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State v. Newman

April 19, 2010

STATE OF IDAHO, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
STEPHEN DONALD NEWMAN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Michael E. Wetherell, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Perry, Judge Pro Tem

2010 Opinion No. 29

Judgment of conviction for attempted rape, affirmed.

Stephen Donald Newman appeals from his judgment of conviction for attempted rape. Specifically, Newman challenges the district court's order denying his motion to suppress. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURE

The following facts were revealed through testimony at the suppression hearings and set forth by the district court in its order denying Newman's motion to suppress. Late one summer night, police were dispatched to a grocery store parking lot to investigate a report of suspicious activity at a nearby city park. The police were met at the parking lot by the victim and her husband, who had called the police after responding to an online advertisement for a free iPod. The victim told police that she received e-mails from the person posting the ad directing her to come to the park after dark to retrieve the free iPod from a portable restroom. Feeling suspicious, the victim and her husband went to the park to investigate and saw two cars parked near portable restrooms. After watching the vehicles for fifteen to twenty minutes, the victim and her husband called the police.

The officers examined e-mails provided by the victim and indicated they would investigate the situation and retrieve the iPod if they located it in the park. Once in the park, the officers observed a vehicle matching the description given by the victim still parked next to a portable restroom. The vehicle had tinted windows, making it difficult for the officers to see if anyone was sitting inside. The officers searched a portable restroom and did not find an iPod. One officer approached the vehicle and knocked on the passenger-side window. Newman, who was seated in the vehicle, rolled down the window. The officer immediately noticed that Newman was sweating and wearing a black stocking cap. The officer questioned Newman about why he was at the park after closing and why he was wearing a black stocking cap on a hot summer night. Newman responded that he had been working on his laptop computer in the park for over an hour and later planned to do some exercises in the park. The officer asked Newman to step out of the vehicle and, as he was doing so, Newman appeared to hide something behind his seat. The officer questioned Newman about what he put behind his seat. Newman did not answer. The officer then looked into the vehicle and saw what appeared to be a handgun. The officer also noticed a pair of black ski gloves and a laptop computer on the passenger side of the vehicle.

Newman was placed under arrest for being in the park after dark in violation of a city ordinance and for carrying a concealed weapon. Newman was handcuffed and placed on a nearby curb. The officers then performed a search of Newman's vehicle incident to his arrest. The officers seized a pellet gun hidden between two seats, a knife hidden under the pair of black ski gloves, some pieces of paper, a man's belt, and the laptop computer. The computer's contents were later searched pursuant to two search warrants. These searches revealed evidence linking Newman to the iPod advertisement and to the victim's e-mails as well as other evidence indicating that Newman planned to commit rape the night of his arrest.

Newman was charged with attempted rape. I.C. §§ 18-306, 18-6101(4). Newman filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of his arrest, asserting that the search of his car violated the Fourth Amendment. The district court denied the motion. After a jury trial, Newman was found guilty of attempted rape. He appeals, challenging the district court's denial of his motion to suppress.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

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 that 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).

III. ANALYSIS

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Warrantless searches are presumed to be unreasonable and therefore violative of the Fourth Amendment. State v. Weaver, 127 Idaho 288, 290, 900 P.2d 196, 198 (1995). The state may overcome this presumption by demonstrating that a warrantless search either fell within a well-recognized exception to the warrant requirement or was otherwise reasonable under the circumstances. Id. See also Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 1049-50 (1983) (officer safety exception applies to a search of an automobile's passenger compartment when an officer has reasonable suspicion that an individual is dangerous and might access the vehicle to gain immediate control of weapons); State v. Veneroso, 138 Idaho 925, 929, 71 P.3d 1072, 1076 (Ct. App. 2003) (automobile exception applies to a search of an automobile where officers have probable cause to believe that the automobile contains contraband or evidence of a crime); State v. McIntee, 124 Idaho 803, 804, 864 P.2d 641, 642 (Ct. App. 1993) (search incident to a valid arrest is an exception to the warrant requirement).

The officers in this case searched Newman's vehicle incident to his arrest for being in a city park after dark. On appeal, Newman argues that, in light of the United States Supreme Court's recent decision in Arizona v. Gant, ___ U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 1710 (2009), the search of Newman's vehicle incident to his arrest was unlawful. The state responds that, while Gant may apply in this case, the search of Newman's vehicle is still reasonable under either the automobile or officer safety exceptions to the warrant requirement.*fn1 The state also asserts that, if Gant renders this search incident to arrest unlawful, a good-faith exception should apply to the officers' conduct because Gant had not been decided at the time of the search. Finally, Newman replies ...


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