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State v. Islas

Court of Appeals of Idaho

March 6, 2019

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
RONALDO DEAN ISLAS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District, State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Hon. Richard S. Christensen, District Judge.

         Order denying motion to suppress, reversed in part, affirmed in part, and case remanded.

          Eric D. Fredericksen, State Appellate Public Defender; Kimberly A. Coster, Deputy Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for appellant. Kimberly A. Coster argued.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General; Russell J. Spencer, Deputy Attorney General, Boise, for respondent. Russell J. Spencer argued.

          HUSKEY, JUDGE

         Ronaldo Dean Islas appeals from the district court's judgment of conviction. He argues the district court erred when it denied his motion to suppress. We reverse the portion of the district court's order denying the suppression of the marijuana tincture droplets and tissue paper from Islas's pocket. We affirm the remainder of the district court's order and remand this case to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.



         An officer observed a vehicle enter a public roadway at 9:02 p.m., fourteen minutes after sunset, and continue on the roadway without activating its headlights for five or six seconds. The officer stopped the vehicle and approached the driver, Islas. The officer detected an odor of alcohol coming from inside Islas's vehicle and observed that Islas had glassy and bloodshot eyes. The officer also observed small, circular pieces of glass on Islas's lap and that Islas's pants were unzipped. After these observations, the officer ordered Islas out of the vehicle, causing the glass pieces to fall from Islas's lap to the ground outside the vehicle.

         The officer then conducted a horizontal gaze nystagmus test and concluded Islas was not under the influence of alcohol. The officer detained Islas and proceeded to examine the glass pieces further, specifically observing one piece that was thickly coated with a white and brown crystalline substance the officer suspected to be methamphetamine, leading him to the conclusion that the pieces likely belonged to a methamphetamine pipe. The officer placed Islas in handcuffs, searched his person, discovered marijuana in the form of marijuana tincture droplets and tissue paper the officer believed was used to wrap the methamphetamine pipe, and informed Islas he was under arrest for the possession of marijuana. The officer then conducted a field test of the substance found on the glass piece, which indicated a presumptive positive for methamphetamine. A drug dog was called to the scene; the dog indicated on Islas's vehicle. While searching the vehicle, the officer discovered more glass pieces under the driver's seat which appeared to belong to a methamphetamine pipe, along with additional tissue paper, and a baggie containing approximately one gram of methamphetamine in the trunk.

         The State charged Islas with felony possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine, Idaho Code § 37-2732(c)(1); misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance, marijuana, I.C. § 37-2732(c)(3); and misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia, I.C. § 37-2734A(1). Islas filed a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing that he was unlawfully stopped, the stop was unlawfully prolonged, and he was unlawfully searched. The State made two arguments in its written opposition to the motion to suppress: first, that the officer had reasonable and articulable suspicion that a traffic offense had been committed because the officer observed a violation of I.C. § 49-903; and second, the extension of the stop to investigate the broken glass was lawful because the officer had specific facts from which the officer could infer further criminal activity. The State conceded the search of Islas's pockets was not lawful and that the marijuana tincture droplets and tissue paper should be suppressed, but opposed the suppression of the other evidence. At the suppression hearing, the State proffered a third argument: the broken glass constituted littering, which could have justified the further investigation of the glass.

         At the suppression hearing, the parties focused on presenting evidence and argument regarding the suppression of the methamphetamine; little, if any, evidence or argument was presented regarding the marijuana and paraphernalia charges, likely because the State had already conceded the evidence should be suppressed. The district court denied the motion, and explained why it denied the motion as it related to the methamphetamine. The order did not specify whether it was suppressing all evidence, including the marijuana, or just the evidence that was presented and argued about at the hearing, which was only the methamphetamine. The district court ordered the State to draft the order. The State did so, making no mention that the evidence it had already conceded should be suppressed. Islas then entered a conditional guilty plea to all the charges, reserving his right to appeal the district court's denial of his motion to suppress. For the felony possession of methamphetamine, the district court sentenced Islas to a unified term of three years, with one and one-half years determinate, suspended the sentence, and placed Islas on probation. The district court granted credit for time served for the two misdemeanors. Islas timely appealed.



