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People v. McBride

2020 COA 111. No. 17CA2249. Traffic Infractions—Equipment—Taillights—Turn Signal—Roundabout—Possession of a Weapon by a Previous Offender—Evidence.

July 23, 2020

Police in an unmarked police car were surveilling a hotel for illicit drug activity. A sheriff’s deputy saw a Lincoln with two people in it pull into the parking lot, park for less than 10 minutes without anyone getting into or out of the car, and drive away. The deputy relayed his observations to another deputy, who followed the Lincoln from another unmarked police car. As the second deputy followed the Lincoln, she noticed that both of the car’s tail lamps were broken and although the lamps had been patched with red tape, the tape was melted and the bulbs emitted some white light along with red light. The deputy also observed the Lincoln navigate a roundabout without signaling and continue straight on the same road. She radioed a third deputy in a marked patrol car to stop the Lincoln and investigate the two traffic infractions.

The third deputy pulled the Lincoln over and identified the driver as defendant and his passenger as M.S. Additional officers and a police dog arrived at the scene. The officers arrested defendant on an outstanding warrant. Meanwhile, the dog alerted to the presence of illegal narcotics in the car. Upon searching the car, officers found a bag of methamphetamine between the floorboards and a handgun wedged between the driver and front passenger seats under M.S.’s purse. M.S. also had drug paraphernalia on her person. Defendant was charged with five offenses, including possession of a weapon by a previous offender (POWPO) and two traffic infractions. Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence of the drugs and the gun as fruits of an illegal traffic stop. After a hearing, the court denied the motion, ruling that there was reasonable suspicion to stop defendant for the two traffic infractions. A jury convicted him of POWPO and the two traffic infractions.

On appeal, defendant contended that the officers lacked probable cause for the traffic stop and there was insufficient evidence to support the traffic infraction convictions. CRS § 42-4-206(1) requires motor vehicles to be equipped with tail lamps emitting red light and prohibits tail lamps from emitting some white light along with red light. Because the taillights on defendant’s vehicle emitted some white light, officers had a sufficient basis for the stop and the evidence supported this traffic infraction. But the statute requiring the use of a turn signal before turning or moving right or left on a roadway does not apply to roundabouts, so the judgment for this traffic infraction was not supported by the evidence.

Defendant further argued that the evidence was insufficient to support the POWPO conviction, specifically, the required element that he knowingly possessed a firearm. Where a defendant is not in exclusive possession of the car or premises in which an object is found and there is no evidence aside from mere proximity linking the defendant to that object, a conviction premised on knowing possession cannot stand. Here, the vehicle was not registered to defendant or M.S. Further, there was no evidence that the gun was registered or otherwise belonged to defendant or that it was stolen, and defendant’s fingerprints or DNA were not found on the gun or on any other items in the car. Therefore, the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence to support the POWPO conviction.

The traffic infraction for the tail lamp violation was affirmed, and the traffic infraction for failure to signal and the judgment of conviction for POWPO were reversed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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