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State of Idaho v. Christopher Homer Randle

February 6, 2012

STATE OF IDAHO, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
CHRISTOPHER HOMER RANDLE,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District, State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Hon. John P. Luster, District Judge.

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

2012 Opinion No. 6

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

Judgment of conviction for felony driving under the influence, affirmed.

Christopher Homer Randle appeals from his judgment of conviction for felony driving while under the influence of alcohol (DUI). Specifically, Randle challenges the district court's order denying his motion to suppress evidence. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

I.

FACTS AND PROCEDURE

At approximately 11:30 in the evening on January 4, 2010, an officer noticed Randle's vehicle alone in a parking lot with its front-end abutting a grassy knoll. The officer parked his patrol car approximately two car lengths behind Randle. The officer left his headlights on and approached the driver's side of Randle's vehicle. As he approached, the officer noticed that the engine of Randle's vehicle was running. The officer knocked on Randle's window and Randle opened his door. When Randle opened his door, the officer noticed two open beer cans located in a cup holder between the passenger and driver seats. The beer can mouths were pointed in the direction of the driver and the passenger, respectively. In response to the officer's question, the passenger in Randle's vehicle claimed that both beers were hers. The officer then asked Randle for his driver's license. The officer noticed that Randle struggled to get his driver's license out of his wallet and that Randle's eyes were glassy and bloodshot. The officer detected an odor of alcohol on Randle's breath. The officer asked Randle to step out of the vehicle and inquired again about the open beer cans. Randle initially claimed that he had not been drinking and that both beers belonged to his passenger. However, when the officer confronted Randle about the way the mouths of the beer cans were pointed, Randle admitted that one of the beers was his and that he had been drinking that evening. The officer conducted field sobriety tests, which Randle failed.

Randle was charged with felony DUI. I.C. §§ 18-8004, 18-8005(5). Randle filed a motion to suppress, arguing that all of the evidence gathered against him must be suppressed because the officer seized Randle without reasonable suspicion when the officer parked behind Randle's vehicle in the parking lot, left the patrol car's headlights on, approached Randle's vehicle, and knocked on the window. The district court determined that this encounter was consensual and, therefore, Randle was not seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, the district court denied Randle's motion to suppress. Randle then entered an Idaho Criminal Rule 11 conditional guilty plea to felony DUI and reserved the right to appeal the district court's order denying his motion to suppress. Randle appeals.

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).

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and its counterpart, Article I, Section 17 of the Idaho Constitution, guarantee the right of every citizen to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. However, not all encounters between the police and citizens involve the seizure of a person. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 n.16 (1968); State v. Jordan, 122 Idaho 771, 772, 839 P.2d 38, 39 (Ct. App. 1992). For example, a seizure does not occur simply because a police officer approaches an individual on the street or other public place and asks if the individual is willing to answer some questions or puts forth questions if the individual is willing to listen. Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 434 (1991); Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 497 (1983). Further, even when officers have no basis for suspecting a particular individual, they may generally ask the individual questions and ask to examine identification. State v. Fry, 122 Idaho 100, 102, 831 P.2d 942, 944 (Ct. App. 1991). So long as police do not convey a message that compliance with their requests is required, the encounter is deemed consensual and no reasonable suspicion is required. Id. Only when an officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, restrains the liberty of a citizen may a court conclude that a seizure has occurred. Id. Importantly, the critical inquiry is whether, taking into account all of the circumstances surrounding the encounter, the police conduct would have communicated to a reasonable person that he or she was not at liberty to ignore the police presence and go about his or her business. Bostick, 501 U.S. at 436.

The United States Supreme Court, in United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554 (1980), stated:

Examples of circumstances that might indicate seizure, even where the person did not attempt to leave, would be the threatening presence of several officers, the display of a weapon by an officer, some physical touching of the person of the citizen, or the use of language or tone of voice indicating that compliance with the officer's request might be compelled.

Other circumstances that may indicate a seizure include whether an officer used overhead emergency lights or took action to block a vehicle's exit route. State v. Willoughby, 147 Idaho 482, 487-88, 211 P.3d 91, 96-97 (2009); State v. Schmidt, 137 Idaho 301, 302-03, 47 P.3d ...


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