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State of Idaho v. Valarie Lynn Posey

April 29, 2013

STATE OF IDAHO,
PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
VALARIE LYNN POSEY,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District, State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Hon. Carl B. Kerrick, District Judge. Hon. Barry E. Watson, Magistrate.

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

2013 Unpublished Opinion No. 468

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

THIS IS AN UNPUBLISHED OPINION AND SHALL NOT BE CITED AS AUTHORITY

Order of the district court, on appeal from the magistrate division, affirming judgment of conviction for excessive driving under the influence and failure to give immediate notice of an accident, affirmed.

Valarie Lynn Posey appeals from the district court's order, on intermediate appeal, affirming Posey's judgment of conviction for excessive driving under the influence (DUI) and failure to give immediate notice of an accident. Specifically, Posey challenges the magistrate's denial of her motion to suppress. For the reasons set forth below we affirm.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURE

On March 24, 2011, an officer was on duty when he received a call relating to an automobile accident. The officer responded to the scene of the crash and discovered a red car and a gray SUV with visible signs of damage. Upon inspection, the officer discovered the red car's front fender and door were damaged, the airbags had deployed, and the front left wheel was broken. The officer located a young girl, approximately age twelve, bleeding at the scene. However, the driver of the red car, later identified as Posey, was not present. Witnesses indicated Posey left the scene and headed westbound on foot. The officer then received additional information from dispatch, indicating that a witness (the reporting party) had followed Posey after she left the scene and called 911. The officer responded to the area where the reporting party had followed Posey to and the reporting party indicated to the officer that Posey entered a nearby house. The reporting party then directed the officer to that residence.

The officer approached the residence and knocked on the door several times. There was no answer, and the officer heard no movement or any voices inside. The officer then contacted dispatch in an attempt to get a phone number for the residence. The officer also requested contact with a supervisor to see whether he could force entry into the residence. At this point, the officer once again made contact with the reporting party, who indicated that Posey appeared to be "out of it" and was bleeding from the face. The party also indicated that, while Posey was still at the scene, she had attempted to start her car again, despite the crash and obvious damage. The reporting party then stopped Posey from doing so and took the keys away, at which point Posey left the scene and the reporting party followed.

The officer's supervisor thereafter approved the request to force entry into the residence. The officer attempted to kick the door open, but these attempts proved unsuccessful. Next, the officer observed the handle on the door begin to move, at which time the officer directed whoever was behind the door to step away. The officer then utilized a sledgehammer, obtained from fire department personnel at the scene, and successfully opened the door. Once open, the officer observed an elderly gentleman in the residence. The officer asked where Posey was located, and the gentleman indicated she was behind the door. The officer instructed Posey to come outside. Posey appeared dazed and confused and declined medical attention despite having a cut nose, cuts on her face, and a black eye.

The officer observed that Posey had the odor of intoxicants on her breath, and Posey indicated she had consumed beer at a bar. The officer placed Posey under arrest after she failed field sobriety tests. Posey was transported to a local medical center, where a blood sample revealed her blood alcohol content to be .34. The state charged Posey with excessive DUI, I.C. § 18-8004C; failure to purchase/invalid license, I.C. § 49-301(1); transporting an open alcohol container, I.C. § 23-505; and failure to give immediate notice of an accident, I.C. § 49-1305. Posey filed a motion to suppress, arguing the officer's entry into her residence violated her state and federal constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The magistrate ruled most exceptions to the warrant requirement were not applicable, but specifically addressed two. First, the magistrate indicated that, while exigent circumstances applied to an extent, the facts here did not necessarily meet the requirements for that exception.*fn1 The magistrate considered the community caretaker exception. The magistrate applied a totality of the circumstances test and found that the officer harbored a belief that the driver of the red car was in need of immediate assistance. In finding that the community caretaker exception applied, the magistrate did not address the distinction between vehicles and residences. The magistrate ruled that, while using a sledgehammer "is way at the end of what might be considered reasonable in going into somebody's house," it was reasonable under the circumstances. Thus, the magistrate denied the motion to suppress. Posey then entered a conditional guilty plea to DUI and failure to give immediate notice of an accident, reserving the right to challenge the magistrate's denial of her suppression motion on appeal. On intermediate appeal, the district court affirmed. Posey again 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. ...


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