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State of Idaho v. Kurt A. Smith

December 7, 2011

STATE OF IDAHO, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
KURT A. SMITH,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District, State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Hon. Fred M. Gibler, District Judge.

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

2011 Opinion No. 71

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

Judgment of conviction for trafficking in marijuana in excess of one pound, affirmed.

Kurt A. Smith appeals from his judgment of conviction for trafficking in marijuana in excess of one pound. Specifically, Smith challenges the district court's order denying his motion to suppress. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

I.

FACTS AND PROCEDURE

A police officer responding to a domestic dispute learned that the suspect had fled the scene on foot into a sparsely-populated, wooded area. While the officer was searching for the suspect, he came across a car parked in a large pull-out area at the end of a road. When the officer flashed his spotlight toward the car, a man later identified to be Smith exited and walked toward the officer's patrol car. As Smith approached, the officer ascertained that Smith did not match the description of the domestic violence suspect. The officer began conversing with Smith about whether he had seen the domestic violence suspect and eventually asked Smith for identification. Smith agreed to give the officer his identification, but stated that it was in his car. The officer followed Smith as he returned to his car to get his identification. Smith got into the driver's side door, while the officer walked to the passenger side. The officer looked through the window and saw a marijuana pipe sitting on the front seat of the car. The officer asked Smith how much marijuana was in the car. Smith grabbed the pipe and stated that it was the only illegal thing in the vehicle.

Smith had a large dog in the back of the car that was growling at the officer. The officer asked Smith to remove and restrain the dog so that he could search the interior of the car. Smith grabbed a backpack from the car and used its straps to take the dog from the car. The officer, who noticed the car was filled with camping gear, asked Smith if he had anything else that he could use to restrain his dog, but Smith ignored his question and continued to use the backpack. With the dog restrained, the officer proceeded to search the vehicle. On the passenger seat, he found a zippered case which contained a tin with a small amount of marijuana inside. The officer then told Smith to place the dog back into the vehicle. Smith put the dog back in the car but continued to clutch the backpack. The officer asked Smith why he was so attached to the backpack and, when Smith did not respond, the officer asked Smith to hand over the backpack. The backpack was partially open and the officer found a square object wrapped in duct tape inside. When the officer asked Smith what the object contained, Smith told the officer to open it and find out. The object contained marijuana and the officer found additional marijuana elsewhere in the backpack.

Smith was charged with trafficking in marijuana in excess of one pound, I.C. § 37- 2732B(a)(1)(A), and possession of drug paraphernalia, I.C. § 37-2734A(1). Smith filed a motion to suppress the evidence found in the backpack, arguing the warrantless search was unlawful. After a hearing, the district court denied Smith's motion to suppress. The district court found that the officer had probable cause to arrest Smith at the time of the search and, therefore, the search was justified as a search incident to arrest. Smith was found guilty by a jury of both counts and was sentenced to a unified term of six years, with a minimum period of confinement of one and a half years, for trafficking in marijuana in excess of one pound and a concurrent term of 180 days for possession of drug paraphernalia. Smith appeals, challenging the denial of his motion to suppress as to his judgment of conviction for trafficking in marijuana in excess of one pound.

II.

ANALYSIS

Smith argues that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress. Specifically, Smith asserts that the search of the backpack violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures because the officer did not have a warrant for the search and the search did not fall into any exception to the warrant requirement. 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).

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. Search of a vehicle incident to lawful arrest is among the well- recognized exceptions to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, 762-63 (1969); State v. McIntee, 124 Idaho 803, 804, 864 P.2d 641, 642 (Ct. App. 1993). However, authorities may only search a vehicle incident to arrest when it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the crime of arrest or when the arrestee is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the ...


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