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State v. Massey

Supreme Court of Montana

December 6, 2016

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
KELLY RAY MASSEY, JR., Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: October 19, 2016

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, In and For the County of Missoula, Cause No. DC 14-393 Honorable John W. Larson, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Craig Shannon, Attorney at Law, Missoula, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Jonathan M. Krauss, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Kirsten H. Pabst, Missoula County Attorney, James McCubbin, Deputy Missoula County Attorney, Missoula, Montana

          OPINION

          Jim Rice, Justice

         ¶1 Appellant Kelly Ray Massey, Jr. (Massey) appeals the order of the Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County, denying his motion to suppress. We affirm and address the following issue:

         Did the District Court err by determining there was particularized suspicion for the traffic stop of Massey's vehicle?

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶2 At approximately 1:00 a.m. on June 16, 2014, Trooper Lynwood Bateman observed a sport-utility vehicle with black plastic, logo-style covers on its tail lights, and initiated a traffic stop because the covers appeared to obscure and diminish the visibility of the vehicle's tail lights. During the traffic stop, Bateman observed signs that Massey was impaired by drugs and asked him to step out of his vehicle. As Massey stepped out, Bateman observed a small, plastic bag with possible drug residue in plain view in the passenger door pocket. Massey stated the bag was not his and declined to consent to a search of the vehicle. Bateman seized the vehicle and released Massey. A subsequent search of the vehicle pursuant to a search warrant revealed drugs, a handgun, drug paraphernalia, and other items leading to the filing of charges against Massey for criminal possession of dangerous drugs with intent to distribute, a felony, and criminal possession of dangerous drugs/opiates, a felony.

         ¶3 Massey moved to suppress the evidence found in his vehicle on the ground that Bateman lacked particularized suspicion to initiate a traffic stop. At the suppression hearing, Bateman testified that he was approximately 500 feet behind Massey's vehicle when he noticed the tail light covers, which he stated "were black and covered up the light." Bateman initiated the traffic stop "because [the tail light covers] were obscuring and diminishing the visibility of the lights to the rear, " and he needed to stop the vehicle to determine if the lights were visible from more than 1, 000 feet, the distance required by statute.

         ¶4 Under cross examination, Bateman testified that the tail light covers functioned as stencils, which "left portions of the red visible, but they obscured it." The following exchange also took place:

Q. Okay. Do you see [these stencil-like covers] fairly often in Missoula in the line of work that you're in?
A. I see them, yeah, I would say fairly ...

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