Criminal: GARCIA V. COMMONWEALTH (COA; 2/24/2006)

CRIMINAL – Trafficking in marijuana; search and seizure
DATE: 2/24/2006

This opinion disposes of the combined appeals from Garcia and his co-defendant, Letkeman, regarding their convictions for Trafficking in Marijuana.  A state trooper observed Garcia driving a van on I-64.  Letkeman was in the front passenger seat.  After the van quickly moved to the slow lane, the trooper pulled next to it.  Garcia appeared to be nervous, had a "death grip" on the steering wheel, and avoided making eye contact with the trooper.  There appeared to be cracks in the vehicle’s windshield which the trooper thought would impair Garcia’s vision.  The trooper initiated a traffic stop and cited Garcia for violating KRS 189.110.  Garcia then allowed the officer to search the van.  Ten bricks of marijuana were found.  Garcia and Letkeman entered conditional guilty pleas that reserved their rights to appeal the trial court’s denial of their motions to suppress.  CA held that having a cracked windshield did not violate KRS 189.110 but that it might violate KRS 189.020 (i.e. severe windshield cracks would obstruct a driver’s vision and pose a risk of harm to other motorists).  However, the record revealed that Garcia’s van had only minor cracks.  Also, Garcia’s nervous behavior, in and of itself, was not sufficient to constitute "reasonable suspicion" to justify a Terry stop.  Therefore, the TC erroneously denied Garcia’s motion to suppress.  Letkeman’s motion to suppress, however, was properly denied as he lacked standing to challenge the propriety of the vehicle search.    

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