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State v. Fairchild

Court of Appeals of Idaho

March 7, 2018

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
TAYLOR JAMES FAIRCHILD, Defendant-Respondent.

         2018 Opinion No. 10

         Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District, State of Idaho, Canyon County. Hon. George A. Southworth, District Judge.

         Order granting motion to suppress, affirmed in part and reversed in part.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General; Kenneth K. Jorgensen, Deputy Attorney General, Boise, for appellant. Kenneth K. Jorgensen argued.

          Eric D. Fredericksen, State Appellate Public Defender; Reed P. Anderson, Deputy Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for respondent. Reed P. Anderson argued.

          HUSKEY, JUDGE.

         The State appeals from the district court's order granting Taylor James Fairchild's motion to suppress evidence of methamphetamine. The State argues: (1) the officer had reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop; and (2) even if the officer lacked reasonable suspicion, discovery of a valid arrest warrant attenuated the evidence from any unlawfulness. The district court's order granting Fairchild's motion to suppress is affirmed in part and reversed in part.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A citizen contacted the sheriff's office to report what he thought was odd behavior. The citizen identified himself by name and provided his address. He asked, "I was wondering if I could have somebody sent out[?] I'm a little concerned about a transaction or something going down behind my house." He further explained, "two cars just come up really fast and pull around and meet up and they get out and they're just both just sitting in the truck together . . . [.] It could be nothing but too often things happen back there and the way they pulled up so fast it looks like [unintelligible]." The location was the dead-end of a paved street after the last entrance to the neighborhood, which terminated at the edge of private, field property. Beyond the paved dead-end, a dirt path continued into the field. The paved dead-end provided no access to any other area unless a vehicle turned around and left the way it came.

         The citizen further provided a description of the vehicles, including their license plate numbers. One of the vehicles was a Dodge Ram pickup and the other was a dark-colored Hyundai. An officer was dispatched to the area. While en route, the officer ran the license plate numbers and learned the pickup was registered to an individual the officer knew was a drug user. The officer testified that because two vehicles were involved, he requested an assisting officer to respond to the scene as well.

         When the officer arrived, he saw the two vehicles driving away. The pickup drove away from the officer into the privately owned field. The Hyundai, driven by Fairchild, drove towards the officer away from the dead-end on the paved road. As it did so, the officer turned on his overhead lights and motioned the driver to stop. Fairchild stopped.

         The officer walked over to Fairchild and asked for identification and Fairchild provided his driver's license. The officer communicated the information on the driver's license to dispatch. Dispatch reported an outstanding warrant for Fairchild, but stated it needed to confirm the warrant's existence and validity by viewing the original paperwork. While dispatch was confirming the warrant, the officer asked Fairchild questions. The questions included asking where Fairchild was coming from and whether he had interactions with the driver of the pickup. Fairchild said he was in the area, having spent the night with a friend who lived nearby, and denied any contact with the driver of the pickup. The officer then explained why he was in the area and continued to ask Fairchild why he was there. Fairchild continued to deny any contact with the pickup driver.

         Finally, the officer asked Fairchild if he was on probation and Fairchild indicated that he was, for a paraphernalia charge. The officer asked Fairchild to step out of the car and asked Fairchild if he would consent to a search. Fairchild stepped out of the car. The officer conducted a pat-down frisk, but also reached into Fairchild's pocket. After reaching into Fairchild's pocket, the officer found a small baggie of a white, powdery substance which was later confirmed to be methamphetamine. The officer then arrested Fairchild, placed him in handcuffs, and read him his Miranda[1] rights.

         The assisting officer, who had since arrived on the scene, watched Fairchild as the original officer retrieved gloves from his patrol car. While at his patrol car, the original officer again contacted dispatch which confirmed that a valid warrant for Fairchild's arrest existed. The officer resumed searching Fairchild, discovering a second baggie of what was later confirmed to be methamphetamine.

         Fairchild was charged with possession of a controlled substance. He filed a motion to suppress the methamphetamine evidence, reasoning that the officer did not have a reasonable suspicion to stop Fairchild. But even if the stop was valid, Fairchild argued, the stop subsequently exceeded the scope of the purpose of the original stop when the officer detained Fairchild while the officer ran a check for warrants. Finally, Fairchild argued there was no intervening circumstance that purged the taint of the initial illegality--either the stop or the continued detention--and specifically requested the drugs found in Fairchild's pocket incident to arrest be suppressed.

         The State argued that even if there was no reasonable, articulable suspicion to stop and/or detain Fairchild, the evidence found was attenuated from the alleged police misconduct. The State specifically argued, "Assuming an illegal stop in Defendant's case, the discovery of the evidence was not the result of exploitation of the illegality. Rather, the taint of the unlawful conduct was sufficiently dissipated to allow admission of the evidence."

         At the hearing on the motion to suppress, the district court asked the parties if the fact that the officer received information that there may have been a warrant, but did not receive verification that the warrant was valid and still in effect until after he had already searched Fairchild, made any difference concerning the attenuation doctrine. Based on this question, the State was permitted to submit an affidavit about this issue.

         Thereafter, the State submitted additional briefing about the applicability of the attenuation doctrine after the officer was informed of the warrant but before the warrant had been confirmed. According to the State, "Dispatch notified the officer of a warrant against the Defendant. The officer received that notification prior to finding the first baggie of white crystal substance. However, Dispatch then had to confirm that the warrant was still valid and not just in their database." Further, "When notified of a warrant, they (i.e. law enforcement) would detain at that point, pending confirmation . . . ." The State goes on to note:

There are two pieces of potential evidence in this case: two baggies of white crystal substance. The first baggie was found after the officer was notified of a warrant against Defendant. The second baggie was found after the officer received confirmation of that warrant from Dispatch. The State earlier argued that assuming law enforcement performed an illegal traffic stop of Defendant, the discovery of the evidence is admissible pursuant to the attenuation doctrine.
The State recognizes that the Court may find it more difficult to apply the attenuation doctrine to the first baggie of substance inasmuch as the warrant had not yet been confirmed by Dispatch and Defendant was apparently not yet under arrest for that warrant.

         Finally, the State argued that the first baggie was admissible under the inevitable discovery doctrine.

         The district court granted Fairchild's motion to suppress, concluding the officer's investigatory stop was not justified by reasonable suspicion, but even if the stop was lawful, the frisk resulting in the discovery of the first baggie exceeded the scope of a limited pat-down. Next, the district court determined the attenuation doctrine did not apply to the discovery of the second baggie of methamphetamine. As a result, the district court granted Fairchild's motion to suppress both baggies of methamphetamine. The State timely appeals. The district court case was stayed pending the outcome of this appeal.

         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 ...


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