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State v. Wilson

Supreme Court of Montana

November 13, 2018

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
JOHNATHAN SAMUAL WILSON, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: July 25, 2018

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Seventeenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Blaine, Cause No. DC-2016-23 Honorable Yvonne Laird, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Jeremy S. Yellin, Attorney at Law, Havre, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Madison L. Mattioli, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Kelsie Harwood, Blaine County Attorney, Chinook, Montana


          Mike McGrath, Chief Justice

         ¶1 Johnathan Samual Wilson appeals from a February 17, 2017 Seventeenth Judicial District Court Order in which his motion to suppress was denied. We reverse.

         ¶2 We restate the issue on appeal as follows:

Did the District Court err when it denied Wilson's motion to suppress based on its determination that the drug investigation was supported by particularized suspicion?


         ¶3 The relevant facts are not in dispute. On June 21, 2016, at approximately 5:06 p.m. Montana Highway Patrolman Cody Smith ("Smith"), while in his marked patrol car on the eastbound shoulder of U.S. Highway 2 near Chinook, Montana, observed an eastbound 2013 Chrysler LX with a North Dakota license plate approaching from the rear. According to Smith, the occupants of the vehicle looked at Smith's patrol car and then immediately looked away. Smith found this behavior suspicious. He ran the North Dakota license plate, which showed that the vehicle's registration had expired. Smith initiated a traffic stop.

         ¶4 Smith approached the driver's side of the vehicle and informed the driver of the reason for the stop. The driver, later identified as Scott Dean Paramore, seemed surprised to learn that the registration had expired. Smith noted that Paramore was trembling and that the passenger, Johnathan Wilson, appeared nervous and avoided eye contact with Smith. Smith found their nervousness unusual. Smith then noticed a rental sticker in the rear passenger window, a suitcase in the back seat, and that the vehicle had a "somewhat lived in appearance."

         ¶5 Paramore informed Smith that he had borrowed the vehicle from a work acquaintance. Paramore could not locate his wallet or driver's license and told Smith he must have left them at a gas station. Smith asked Paramore to step out of the vehicle and instructed him to sit in the front passenger seat of his patrol car. As they walked to the patrol car, Paramore handed Smith an expired insurance card and placed an unlit cigarette in his mouth. Smith found this odd considering "he knew he was going to go into my car, and he had a cigarette in his mouth."

         ¶6 In the patrol car, Paramore informed Smith that he and Wilson were returning home to North Dakota from Paramore's wedding in Sandpoint, Idaho. Smith found it suspicious that Paramore, a newlywed, was traveling without his wife and asked Paramore and Wilson about the arrangement five separate times. Each time, Paramore informed Smith that his wife needed to arrive early to Idaho to get the wedding set up, that he only had a limited number of vacation days available, and that his wife needed a separate vehicle to transport their three children. Smith noted that Paramore's nerves had not subsided because he was breathing heavily and avoiding eye contact with Smith.

         ¶7 Smith ran Paramore's license and learned that Paramore had a valid Idaho license showing several driving infractions. Smith asked Paramore how long he had known the vehicle's owner, to which he responded about four or five months. Smith found it suspicious that a person would loan their vehicle to someone whom the person knew for less than six months, especially for an interstate trip lasting several days.

         ¶8 Smith exited the patrol car to see if Wilson could locate valid proof of insurance. As he did so, Paramore asked Smith if he could step out of the car to smoke his cigarette. Smith interpreted this as nervousness and indicative of Paramore's desire to get out of the patrol car.

         ¶9 As Smith approached the vehicle's passenger's side door he noted that Wilson did not appear nervous. He observed old food items on the floor and the overall messiness of the vehicle. He asked Wilson if he could find valid proof of insurance, which Wilson was unable to locate. Wilson corroborated the plans Paramore discussed with Smith: they were returning from Paramore's wedding in Idaho, the bride traveled separately, and the vehicle belonged to Paramore's coworker. Smith returned to the patrol car with Wilson's driver's license.

         ¶10 Back in the patrol car, dispatch checked Paramore and Wilson's criminal history and informed Smith that Paramore had a history of prior drug charges. Smith asked Paramore if he had ever been on probation, to which Paramore responded that he was on probation two years ago for marijuana.

         ¶11 At approximately 5:24 p.m., about twenty minutes after the stop was initiated, Smith exited the vehicle to call and request that Nicolas Ost, a border patrol agent and K-9 handler, bring his dog to assist in the investigation. As Smith was on the radio, Paramore opened the patrol car door. Smith interpreted this as Paramore's attempt to "listen to what [he] was doing." ...

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