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State v. Breese

Court of Appeals of Idaho

August 23, 2016

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
SPENCER NEWELL BREESE, Defendant-Appellant.

         2016 Opinion No. 56

         Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Steven J. Hippler, District Judge.

         Judgment of conviction for trafficking in marijuana, affirmed.

          Eric D. Fredericksen, Interim State Appellate Public Defender; Andrea W. Reynolds, Deputy Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for appellant. Andrea W. Reynolds argued.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General; Jessica M. Lorello, Deputy Attorney General, Boise, for respondent. Jessica M. Lorello argued.

          MELANSON, Chief Judge

         Spencer Newell Breese appeals from his judgment of conviction entered upon his conditional guilty plea to trafficking in marijuana. Specifically, Breese argues that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence found in Breese's backpack. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.



         Breese was traveling aboard a common carrier bus from Portland, Oregon, to Salt Lake City, Utah, when the bus made a scheduled stop in Boise. An employee of the bus company began rearranging passenger luggage in the bus's luggage compartment and detected a strong odor of marijuana emanating from a backpack. The employee locked the backpack in the compartment and contacted law enforcement. Upon an officer's arrival, the employee explained his suspicion that the backpack contained an illegal substance. The employee indicated that he had a right to search the backpack under his company's published policy and wanted the officer to witness the search. Standing outside the compartment, the officer leaned forward in an effort to detect the odor of marijuana but indicated that he could not smell the odor. However, the employee confirmed that he could still detect the odor, removed the backpack from the luggage compartment, and searched it. The employee extracted three bags of a substance believed to be marijuana from the backpack. The officer directed that the three bags be returned to the backpack. The backpack had a tag on it identifying Breese as its owner. Breese was called to the area and he confirmed that the backpack was his. During the ensuing discussion about the contents of the backpack, Breese acknowledged that the substance was marijuana.

         Breese was charged with one count of trafficking in marijuana. I.C. § 37-2732B(a)(1). Breese filed a motion to suppress the marijuana, arguing that the search of the backpack was unlawful under the Fourth Amendment. Following a hearing, the district court denied Breese's motion, finding that at no time did the officer instruct the employee, touch the backpack, or physically enter the bus's luggage compartment. The district court also found that the employee had a legitimate independent motivation for conducting the search of Breese's backpack. Consequently, the district court concluded that the Fourth Amendment was not implicated because the employee was not an agent of the government at the time of the search, and thus the marijuana was not suppressible under the exclusionary rule. Alternatively, the district court also held that, even if the search was governmental, the search fell within the automobile exception to the warrant requirement and was supported by probable cause. Breese entered a conditional guilty plea. The district court sentenced Breese to a determinate term of one year of confinement. Breese appeals.



         Breese argues that the search of the backpack was an illegal search and that the evidence found during the search should have been suppressed. 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. It is well established that evidence obtained through a private search, even if wrongfully conducted, is not excludable under the Fourth Amendment unless government officials instigated the search or otherwise participated in a wrongful search. United States v. Jacobsen,466 U.S. 109, 113-14 (1984); State v. Pontier,103 Idaho 91, 94, 645 P.2d 325, 328 (1982); State v. Kopsa,126 Idaho 512, 517, 887 P.2d 57, 62 (Ct. App. 1994). However, where a private party acts as an agent of the State in effecting a search, Fourth Amendment protections are implicated. United States v. Walther,652 F.2d 788, 791 (9th Cir. 1981); Kopsa, 126 Idaho at ...

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