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State of Idaho v. Raul Martinez-Gonzalez

January 3, 2012


Appeal from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Twin Falls County. Hon. G. Richard Bevan, District Judge.

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

2012 Opinion No. 1

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

Judgment of conviction for possession of a controlled substance, affirmed.

Raul Martinez-Gonzalez appeals from his judgment of conviction for possession of a controlled substance entered pursuant to a conditional guilty plea. Specifically, he challenges the district court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence and/or dismiss the information, arguing the officer lacked probable cause to support a warrantless arrest. For reasons set forth below, we affirm.



Martinez-Gonzalez was arrested in a privately-owned parking lot of an apartment complex, located in a primarily residential area. Called to the scene to investigate suspicious activity around the apartment complex's laundry facilities, police officers encountered Martinez-Gonzalez within the parking lot. He was in the driver's seat of a parked vehicle with two other passengers. When asked what they were doing by the officers, Martinez-Gonzalez said they were drinking in the vehicle because their spouses would get upset if they were drinking in the apartment, which was half a block away within the same complex. After observing open beer cans in both the front and back seats of the vehicle, taking note of Martinez-Gonzalez's slightly slurred speech and glassy eyes and detecting the odor of alcohol, the officers advised Martinez-Gonzalez, who had admitted to consuming alcohol, to walk home. Instead, Martinez-Gonzalez started the vehicle and drove across the parking lot towards apartment thirty-seven. The officers initiated a traffic stop in front of the apartment and asked Martinez-Gonzalez to perform field sobriety tests. Martinez-Gonzalez did not participate. One of the officers thereafter arrested Martinez-Gonzalez on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI).

During a search of Martinez-Gonzalez upon arriving at the jail, an officer discovered methamphetamine in his coat pocket. A breath test administered at that time revealed Martinez-Gonzalez had a blood alcohol content of .01, well below the legal limit of .08. Idaho Code § 18-8004(1)(a). Accordingly, the State did not charge Martinez-Gonzalez for DUI, but did charge one felony count of possession of a controlled substance. After the charge by information in district court, Martinez-Gonzalez made a motion to suppress or dismiss, asserting the evidence was obtained pursuant to an illegal traffic stop and arrest. Martinez-Gonzalez argued he was arrested under suspicion of DUI on private property not covered by the criminal statute*fn1 and the arresting officer did not have probable cause that Martinez-Gonzalez was under the influence of alcohol. He further argued the officer's mistakes regarding a lack of probable cause were not reasonable, requiring suppression of the evidence or dismissal. The district court rejected both arguments. The court first found the arresting officer's reasonable suspicion that Martinez-Gonzalez was under the influence of alcohol rose to probable cause after the attempts to administer field sobriety tests. Next, it found the parking lot was "private property open to the public" because it was distinguishable from a private residential driveway based on the following: those permitted on the property were not limited to a small, predetermined group; the tow-away sign did not purport to restrict access to the property; there were no physical barriers preventing access; and evidence showed the apartment complex contained numerous roadways, intersections, and the parking lot. The court, therefore, denied the motion. Martinez-Gonzalez entered a guilty plea to felony possession of a controlled substance, I.C. § 37-2732(c)(1), reserving the right to challenge the denial of his motion. Martinez-Gonzalez timely appeals.



A. 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 unless they are clearly erroneous, but we freely review the application of constitutional principles to the facts as found. State v. Willoughby, 147 Idaho 482, 485-86, 211 P.3d 91, 94-95 (2009); State v. Fees, 140 Idaho 81, 84, 90 P.3d 306, 309 (2004). 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).

This Court reviews a district court's decision on a motion to dismiss a criminal action for an abuse of discretion. State v. Dixon, 140 Idaho 301, 304, 92 P.3d 551, 554 (Ct. App. 2004); see Idaho Criminal Rule 48(a). When a trial court's discretionary decision is reviewed on appeal, the Court determines whether the lower court: (1) correctly perceived the issue as one of discretion; (2) acted within the boundaries of such discretion and consistently with any legal standards applicable to the specific choices before it; and (3) reached its decision by an exercise of reason. State v. Hedger 115 Idaho 598, 600, 768 P.2d 1331, 1333 (1989); State v. Pole, 139 Idaho 370, 372, 79 P.3d 729, 731 (Ct. App. 2003).

This case involves the second step of our abuse of discretion review, whether the district court applied the correct legal standards in regards to a constitutional question. When reviewing a finding of probable cause, we defer to the lower court's findings of facts that are supported by substantial evidence and review de novo whether those facts as found constitute probable cause. State v. Armbruster, 117 Idaho 19, 784 P.2d 349 (Ct. App. 1989), superseded by statute on other grounds, I.C. ยง ...

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