrant of arrest for second-degree possession of marijuana or driving while his license was revoked.

         "[W]hen a police officer arrests without a warrant, and the defendant objects to the introduction of evidence seized as an incident to the arrest, 'the burden is on the State to show that the arrest was lawful' pursuant to § 15–10–3. Duncan v. State, 278 Ala. 145, 161, 176 So.2d 840, 855 (1965)." Ex parte Brownlee, 535 So.2d 218, 219 (Ala. 1988). It is unclear from the record why the capias warrants were issued for Berry's arrest. Stated differently, the State failed to demonstrate that Lt. Raiti had "actual knowledge that a warrant for [Berry's] arrest for the commission of a felony or misdemeanor" had been issued. § 15-10-3(a)(6) (emphasis added).

         In Johnson v. State, 675 So.2d 512, 513 (Ala.Crim.App.1995), this Court held that, because the appellant's arrest warrant, which was issued for contempt of court, "was not for the commission of a felony or a misdemeanor, the arresting officer could not legally arrest the appellant without personally possessing the arrest warrant." Here, Lt. Raiti did not possess the arrest warrants and the State failed to carry its burden to demonstrate that Lt. Raiti had actual knowledge that the arrest warrants had been issued for the commission of a felony or misdemeanor. This Court holds that Berry's arrest, as was the arrest in Johnson, was unlawful.

         The State asserts on appeal that, even if Berry's arrest was unlawful under § 15-10-3, the drug evidence was still admissible under the good-faith exception. "The good faith exception provides that evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment by officers acting in objectively reasonable reliance on a warrant issued by a neutral and detached magistrate need not be excluded from the State's case-in-chief even if the warrant is ultimately found to be invalid." Ex parte Morgan, 641 So.2d 840, 843 (Ala. 1994) (citing United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984)). Here, though, Lt. Raiti was not relying on the judgment of another. Instead, it was Lt. Raiti's own mistake of law in failing to comply with § 15-10-3(a)(6). Further, the language of § 15-10-3(a)(6) is straightforward and unambiguous. Under the circumstances, Lt. Raiti's mistake of law was unreasonable. See Morgan, 641 So.2d at 843 (assessing reasonableness of officer's mistake of law in determining whether the good-faith exception should apply). See also Heien v. North Carolina, 574 U.S. 54 (2014) (although in the context of whether a Fourth Amendment violation even occurred, the Court looked to the clarity of the statutes at issue in assessing the reasonableness of an officer's mistake of law). An officer's objectively unreasonable mistake of law cannot justify application of the good-faith exception.

         The State failed to carry its burden to show that Berry's arrest was lawful. This Court has recognized that the "Constitution of the United States, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, compels a holding that evidence seized as a result of an unlawful arrest is inadmissible." State v. Phillips, 517 So.2d 648, 652 (Ala.Crim.App.1987) (citing Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471 (1963); Lawrence v. Henderson, 478 F.2d 705 (5th Cir. 1973); Ingram v. State, 45 Ala.App. 108, 226 So.2d 169 (1969)). Therefore, the circuit court erred in denying Berry's motion to suppress the drug evidence found in his possession incident to his arrest.


          Kellum and McCool, JJ., concur. Cole, J., dissents, with opinion, which Minor, J., joins.

          COLE, Judge, dissenting.

         The main opinion reverses the circuit court's denial of Frederick Leterrence Berry's motion to suppress drug evidence found in his possession incident to his arrest, concluding that "[t]he State failed to carry its burden to show that Berry's arrest was lawful." __ So. 3d at __. Because the main opinion conflicts with cases from this Court, the Alabama Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court of the United States, I respectfully dissent.

         As noted in the main opinion, in April 2017 the Troy Police Department was searching for a female who had been reported missing by her family. While looking for her, Lt. Matthew Raiti saw her vehicle in the parking lot of a Motel 6. After speaking with the clerk at the front desk of the motel, Lt. Raiti went to room 120 and knocked on the door but received no response. Lt. Raiti knocked again and heard "some noises" coming from inside the room. He then looked through the window and saw a "black male walk towards the front of the room and then a white female walk into the restroom." (R. 9.) Lt. Raiti was "pretty sure" that the female was the missing person.

          The black male then opened the door and spoke with Lt. Raiti. Lt. Raiti told the male why he was at the motel and asked him for his name, to which the male responded, "Frederick Berry." (R. 11.) At that point, Lt. Raiti ran Berry's name "through NCIC and through dispatch." (Id.) Lt. Raiti did this because, he said, it was "common practice"; he was looking for a missing person; and he did not know if the female had been kidnapped; thus, he explained, "it's pretty imperative I know who I'm speaking with." (R. 11-12.)

         Dispatch responded to Lt. Raiti's request, informing him that Berry had two active capias warrants from the Troy Municipal Court--"[o]ne was for possession of marijuana second and one was driving while [his license was] revoked." (R. 12-13, 15.) "Once [Lt. Raiti] was able to find out [they] had the warrants and [he] confirmed the information on the warrants .... So all the information was verified as good. And at that point, [he] placed [Berry] under arrest." (R. 13.) Lt. Raiti then searched Berry and found 15 Alprazolam pills in his right front pocket. Lt. Raiti continued into the motel room where he located the missing female ...

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