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Shannon v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

July 27, 2018

CORNELIUS SHANNON, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Manatee County; Hunter W. Carroll, Judge.

          Howard L. Dimmig, II, Public Defender, and Cynthia J. Dodge, Assistant Public Defender, Bartow, for Appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Jeffrey H. Siegal, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, for Appellee.

          MORRIS, Judge.

         Cornelius Shannon appeals his drug convictions, specifically challenging the denial of his dispositive motion to suppress. After his motion was denied, he entered into a negotiated plea agreement with the State, reserving his right to appeal the denial of the motion. He also challenges his judgment and sentence on count five, claiming that he did not enter a plea to that count.[1] We agree that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress and accordingly reverse his convictions, thus mooting his second issue on appeal.

         In a multicount information against three defendants, Shannon was charged with one count of trafficking in illegal drugs, four through fourteen grams; one count of possession of a controlled substance; one count of driving with a suspended or revoked license; and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia. Shannon filed a motion to suppress physical evidence seized during a search of his vehicle immediately prior to his arrest, arguing that his vehicle was not within the curtilage of the motel rooms that were the subject of the search warrants. He argued that the parking space did not meet the definition of curtilage set forth in United States v. Dunn, 480 U.S. 294 (1987).

         At the hearing on the motion to suppress, law enforcement officers with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office testified that they had been conducting surveillance of a motel in Bradenton, specifically rooms 120, 121, and 124. On two different dates, the officers sent a confidential informant into room 121, and the informant purchased heroin on both occasions. On a third occasion, October 9, 2015, the informant purchased heroin from room 124. On that date, law enforcement observed individuals going from room 120 to room 124, and they recognized two suspected drug dealers, neither of which were Shannon. The officers did not observe Shannon during their surveillance; he was not a target of the investigation, and he was not named in the warrant. The CI had not identified Shannon as the person who sold him drugs.

         Law enforcement had obtained search warrants that authorized the search of rooms 120, 121, and 124 of the motel, "its curtilage, any vehicles located within the curtilage, and any or all persons found therein, who [were] reasonably believed to be involved in the crime or crimes, for any and all controlled substances." Law enforcement executed the search warrants around 6:30 p.m. on October 9th. Members of the SWAT team arrived at the motel in an armored vehicle, and other officers arrived in their vehicles. The occupants of rooms 120, 121, and 124 were alerted that law enforcement were on their way, and the occupants began to exit the rooms and scatter. Shannon exited room 124 and traveled a few feet to his car, which was parked in the parking space in front of room 120. He carried something near his abdomen. He entered his car and tried to leave but was blocked in at the entrance by a law enforcement vehicle. He then reversed and drove around to the back of the motel, where he was again blocked in by law enforcement. Shannon exited his car with his hands up, lay on the ground, and threw his keys to the side toward the officers. After officers were informed that Shannon was observed leaving the motel room, Shannon's car was searched. In the passenger side of the car, an officer discovered a blue coffee can with a false bottom containing drugs.

         The State argued that Shannon's car was parked in the curtilage of the motel rooms and that the search of his car was therefore authorized by the warrants.

         The State also argued that law enforcement was permitted to search Shannon because he was leaving the location where a search warrant was being executed. The defense argued that the parking space did not meet the definition of curtilage. The trial court found that when Shannon exited room 120, it took him "about two-and-a-half, three seconds" to reach his vehicle parked in front of room 124 and that the hood of Shannon's vehicle was about three feet from the door of room 120. The trial court concluded that as a matter of law, a motel may have a curtilage and that in this case, Shannon's vehicle was in the curtilage of rooms 120, 121, and 124. The trial court found that even if the vehicle had left the curtilage, it had not left the motel and that under Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692 (1981), law enforcement was permitted to search Shannon's vehicle. The trial court denied his motion to suppress.

         Shannon then entered into a plea agreement with the State, whereby he agreed to plead no contest to the charges in counts three, six, and seven in exchange for a sentence of 108 months in prison on count three with a three-year minimum mandatory term. The parties agreed, and the trial court found, that the motion to suppress was dispositive, and Shannon reserved his right to appeal the denial of the motion as part of his plea agreement.

         On appeal, Shannon contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress because his vehicle was not in the curtilage of the motel rooms and therefore was not subject to search pursuant to the terms of the search warrants. He claims that the parking space in which his car was parked did not qualify as a curtilage under the definition set forth in Dunn.

         We review de novo the trial court's ruling that the parking space constituted a curtilage because the issue involves a legal conclusion. See State v. K.S., 28 So.3d 985, 987 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010) ("The trial court's 'determination of historical facts enjoys a presumption of correctness and is subject to reversal only if not supported by competent, substantial evidence in the record. However, the circuit court's determinations on mixed questions of law and fact and ...


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