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State v. Ashworth

March 1, 2010


Appeal from the District Court of the Second Judicial District, State of Idaho, Clearwater County. Hon. John H. Bradbury, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gutierrez, Judge

2010 Opinion No. 13

Order granting motion to suppress evidence, reversed.

The state appeals from the district court‟s order granting Larry J. Ashworth‟s motion to suppress evidence. For the reasons set forth below, we reverse.


Deputy Dustin Pulley received a call from dispatch saying that Ashworth‟s neighbor had reported hearing two gunshots coming from inside Ashworth‟s residence. Ashworth‟s neighbor called back a few minutes later, stating that Ashworth had left his residence driving a blue truck and was intoxicated and heading to an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting being held at the Weippe Senior Center.

Deputy Pulley and Detective Mitch Jared located a truck matching the neighbor‟s description in the parking lot of the senior center. They knocked on the door of the center, and the AA meeting leader responded. The officers inquired as to Ashworth and the AA meeting leader informed them that Ashworth was "four sheets to the wind, and really drunk," but assured them that everything was "under control" and that the AA group could "handle this." Detective Jared instructed the AA meeting leader to step aside, and the officers entered the building. After questioning Ashworth, they instructed him to follow them outside.

Once outside, Ashworth admitted that he had been drinking and had driven to the senior center. In addition, he smelled strongly of alcohol, had unsure balance and slurred speech, and failed several field sobriety tests administered by the officers. He was arrested for driving under the influence, Idaho Code § 18-8004, and ultimately tested well over the legal limit after breath alcohol tests were administered.*fn1

Due to the fact that he had received a prior DUI conviction and his alcohol concentration had been in excess of.20, Ashworth was charged with felony DUI, I.C. § 18-8004C. He moved to suppress all evidence arising from his detention, arguing that the officers did not possess reasonable, articulable suspicion that he had committed a crime such that their investigatory stop of him, leading to his seizure, was justified. After a hearing, the district court granted the motion, finding that Ashworth possessed a reasonable expectation of privacy in the AA meeting at the senior center and that while reasonable suspicion to detain Ashworth was present, the officers did not have probable cause to believe that he had acted in contravention of the DUI statute, and therefore, no exigency justified entry by the officers into the senior center. The state now appeals the court‟s grant of Ashworth‟s motion to suppress.


The state argues that the district court erred in granting Ashworth‟s motion to suppress, specifically contending that Ashworth did not possess a reasonable expectation of privacy while he attended the AA meeting at the senior center and therefore, there was no police infringement on his Fourth Amendment rights. The state also contends that even if there existed a reasonable expectation of privacy, the officers‟ entry was justified by exigent circumstances. Since we conclude that the first issue is dispositive, we do not reach the second.

The standard of review of a suppression motion is bifurcated. When a decision on a motion to suppress is challenged, we accept the trial court‟s findings of fact which are supported by substantial evidence, but we freely review the application of constitutional principles to the facts as found. State v. Atkinson, 128 Idaho 559, 561, 916 P.2d 1284, 1286 (Ct. App. 1996). At a suppression hearing, the power to assess the credibility of witnesses, resolve factual conflicts, weigh evidence, and draw factual inferences is vested in the trial court. State v. Valdez-Molina, 127 Idaho 102, 106, 897 P.2d 993, 997 (1995); State v. Schevers, 132 Idaho 786, 789, 979 P.2d 659, 662 (Ct. App. 1999).

The Fourth Amendment, as well as the Idaho Constitution, require that all searches and seizures be reasonable. City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32, 37 (2000); State v. Metzger, 144 Idaho 397, 399, 162 P.3d 776, 778 (Ct. App. 2007); State v. Murphy, 129 Idaho 861, 863, 934 P.2d 34, 36 (Ct. App. 1997). Warrantless searches and seizures are considered unreasonable per se unless they come within one of the few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions to the warrant requirement. California v. Acevedo, 500 U.S. 565, 580 (1991); State v. Henderson, 114 Idaho 293, 295, 756 P.2d 1057, 1059 (1988); Metzger, 144 Idaho at 399, 162 P.3d at 778. However, such constitutional protections apply only to a person‟s reasonable expectation of privacy--one which the party subjectively held and which society is willing to recognize as reasonable. State v. Christensen, 131 Idaho 143, 146, 953 P.2d 583, 586 (1998); Metzger, 144 Idaho at 399, 162 P.3d at 778; State v. Morris, 131 Idaho 562, 565, 961 P.2d 653, 656 (Ct. App. 1998). Therefore, a Fourth Amendment analysis involves a determination of whether the defendant had an actual, subjective expectation of privacy and, if so, whether the defendant‟s expectation of privacy, when viewed objectively, was reasonable under the circumstances. State v. Wilkins, 125 Idaho 215, 222, 868 P.2d 1231, 1238 (1994); State v. Fancher, 145 Idaho 832, 837, 186 P.3d 688, 693 (Ct. App. 2008). An expectation of privacy is objectively reasonable when it is legitimate, justifiable, and one society should both recognize and protect. Fancher, 145 Idaho at 837, 186 P.3d at 693; State v. Johnson, 126 Idaho 859, 862, 893 P.2d 806, 809 (Ct. App. 1995). Such expectation of privacy must be more than a subjective expectation of not being discovered. Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 143 n.12 (1978); Fancher, 145 Idaho at 837, 186 P.3d at 693; State v. Spencer, 139 Idaho 736, 738-39, 85 P.3d 1135, 1137-38 (Ct. App. 2004). The burden is on the defendant to prove the existence of a legitimate expectation of privacy. Fancher, 145 Idaho at 837, 186 P.3d at 693; State v. Dreier, 139 Idaho 246, 251, 76 P.3d 990, 995 (Ct. App. 2003).

It is generally recognized that the public or private nature of an individual‟s location is an important factor in making the determination of whether an individual possessed a reasonable expectation of privacy at the time of the alleged governmental search or seizure. Katz v United States, 389 US 347, 351 (1967). However, the nature of a location will not show conclusively whether there was a reasonable expectation of privacy. Id. This is so because while courts have treated dwellings as "the area most resolutely protected by the Fourth Amendment" and, on the other end of the spectrum, have generally concluded that one does not have a reasonable privacy expectation in "public" areas, a reasonable expectation of privacy may exist in certain private areas within public places such as rest rooms and fitting rooms, and an expectation of privacy may not be reasonable on certain "private" premises, such as areas of residential premises where there exists an implied invitation for the general public to utilize for access, see State v. Reyna, ...

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