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May v. State

Florida Court of Appeal, Fourth District

January 11, 2012

Melissa Lee MAY, Appellant,
STATE of Florida, Appellee.

Page 832

Carey Haughwout, Public Defender, and Alan T. Lipson, Assistant Public Defender, West Palm Beach, for appellant.

Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Don M. Rogers, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for appellee.


Melissa Lee May entered a plea of no contest to two counts of withholding information regarding previous prescriptions from a practitioner (commonly known as doctor shopping) and a separate violation of probation, reserving her right to appeal the denial of her motion to suppress. May claims the trial court erred in denying the motion because the officer who conducted the traffic stop, which resulted in May's arrest, lacked reasonable suspicion to stop

Page 833

the vehicle in which she was traveling. We affirm.

A detective of the Hollywood Police Department assigned to work with a DEA unit was conducting surveillance in the parking lot of a pain clinic under investigation by the DEA. At that time the detective had at least three and a half years of training and experience conducting investigations of " pharmaceutical crimes." The detective observed May along with a co-defendant exit the front door of the clinic. She did not see either person carrying anything at that time.

The co-defendant got into the front passenger seat and May got into the rear passenger seat of a waiting vehicle driven by a third person. The vehicle pulled out of the parking lot and drove away, and the detective followed. Eventually, the detective pulled alongside the vehicle and observed an amber prescription bottle being passed from the front center console area to the rear where May was seated.[1] The detective then made contact with another officer, who effectuated a traffic stop for a brake light violation.[2] The State stipulated at the suppression hearing that the traffic stop for a brake light violation was not valid. Although the vehicle was stopped for a brake light violation, the violation was not technically sufficient for a ticket to be issued.[3] Thus, the State agreed the issue to be litigated at the suppression hearing was the validity of an investigatory stop.

In addition to the above facts, at the suppression hearing the detective testified that from her training and experience, a lot of narcotics violations by hand-to-hand transactions or " sharing of pills" typically occur in the parking lots of pain clinics. She also testified that the pain clinic under investigation was a " cash only" operation, which is the situation with a majority of pain clinics. She further testified that it is common to observe people leaving pain clinics engage in conduct she referred to as " sharing of pills," in which people " divvy up the proceeds of what they received from the doctor." She explained that often the drugs obtained by the patient leaving the pain clinic are given to the driver of the vehicle as payment for driving the patient to the clinic. Frequently, the situation is a " sponsorship" arrangement whereby a person in the vehicle supplies the cash to purchase the drugs. In return, for supplying the cash, the sponsor is given some of the drugs. The detective also testified: " But the fact that the pill bottle goes around was suspicious, especially working diversion cases and these types of crimes, people don't share their prescription bottle."

The detective was the only witness to testify at the suppression hearing. The trial court found that the detective's testimony was credible and the officer had reasonable suspicion to make an investigatory stop. The motion to suppress was denied.

May relies primarily on Benemerito v. State, 29 So.3d 367 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010), for reversal. In that case, an experienced narcotics officer was conducting

Page 834

surveillance of a Walgreens parking lot in which a number of drug arrests previously had been made. A truck entered the lot, and then the defendant drove into the lot and parked beside the truck. The driver of the truck entered the back seat of the defendant's vehicle, extended his hand toward the driver, exited the vehicle, and drove off. The officer could not see what was in the defendant's hand, but nonetheless stopped the defendant on the suspicion that he had purchased drugs.

The circuit court denied the motion to suppress the evidence resulting from the stop. Id. at 368. This court reversed because the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant. The officer " witnessed only silhouettes in a car and the movement of one person's arm ... [h]e ... did not see any drugs or money." Id. at 370. May points out that in this case, the detective did not see any drugs or money. Although the detective saw a prescription bottle change hands, May argues the ...

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