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Jones v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

December 27, 2019

ERIC CHERRON JONES
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

          FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF HAMPTON Christopher W. Hutton, Judge [1]

          David W. Anderson, II, Assistant Public Defender, for appellant.

          Virginia B. Theisen, Senior Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

          Present: Judges Humphreys, Huff and At Lee Argued at Norfolk, Virginia

          OPINION

          RICHARD Y. ATLEE, JR. JUDGE

         Eric Cherron Jones appeals his conviction of possession of cocaine in violation of Code § 18.2-250. On appeal, he argues that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress because the traffic stop leading to his arrest was "conducted without any reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or any violation of traffic laws." We agree.

         I. Background

         Officer Brown of the Hampton City Police Department observed Jones driving a car in Hampton. As Jones approached an intersection, he activated his turn signal and changed lanes, crossing over a single, solid white line immediately before the intersection. The officer turned on his lights and initiated a traffic stop. A camera in the police car recorded Jones' lane change.

         When the officer approached the car, he observed marijuana in plain view inside the car. He then searched Jones and discovered cocaine in Jones' pocket. Jones was indicted for possession of cocaine.

         Before his trial, Jones moved to suppress the cocaine, arguing that crossing the single, solid white line immediately before the intersection was not a violation of the law and thus the initial traffic stop was not legal under the Fourth Amendment. Because the lane change did not violate the law, Jones argued that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop him, and therefore, the traffic stop violated the Fourth Amendment and the evidence should be suppressed.

         The trial court held a hearing on the motion. The officer who pulled Jones over, Officer Brown, was a twelve-year veteran of the police force. He testified that, because of his training, he believed that crossing a single, solid white line immediately before an intersection was a traffic violation. The Commonwealth acknowledged that it was not, but it argued that the mistake was a reasonable mistake of law under Heien v. North Carolina, 574 U.S. 54 (2014), and that suppression was not required.

         The trial court found that "it's pretty clear that [crossing the solid white line] is not a violation." Nonetheless, the trial court determined that the issue was whether the exclusionary rule applied. It concluded that, under the existing Supreme Court case law, it did not. Therefore, the trial court denied the motion to suppress.

         The trial court held a second hearing after Jones filed a motion to reconsider. Jones argued in his motion that under Heien v. North Carolina, the question is whether the mistake of law was reasonable and submitted that the officer's mistake here was not because there was no statutory ambiguity that would justify such a mistake. The trial court ruled that it would not change its mind or revisit its original ruling.

         Jones then entered a conditional guilty plea, which allowed him to appeal the denial of the motion to suppress. The trial court sentenced Jones to a term of five years with ...


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