         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 determination of whether an investigative detention is reasonable requires a dual inquiry--whether the officer's action was justified at its inception and whether it was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place. State v. Roe, 140 Idaho 176, 181, 90 P.3d 926, 931 (Ct. App. 2004); State v. Parkinson, 135 Idaho 357, 361, 17 P.3d 301, 305 (Ct. App. 2000). An investigative detention is permissible if it is based upon specific articulable facts which justify suspicion that the detained person is, has been, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity. State v. Sheldon, 139 Idaho 980, 983, 88 P.3d 1220, 1223 (Ct. App. 2003). Such a detention must be temporary and last no longer than necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop. Roe, 140 Idaho at 181, 90 P.3d at 931; State v. Gutierrez, 137 Idaho 647, 651, 51 P.3d 461, 465 (Ct. App. 2002). Where a person is detained, the scope of detention must be carefully tailored to its underlying justification. Roe, 140 Idaho at 181, 90 P.3d at 931; Parkinson, 135 Idaho at 361, 17 P.3d at 305. In this regard, we must focus on the intensity of the detention, as well as its duration. Roe, 140 Idaho at 181, 90 P.3d at 931. The scope of the intrusion permitted will vary to some extent with the particular facts and circumstances of each case. Roe, 140 Idaho at 181, 90 P.3d at 931; Parkinson, 135 Idaho at 361, 17 P.3d at 305. Brief inquiries not otherwise related to the initial purpose of the stop do not necessarily violate a detainee's Fourth Amendment rights. Roe, 140 Idaho at 181, 90 P.3d at 931.

         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 peace officer may make a warrantless arrest when a person has committed a public offense in the presence of the peace officer. I.C. § 19-603(1). Probable cause is the possession of information that would lead a person of ordinary care and prudence to believe or entertain an honest and strong presumption that such person is guilty. State v. Julian, 129 Idaho 133, 136, 922 P.2d 1059, 1062 (1996). In analyzing whether probable cause existed, this Court must determine whether the facts available to the officer at the moment of the seizure warranted a person of reasonable caution to believe that the action taken was appropriate. Id.; State v. Hobson, 95 Idaho 920, 925, 523 P.2d 523, 528 (1974). The application of probable cause to arrest must allow room for some mistakes by the arresting officer; however, the mistakes must be those of reasonable men, acting on facts leading sensibly to their conclusion of probability. Klinger v. United States, 409 F.2d 299, 304 (8th Cir. 1969); Julian, 129 Idaho at 137, 922 P.2d at 1063. The facts making up a probable cause determination are viewed from an objective standpoint. Julian, 129 Idaho at 136-37, 922 P.2d at 1062-63. In passing on the question of probable cause, the expertise and the experience of the officer must be taken into account. State v. Ramirez, 121 Idaho 319, 323, 824 P.2d 894, 898 (Ct. App. 1991).



         Islas argues the district court erred when it denied his motion to suppress the methamphetamine. He contends the officer unlawfully extended the detention after the officer concluded Islas was not under the influence of alcohol. At that point, Islas argues the officer had no suspicion that Islas had committed, was committing, or was about to commit any criminal activity, yet the officer detained him anyway. As such, Islas reasons that all the evidence obtained thereafter should be suppressed, including the methamphetamine found on the glass piece, the marijuana tincture droplets and paraphernalia on Islas's person, and the paraphernalia and methamphetamine found in Islas's vehicle.

         On the other hand, the State appears to argue implicitly that if the district court suppressed the marijuana based on the State's concession, such suppression was incorrect and that this Court would not be bound by that holding. Instead, the State argues the marijuana was admissible based on exceptions to the warrant requirement which were never presented in the district court--the search incident to a valid arrest or inevitable discovery exceptions. The State argues that this Court freely reviews the issue and the applicable law and thus, is not bound by the legal concessions made by the State or legal conclusions reached (or not reached) by the district court. The State further asserts that a de novo standard of review allows an appellate court to affirm the district court on any legal ground, even ones not presented to the district court. Thus, the State asks this Court to affirm the admissibility of the methamphetamine, marijuana tincture droplets, and paraphernalia on two alternate theories raised for the first time on appeal.

         In contrast, Islas argues that even a de novo standard of review has some outer parameters and those parameters are the legal arguments made to the district court. In other words, the appellate court can freely review any applicable legal argument made in the district court, even if the district court declined to address or rule on that basis. This is the "right result-wrong theory" rule. But, Islas argues the appellate court, even in a de novo review, cannot address new arguments that ...

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