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State v. Albertson

Supreme Court of Idaho

March 28, 2019

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
DARRYL JOE ALBERTSON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Minidoka County, Hon. Jonathan P. Brody, District Judge.

         The district court's order denying Albertson's motion to suppress is affirmed.

          Eric Don Fredericksen, State Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for Appellant. Brian R. Dickson argued.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for Respondent. Jeffrey D. Nye argued.

          MOELLER, JUSTICE.

         Darryl Joe Albertson appeals from his judgment of conviction for possession of a controlled substance. In August 2016, a police officer approached Albertson's front door and observed through a window that he was smoking methamphetamine. Because he had a "no trespassing" sign posted near the opening to his property, Albertson argues that the officer's conduct constituted an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, section 17 of the Idaho Constitution. Consequently, he asks this Court to reverse the district court's decision denying his motion to suppress the evidence. The State argues that the sign in question was insufficient to revoke the implied license for uninvited visitors to approach his home. For the reasons stated below, we affirm.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In early August 2016, the Cassia County Sheriff's Office received information from a local store that Albertson had purchased an inordinate amount of sulfur (two large bags). The purchase caused concern for law enforcement because sulfur can be used to produce bombs. As a result, Captain Dan Kindig, who had known Albertson for some time, volunteered to speak with him about the purchase. Captain Kindig went to Albertson's home shortly after receiving the information, but Albertson was not there. Consequently, Captain Kindig returned on August 10, 2016, at which point he walked up to the porch and, as he approached Albertson's front door, saw Albertson through a window to the left. Captain Kindig testified that he observed Albertson sitting at a small table smoking an unknown substance from what appeared to be a "meth pipe."

         Captain Kindig knocked on the door and Albertson answered. After inquiring about the sulfur, Captain Kindig informed him that the bigger problem was the meth pipe. Albertson reportedly responded: "It's not a problem because I'm on my own property and it's not against the law to smoke meth in my own house." He allegedly stated that his property was exiled from Minidoka County and existed in another state where methamphetamine was legal. After some further discourse, Captain Kindig obtained the pipe and arrested Albertson. Because the pipe tested positive for methamphetamine, Albertson was charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.

         On November 29, 2016, Albertson filed a motion to suppress all the evidence on the grounds that his property was posted with a no trespassing sign and the State lacked probable cause to enter the premises without permission. The State conceded that a no trespassing sign had been posted on a power pole, but argued that the sign was insufficient to revoke the implied license because it was not well-placed and there were a number of obstacles to seeing it clearly. Captain Kindig testified that he did not notice the sign and that it was badly faded. Photographs of the property and the sign were admitted into evidence at the hearing. These photos were taken after Albertson was arrested. Captain Kindig testified that "honestly, I don't remember the trees being trimmed, but maybe they were. I don't know. But I can see they're all trimmed back now."

         After the evidentiary hearing, the district court issued a written decision finding that "[t]here is no evidence Captain Kindig noticed the sign; it was not the most prominent or noticeable sign." After reviewing relevant case law, the district court concluded that "[t]he sign here is less prominent and is insufficient to revoke the implied license [to enter the curtilage[1] and approach the front door]". Consequently, the district court concluded that Captain Kindig's viewing of Albertson smoking what appeared to be methamphetamine through the window "did not constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment." Accordingly, it denied Albertson's motion to suppress.

         On October 16, 2017, pursuant to a binding plea agreement, Albertson entered a conditional plea of guilty to possession of a controlled substance.[2] The agreement required that Albertson receive a suspended sentence of no more than five years, with the first two years fixed, and be placed on probation for two years. Pursuant to the plea agreement, Albertson reserved the right to appeal from the district court's denial of his motion to suppress. That same day, a judgment of conviction was entered against him. Albertson timely appealed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This Court conducts a bifurcated review when it considers a motion to suppress. State v. Watts, 142 Idaho 230, 232, 127 P.3d 133, 135 (2005). This means that when a ruling on a suppression motion is challenged on appeal, "the Court accepts the trial court's findings of fact that are supported by substantial evidence, but freely reviews the application of constitutional principles to the facts as found." State v. Page, 140 Idaho 841, 843, 103 P.3d 454, 456 (2004).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Albertson asserts that, by placing a single no trespassing sign on a power pole near the entrance to his driveway, he revoked the implied license for the public, including police officers, to approach his home. Thus, he argues that the officer's observations while on his front porch constituted an impermissible search under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, section 17 of the Idaho Constitution.[3] The State does not challenge the district court's conclusion that the officer entered the curtilage of Albertson's property, and it does not assert that an exception to the warrant requirement applies in this case. Rather, the State argues ...


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