CRIMINAL PROCEDURE – Search and seizure, warrantless automobile search, Miranda warnings: Larry McCloud v. Commonwealth of Kentucky (SC 6/25/2009)

Larry McCloud v. Commonwealth of Kentucky
2008-SC-000263-MR June 25, 2009
Opinion by Chief Justice Minton. All sitting; all concur.

McCloud was arrested after a police officer conducting undercover surveillance observed him holding a rock of crack cocaine while sitting in the driver seat of a parked automobile. The officer conducted warrantless searches of McCloud’s person and the vehicle. The search of McCloud uncovered crack and powder cocaine. The search of the vehicle yielded a loaded handgun, powder cocaine, marijuana, a safe containing $6,450 and scales. McCloud was convicted of multiple charges. On appeal, McCloud argued that the trial court erred by denying his motions to suppress both searches. The Court affirmed the conviction, holding that the search of McCloud’s person was proper under the exception for searches incident to a lawful arrest. The arrest was lawful since the officer had probable cause to believe McCloud had committed a felony in his presence. The Court discussed the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gant, where the exception for warrantless vehicle searches incident to a recent occupant’s arrest was narrowed to instances where the arrestee is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search or it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of the arrest. The Court held that the search was lawful under Gant since under the circumstances it was reasonable to believe the vehicle contained evidence relating to McCloud’s arrest for possession or trafficking in drugs.

The Court also concluded that McCloud’s claims that he was not adequately advised of his Miranda rights were not supported by the evidence in record. The Court rejected McCloud’s claim that the trial court abused its discretion by permitting opinion testimony from a police detective regarding details of the drug trade, noting that it had approved of similar testimony both before and after Daubert. Lastly, the Court rejected McCloud’s argument that he was entitled to a directed verdict on the firearms possession enhancements because there was no evidence of a nexus between the firearm found beneath the seat and the drug charges against him. The Court cited case law stating that constructive possession of a firearm in close proximity to possession of narcotics is sufficient to create a jury question on whether the firearm was possessed in furtherance of drug dealing.

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