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State v. Downing

Supreme Court of Idaho

December 22, 2017

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
JASON SCOTT DOWNING, Defendant-Appellant.

         2017 Opinion No. 134

         Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Lynn G. Norton, District Judge.

         The district court's judgment of conviction is vacated.

          Barnum Howell & Gunn, PLLC, Boise, for appellant. Randall S. Barnum argued.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for respondent. Kale D. Gans argued.

          BRODY, JUSTICE

         This is a Fourth Amendment suppression case stemming from a search of a probationer's residence while additional visitors were present. The probation officers temporarily detained the visitors while conducting an initial search of the home to secure the remaining occupant. During this initial search, the searching officer observed drug paraphernalia in the garage, and the probation officers further detained the visitors until an investigative officer arrived. The investigative officer performed a pat-search on Downing, one of the visitors, which led to the discovery of drugs on his person. The officer further questioned him, which led to admissions of drug use that day. Downing sought to suppress all evidence obtained against him that day as derived from both an unlawful seizure and search. The district court denied his motion to suppress the drugs and admissions to the investigative officer. The district court's decision was erroneous. We vacate the judgment of conviction.


         On the night of October 6, 2015, Ada County Probation and Parole Officers Hurst and Severson conducted a residence verification on probationer James Cook. Cook had waived his Fourth Amendment right to contest a search of his person or premises as a condition of his probation. Appellant Jason Downing was at Cook's house at the time of this verification. The probation officers knocked on the door when they arrived, and Downing answered the door and allowed the officers into the house.

         The probation officers saw Cook apparently hiding behind the couch in the entry room, and asked both Downing and Cook to sit on the couch with their hands visible. Either Downing or Cook informed the parole officers that a third person was also in the house. Officer Hurst remained in the front room while Officer Severson secured the house. This initial search took less than five minutes. During this search, Cook's behavior spiraled downward and became erratic. Downing stood up from the couch and started walking in the direction of the door. Officer Hurst asked him to sit back down with his hands visible. Officer Severson's search turned up the third individual in the house, as well as visible drug paraphernalia in the garage. The officers then called for assistance from the Boise Police Department, which the dispatch log showed was entered at 7:49 p.m. Before backup arrived, and without providing a Miranda warning, one of the probation officers asked Downing whether he had been smoking methamphetamine in the garage, and Downing answered that he had.

         Boise Police Officer Holtry arrived on the scene at 8:06 p.m, seventeen minutes after the dispatch log recorded the probation officers' call for backup. Officer Holtry arrived to find Cook handcuffed, and the two other occupants sitting on the couch. Officer Hurst provided Officer Holtry a brief update regarding the events leading up to that point. At the suppression hearing, Officer Holtry testified about his recollection of the scene upon arriving:

Well, my main concern is being by myself. I didn't know who was who, who was where, who was doing what. The fact that I was advised that when they initially knocked on the door, the one offender had tried to conceal himself behind a couch. He was trying to hide. I didn't know who anybody was on the scene or what their involvement was, so just initially is to just sort of secure things and assign safety assessment, and make sure everybody's contained in one area and nobody has any weapons or anything like that on them.

         Officer Holtry testified that he asked the probation officers if anyone had been pat-searched prior to his arrival, and they told him no. He then read Downing his Miranda rights, and subsequently performed a pat-search on him. During Officer Holtry's pat-search of Downing, he did not find any weapons. However, he did feel an object in his pocket. Officer Holtry asked Downing what the object was, and Downing replied that it was methamphetamine. Officer Holtry removed the object-a small nylon bag containing methamphetamine-from his pocket. Shortly thereafter, Officer Holtry questioned Downing about the methamphetamine found in his pocket and his actions that day. Downing told him they had smoked methamphetamine, and that he had placed the bag in his pocket when he went to open the door. He then placed Downing under arrest for frequenting and possession.

         Downing filed a motion to suppress "any and all evidence seized from the defendant, and statements made by him" that evening. After a hearing in which Downing, Officer Hurst, and Officer Holtry testified, the district court granted the motion to suppress the pre-Miranda statements Downing made to the probation officers, but denied it as to ...

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