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State v. Clarke

Supreme Court of Idaho

June 12, 2019

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
PETER O'DONALD CLARKE, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Kootenai County, John T. Mitchell, District Judge.

         The judgment of the district court is vacated.

          State Appellate Public Defender's office, Boise, for appellant. Jenevieve C. Swinford argued.

          Idaho Attorney General's office, Boise, for respondent. Theodore Tollefson argued.

          Horton, Justice.

         Peter O'Donald Clarke ("Clarke") appeals from his judgment of conviction, entered upon a jury verdict finding him guilty of possession of methamphetamine, marijuana, and paraphernalia. The methamphetamine, marijuana, and paraphernalia were all found on him during a search incident to arrest for misdemeanor battery.

         On appeal, Clarke argues that the district court erred when it denied his motion to suppress. Clarke contends his arrest for the misdemeanor was unlawful because it had been committed outside of the officer's presence; and thus the arrest violated the constitutions of the United States and Idaho. Clarke also alleges prosecutorial misconduct during closing argument. For the following reasons, we vacate Clarke's judgment of conviction.


         At approximately 6:45 p.m. on August 1, 2016, a young woman, Taylor Dan ("Dan"), fagged down a Kootenai County Deputy Sheriff (Michael Hanson) near Honeysuckle Beach in Hayden, Idaho. Dan reported that she had been harassed and groped by a man earlier in the day while trying to enjoy the beach with her young son. She reported she had been sitting on the beach with her son when she was approached by a man unknown to her. The man appeared to her to be intoxicated. She felt uncomfortable and had to keep moving away from him. The man made unwanted personal advances, calling her "hot" and "fine." Despite telling the man she was married and not interested in speaking to him, the man persisted. He sat down next to her and eventually grabbed her "butt." Dan told the man "don't touch me" and "stop," but he did it a second time. The man, who was later identified as Clarke, then asked her to call his lost cell phone so he could locate it. Dan called Clarke's cell phone and then left with her son. Soon after leaving, Dan received a harassing text message from Clarke. (Dan deleted the text message upon its receipt.) After giving the deputy a description of Clarke, [1] Dan advised the deputy she wished to press charges.

         Deputy Hanson, within a short time of speaking to Dan, located Clarke. Clarke admitted to talking to Dan and to grabbing her butt in the way Dan had described; however, he maintained the touching was consensual.

         Based on Dan's complaint and Clarke's confirmation that the described touching had occurred, Deputy Hanson arrested Clarke for misdemeanor battery. Clarke was searched incident to his arrest. Deputy Hanson, in conducting a search of Clarke's backpack, uncovered syringes, a baggy containing marijuana, and a baggy containing several small chunks of a white crystalline substance, later identified as methamphetamine. In addition, when Clarke was being booked into the Kootenai County jail, a partially filled syringe containing a white substance, later identified as methamphetamine, was found in Clarke's right shoe.

         Clarke was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance and bound over to district court following a preliminary hearing. Clarke moved to suppress the evidence obtained following his warrantless arrest. Soon thereafter, Clarke was charged by Information with felony possession of methamphetamine, misdemeanor possession of marijuana, misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia, and misdemeanor battery (the latter being the charge that resulted in his arrest).

         Clarke pursued his motion to suppress. He alleged there was neither a constitutional nor a statutory basis upon which he could have been arrested; so, as a result, his arrest had been unlawful. If his arrest were unlawful, the contraband obtained in the search incident to arrest would be "fruit of the poisonous tree" and therefore subject to suppression.[2]

         The district court conducted a hearing on Clarke's motion. Following testimony from Deputy Hanson and Clarke, the district court found that probable cause existed for Clarke's arrest. The district court also found the arrest permissible under both of the applicable constitutional provisions (U.S. Const. amend. IV and Idaho Const. art. 1, § 17) and under the applicable Idaho statute, Idaho Code section 19-603(6).

         The case proceeded to trial. Shortly before trial, the State dismissed the battery charge for lack of evidence. