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State of Idaho v. Misty Marie Buhler

November 27, 2012

STATE OF IDAHO,
PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
MISTY MARIE BUHLER,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Twin Falls County. Hon. Randy J. Stoker, District Judge.

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

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

THIS IS AN UNPUBLISHED OPINION AND SHALL NOT BE CITED AS AUTHORITY

Misty Marie Buhler appeals from the judgment entered upon her conditional guilty plea to possession of a controlled substance following the denial of her motion to suppress evidence. While investigating a possible store burglary, officers detained Buhler, asked for consent to search her car, and located methamphetamine during the search. Buhler filed a motion to suppress the evidence of methamphetamine, which the district court denied. Buhler appeals and asserts that the district court erroneously equated the absence of an express objection to the officer's request to search her car with consent to a search, and that any consent was invalid because it was the result of illegal police conduct. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

On May 29, 2010, at approximately 10:17 p.m., Officer Hayes was dispatched to check an alarm that had been triggered at a department store. After checking the store's front doors and loading dock and finding no forced entry, Officer Hayes began filling out a false-alarm report in his patrol vehicle. While doing so, Officer Hayes received a report that employees of a nearby store had seen people sitting in three cars parked near the side of the building for approximately forty-five minutes. Officer Hayes was aware of several recent burglaries in which department stores had been breached through the roof so he decided to investigate whether a similar burglary may have just occurred. Officer Hayes quickly located the three vehicles parked side-by-side in a poorly lit and otherwise vacant portion of the parking lot alongside the building.

When Officer Hayes approached the cars, Misty Buhler and Mike Wilson were sitting in Wilson's car, and Buhler's young child was asleep in Buhler's car parked to the side. Officer Hayes parked his patrol vehicle at an angle behind Wilson's and Buhler's cars, effectively blocking them in.*fn1 Officer Hayes then approached Wilson's car and spoke with Buhler, who was seated in the backseat. Another officer, Officer Sylvester, arrived shortly thereafter and began speaking with Wilson, who was seated in the driver's seat. Buhler explained to Officer Hayes that she and Wilson had been shopping at a nearby store earlier that evening, and showed the officer her shopping bags and receipts.

Officer Sylvester and Officer Hayes both testified that they began to suspect that Buhler and Wilson were involved in drug activity based on Wilson's nervousness, and because they found it unusual for the only passenger of the car to be seated in the backseat. Furthermore, both officers felt threatened when Wilson refused orders to keep his hands on the steering wheel and began to reach under his seat. Officer Sylvester ordered Wilson out of the vehicle and placed him in handcuffs, and then ordered Buhler out of the vehicle and placed her in handcuffs as well. Both Wilson and Buhler were frisked for weapons and asked to sit on the hood of Officer Hayes's vehicle. At that point, Wilson consented to a search of his vehicle, yielding the discovery of marijuana on the driver's seat floor and somewhere on the floor in the backseat where Buhler had been recently sitting. Officer Sylvester then asked Buhler whether he could search her car. Both officers testified that Buhler responded affirmatively to the request for consent, although neither could remember her precise response. Buhler testified that she told the officers that she was not "comfortable" with a search. Officer Sylvester searched Buhler's car, and discovered methamphetamine in a purse located in the center console. Officer Sylvester gave Buhler Miranda warnings and continued to question her, at which time Buhler claimed ownership of everything in her car.*fn2 Buhler was charged with possession of a controlled substance.

Buhler filed a suppression motion based on allegations that she did not consent to a search, and that even if she did consent, her consent was the fruit of illegal police conduct including an illegal detention, an illegal frisk, and Miranda violations. Following a hearing, the district court ruled that the officers had reasonable suspicion to justify the initial detention, that the detention was not unreasonably expanded when Buhler was removed from the vehicle, and that Buhler had consented to a search of her vehicle. The district court determined that Buhler's frisk was unjustified, but concluded that the evidence of methamphetamine need not be suppressed because it was not discovered as a result of the frisk. The district court also determined that the officers improperly interrogated Buhler before informing her of her Miranda rights. The district court granted Buhler's motion to suppress various unwarned statements, but denied Buhler's motion to suppress evidence of methamphetamine.

Buhler entered a conditional plea of guilty, and now appeals the district court's denial of her motion to suppress.

II. ANALYSIS

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. A warrantless search is presumptively unreasonable unless it falls within certain special and well-delineated exceptions to the warrant requirement. Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 454-55 (1971); State v. Ferreira, 133 Idaho 474, 479, 988 P.2d 700, 705 (Ct. App. 1999). A warrantless search may be permissible when conducted pursuant to an individual's consent. State v. Johnson, 110 Idaho 516, 522, 716 P.2d 1288, 1294 (1986); State v. Abeyta, 131 Idaho 704, 707, 963 P.2d 387, 390 (Ct. App. 1998). In such instances, the State has the burden of demonstrating consent by a preponderance of the evidence. State v. Kilby, 130 Idaho 747, 749, 947 P.2d 420, 422 (Ct. App. 1997). Consent to search may be in the form of words, gestures, or conduct. State v. Knapp, 120 Idaho 343, 348, 815 P.2d 1083, 1088 (Ct. App. 1991).

A. Consent

Buhler asserts that the district court found only that she did not expressly object to the search of her car, and in doing so, erroneously equated the absence of an objection to the search with consent to the search. We disagree with Buhler's characterization of the district court's findings. In Buhler's suppression motion and supporting affidavit, she asserted that her vehicle was searched "over her objection"; at the evidentiary hearing on her motion, she testified that she told the officers that she was not "comfortable" with a search. In contrast, both officers testified that Officer Sylvester asked Buhler for permission to search her car and that Buhler responded in the affirmative, although neither officer could remember her exact words. The record demonstrates that the district court first rejected Buhler's argument that she objected, finding "that she did not expressly refuse to allow a search of her car." The district court continued to find that "Buhler did consent to a search of her vehicle." Thus, Buhler's attempt to characterize the district court's rejection of her claim--that she affirmatively objected to the search--as the application of an incorrect legal standard is belied by the record; after rejecting Buhler's claim that she expressly objected to the search, the district court made a factual finding that Buhler consented. That finding was supported by substantial ...


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