CHEYENNE – A Laramie County drug possession case is being appealed to the Wyoming Supreme Court for alleged Fourth Amendment violations.
In Kellon Christon Pryce v. State of Wyoming, the appeal centers around whether Laramie County District Judge Steven Sharpe correctly denied a motion to suppress evidence collected from Pryce during a traffic stop.
This case is set for oral arguments before the Supreme Court next Wednesday. The arguments will be held via video conference.
According to court documents:
Pryce is alleging the evidence collected – 121 pounds of marijuana and 415 ounces of THC oil – was collected against his Fourth Amendment rights that protect him from unreasonable search and seizure. Pryce was originally stopped for allegedly failing to use his turn signal while merging lanes.
During the traffic stop, Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers detained Pryce for “inconsistent travel plans and nervousness.”
A K9 arrived on scene and proceeded to do a “free air sniff” of the car, which was when the K9 alerted troopers it detected drugs. The troopers then searched the vehicle and discovered the marijuana.
Pryce was arrested and charged with possession with intent to deliver THC oil, possession with intent to deliver marijuana, felony possession of marijuana and felony possession of THC oil. A jury convicted him of felony possession of marijuana and felony possession of THC oil.
Pryce was sentenced to three to five years in prison for the two charges, to be served concurrently, and suspended for three years of probation.
Before his trial, Pryce entered a motion to suppress the evidence collected during the traffic stop, claiming troopers “detained him for the purpose of having a K9 unit arrive on scene after they had already gathered all the information they needed to issue a warning.”
In the motion hearing, Sharpe denied the request. Although during the hearing, the trooper admitted he had all the information necessary to issue a ticket, and the questions he asked Pryce and the passengers didn’t pertain to the stop.
The state argued the initial traffic stop was justified because Pryce committed a traffic violation. The officer had reasonable suspicion to continue to detain Pryce due to his nervousness and inconsistent travel plans he, and other passengers, told the trooper.
“Considering that Pryce’s nervous behavior was unusual and continuous, it was appropriate for Trooper (Joseph) Dellos and the district court judge to afford a higher weight to this behavior in a reasonable suspicion analysis,” the state’s appeal brief said.
The trooper said he detained Pryce 15 minutes more than was necessary to issue the warning to wait for the K9. Other than Pryce acting nervous and offering inconsistent travel plans, there weren’t any other suspicious factors indicating marijuana was in the car.
At trial, the trooper’s testimony was inconsistent with what he said at the evidence suppression hearing. The trooper said he requested the K9 because he smelled marijuana, but at the suppression hearing, he said he didn’t notice any marijuana smell.
“Here, the length necessary for the legitimate purpose of issuing the warning citation was exceeded,” Pryce’s appeal brief stated. “It is also clear that Trooper (Joseph) Dellos was asking unrelated questions about travel plans in order to prolong the stop until the K9 could arrive as he abruptly stopped the questioning about travel as soon as the dog arrived, and only then was typing the warning.”
Sharpe ultimately found the inconsistent travel plans and nervousness were reasonable reasons to prolong the detention due to the “scope” of the stop. He also found the vehicle search was reasonable considering the “totality of the circumstances,” so he denied Pryce’s motion, and that evidence was presented at Pryce’s trial.