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State v. Corbin

Supreme Court of West Virginia

September 5, 2017

State of West Virginia, Plaintiff Below, Respondent
v.
Richard H. Corbin II, Defendant Below, Petitioner

         Morgan County 15-F-42

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         Petitioner Richard H. Corbin II, by counsel J. Mark Sutton, appeals the Circuit Court of Morgan County's June 28, 2016, order sentencing him to a term of incarceration of one to five years for his conviction of failure to update sex offender registration. The State, by counsel Gordon L. Mowen II, filed a response and a supplemental appendix. Petitioner filed a reply. On appeal, petitioner argues that the circuit court erred in denying his motion to suppress and his motion to dismiss the indictment.

         This Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the circuit court's order is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         In July of 2014, a West Virginia State Trooper observed a red Dodge Durango heading south on Winchester Grade Road in Morgan County. The vehicle had a license plate number of 9W9584 and was registered to Richard Henry Corbin, petitioner's father. The trooper observed the vehicle pull into a driveway and immediately turn around to travel on the same road in the opposite direction. According to the trooper, he believed this behavior was suspicious and possibly indicated that the vehicle's occupants were surveying the home to later burglarize the same. The trooper continued to follow the vehicle, which pulled into a second driveway. At this point, the trooper initiated contact with the vehicle's occupants. The trooper determined that Jessica Evans was driving the vehicle and petitioner, a registered sex offender, was a passenger. Ms. Evans explained they were looking for a lost dog. The trooper eventually cited Ms. Evans for driving on a suspended license before ending his encounter with the vehicle's occupants.

         However, the State Police later determined that the vehicle in question was listed on petitioner's sex offender registry forms. Per petitioner's forms, the vehicle's license plate number was 2LH387, not 9W9584. As such, petitioner's sex offender registry forms did not properly list the license plate number for the vehicle. As a result, petitioner was indicted on a charge of failing to properly update and/or maintain the information on his sex offender registry forms in September of 2015.

         Following his indictment, petitioner filed a motion to suppress the evidence that his sex offender registry information was outdated. According to petitioner, the trooper lacked probable cause to initiate the traffic stop in question. Petitioner also filed a motion to dismiss the indictment and alleged that he could not be guilty of failing to update his sex offender registry information because he erroneously listed his father's Durango in the first instance. The circuit court denied both these motions. In April of 2016, petitioner entered a plea of no contest to the charge of failure to update his sex offender registration. Petitioner reserved the right to appeal the circuit court's denial of his pre-trial motions. In June of 2016, the circuit court sentenced petitioner to a term of incarceration of one to five years but suspended that sentence in favor of a term of five years of probation. It is from the sentencing order that petitioner appeals.

We have held as follows:
"In reviewing the findings of fact and conclusions of law of a circuit court . . ., we apply a three-pronged standard of review. We review the decision . . . under an abuse of discretion standard; the underlying facts are reviewed under a clearly erroneous standard; and questions of law and interpretations of statutes and rules are subject to a de novo review." Syllabus Point 1, State v. Head, 198 W.Va. 298, 480 S.E.2d 507 (1996).

Syl. Pt. 1, in part, State v. Georgius, 225 W.Va. 716, 696 S.E.2d 18 (2010). Further, we have explained as follows:

1."When reviewing a ruling on a motion to suppress, an appellate court should construe all facts in the light most favorable to the State, as it was the prevailing party below. Because of the highly fact-specific nature of a motion to suppress, particular deference is given to the findings of the circuit court because it had the opportunity to observe the witnesses and to hear testimony on the issues. Therefore, the circuit court's factual findings are reviewed for clear error." Syllabus point 1, State v. Lacy, 196 W.Va. 104, 468 S.E.2d 719 (1996).
2. "In contrast to a review of the circuit court's factual findings, the ultimate determination as to whether a search or seizure was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 6 of Article III of the West Virginia Constitution is a question of law that is reviewed de novo. Similarly, an appellate court reviews de novo whether a search warrant was too broad. Thus, a circuit court's denial of a motion to suppress evidence will be affirmed unless it is unsupported by substantial evidence, based on an erroneous interpretation of the law, or, based on the entire record, it is clear that a mistake has been made." Syllabus point 2, State v. Lacy, 196 W.Va. 104, 468 S.E.2d 719 (1996).

Syl. Pts. 1 and 2, State v. Bookheimer, 221 W.Va. 720, 656 S.E.2d 471 (2007).

         On appeal, petitioner argues that the circuit court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence of his registration because the trooper lacked a reasonable articulable suspicion to initiate the stop. As to traffic stops, we have held that "[p]olice officers may stop a vehicle to investigate if they have an articulable[, ] reasonable suspicion that the vehicle is subject to seizure or a person in the vehicle has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime." Syl. Pt. 1, in part, State v. Stuart, 192 W.Va. 428, 452 S.E.2d 886 (1994). Petitioner's argument on appeal concerning the trooper's alleged lack of a reasonable articulable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop in question simply ignores the evidence below. During the suppression hearing, the trooper specifically testified that he believed the vehicle pulling into two separate driveways in a location far from the registered owner's own home was "highly suspicious" and was consistent with someone "casing a home for a burglary." That is to say, the trooper in question had a reasonable articulable suspicion that a person in the vehicle was committing or about to commit a crime. As the circuit court noted, the vehicle in question was already stopped in a driveway when the trooper approached in furtherance of investigating the vehicle's occupants' actions. Because we find that the trooper in question had a reasonable articulable suspicion to initiate the stop in question, we find no error in the circuit court denying petitioner's motion to suppress.

         Finally, the Court finds no merit to petitioner's argument that the circuit court erred in denying his motion to dismiss the indictment. Regarding our review of a ...


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