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State of Idaho v. Arnoldo Rojas-Tapia

August 10, 2011

STATE OF IDAHO,
PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
ARNOLDO ROJAS-TAPIA, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Gooding County. Hon. John K. Butler, District Judge.

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

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

2011 Opinion No. 48

Judgment of conviction for trafficking in marijuana, affirmed.

Arnoldo Rojas-Tapia appeals from the judgment of conviction entered upon his conditional guilty plea to trafficking in marijuana. Specifically, Rojas-Tapia asserts the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

I.

FACTS AND PROCEDURE

In September 2009, Officer Scott Ward was executing a search warrant on premises in Gooding County, where it was believed a small marijuana grow was being conducted. Specifically, the search warrant was for a trailer on the premises identified as "Trailer B" and the property around that trailer. Officer Ward later testified that prior to execution of the warrant, officers did not know who lived at the residence or if the occupants had any weapons or dogs, but believed there to be at least two to three people living in the trailer.

When Officer Ward and others arrived to execute the warrant they saw a Hispanic male, later identified as Arnoldo Rojas-Tapia, outside Trailer B in a "garden area." While Officer Ward and another officer were "securing" Rojas-Tapia, they observed two other Hispanic males exiting what was described as a "rock building" on the premises, approximately ten yards from Trailer B. The two men were handcuffed, searched, and removed to the front of the house. According to Officer Ward's testimony, in order to "secure the scene" and ensure officer safety, several officers entered the rock building to "make sure there was nobody in it" and that no one would come out of the building brandishing a gun. Inside the rock building, officers noticed multiple drying marijuana plants. Officer Ward then obtained a search warrant for the rock building and the subsequent search uncovered approximately forty hanging marijuana plants, various other marijuana plant parts, and loose marijuana. The officers found additional marijuana and accompanying paraphernalia during a search of the areas covered by the original warrant.

Rojas-Tapia was charged with trafficking in marijuana, Idaho Code § 37-2732B(1), and failure to affix a tax stamp, I.C. § 63-4205. He filed a motion to suppress evidence, contending, among other things, that the search of the rock house had been unconstitutional. Following a hearing, the district court denied the motion to suppress. Rojas-Tapia entered a conditional guilty plea to trafficking in marijuana, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion.

II.

ANALYSIS

Rojas-Tapia contends that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress on the basis that the state failed to meet its burden to prove that officers reasonably believed there was a present threat to the officers in the rock building which justified their protective sweep of that building.

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. ...


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