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Harris v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

January 17, 2018

Bryan Harris, Appellant,
The State of Florida, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Daryl E. Trawick, Judge. Lower Tribunal No. 15-24324

          Carlos J. Martinez, Public Defender, and Natasha Baker-Bradley, Assistant Public Defender, for appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, and Kayla H. McNab, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Before SUAREZ, LAGOA, and SCALES, JJ.

          LAGOA, J.

         Appellant, Bryan Harris ("Harris"), appeals his final judgment of conviction and sentence, challenging the denial of his motion to suppress physical evidence from the warrantless search of his backpack following his arrest. Because the warrantless search was not valid as either a search incident to arrest or an automobile search, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.


         About 10:44 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day 2015, Miami Gardens Police Officers Blanco and Santiesteban were patrolling the residential area of N.W. 191st Street and 32nd Avenue in an unmarked vehicle. The area is known for dirt bikes being illegally driven on the streets.

         The officers heard the loud noise of such a dirt bike and observed Harris driving one in their direction. The dirt bike lacked headlights, taillights, turn signals, rearview mirrors, and a tag. Officer Santiesteban, the driver, conducted a U-turn and followed Harris. When Harris ran a red light, the officers activated their lights and siren in order to conduct a traffic stop of Harris. Harris attempted to drive away, but this ended quickly as Harris fell off the dirt bike. Officer Blanco, the passenger, then exited the unmarked police vehicle and arrested Harris for reckless driving and driving an unregistered vehicle. Officer Blanco removed a backpack from Harris's person, handcuffed Harris, and placed the backpack on the hood of the unmarked police vehicle. Officer Blanco then directed Harris, who was handcuffed, to sit on the grass approximately five feet from the officers' vehicle.

         In their attempt to identify Harris and the dirt bike, Officer Blanco asked Harris if he had any proof of ownership. Harris stated he had paperwork in his backpack and told Officer Blanco to look in the small front compartment of the backpack.[1] Officer Blanco admitted that upon opening the front compartment, he found paperwork for the dirt bike.[2] Officer Blanco further testified that Harris specifically told him not to open the main compartment of the backpack.[3] When Officer Blanco opened the smaller compartment, he smelled marijuana and, based on that smell, proceeded to search the remainder of the bag, eventually finding marijuana, oxycodone, and drug paraphernalia.

         Harris was subsequently charged with possession of marijuana, oxycodone, and drug paraphernalia. Harris filed a motion to suppress the physical evidence found within his backpack. At the two-day suppression hearing, the State presented the testimony of Officer Blanco and a portion of the deposition of Officer Santiesteban. The trial court denied the motion to suppress, finding that there was probable cause to stop Harris and that there was a valid search incident to arrest and determining the other presented arguments were either irrelevant or moot in light of the first two findings. Based on the trial court's ruling, Harris entered a plea of guilty and reserved his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. This appeal timely followed.


         In reviewing a trial court's ruling on motions to suppress, "appellate courts . . . accord a presumption of correctness . . . to the trial court's determination of historical facts, " but review de novo "mixed questions of law and fact that ultimately determine constitutional issues arising in the context of the Fourth . . . Amendment." Connor v. State, 803 So.2d 598, 608 (Fla. 2001). In considering the relevant case law, we are required "to adhere to the interpretations of the United States Supreme Court, " but are "not bound to follow the decisions of other federal courts." State v. Markus, 211 So.3d 894, 902 (Fla. 2017); accord Smallwood v. State, 113 So.3d 724, 730 (Fla. 2013). If no U.S. Supreme Court precedent is factually or legally on point, we may review "Florida state precedent, as well as other state and federal decisions for guidance on a search and seizure issue." Markus, 211 So.3d at 902.

         III. ANALYSIS

         On appeal, Harris challenges the trial court's determination that the search of his backpack was valid as a search incident to his arrest. In response, the State supports affirmance of the trial court's determination, and also argues, in the alternative, that Harris consented to the search of his backpack.

         A. Search Incident to Arrest

         Warrantless searches "'are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment-subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.'" Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 338 (2009) (quoting Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967)). Searches conducted incident to the arrest of a person are one such exception. See United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218, 224-25 (1973). However, as the Supreme Court has acknowledged, this exception has been applied inconsistently. See, e.g., Gant, 556 U.S. at 350 (noting the "checkered history of the search-incident-to-arrest exception"); Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, 755 (1969) ("The decisions of this Court bearing upon that question have been far from consistent, as even the most cursory review makes evident.").

         The State contends that the trial court was correct in finding that Officer Blanco's search of Harris's backpack was incident to arrest. First, the State argues that the backpack was a container within Harris's reach both at the time of his arrest and through the time of the search. See Chimel, 395 U.S. at 762-63. Second, the State argues that, as a container on Harris's person at the time of his arrest, the backpack was subject to search even if it was removed from Harris's reach. Robinson, 414 U.S. at 236. Third, the State argues that the backpack was searchable under the automobile exception as most recently iterated by Gant. Finally, the State argues that under the tipsy coachman doctrine this Court may affirm the trial court's ruling by finding that Harris consented to the search of the back pack. We address each argument in turn.

         1. Within Harris's Reach

         Modern jurisprudence delineating the search incident to arrest exception begins with Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752 (1969). In Chimel, the Court held that when an individual is arrested, the police officer may search the arrestee's person and the area within his immediate control, the latter being "the area from within which he might gain possession of a weapon or destructible evidence." Id. at 763. While the purpose of the exception is for officer safety and preservation of evidence, no showing that either exists is necessary for the search to fall within the ...

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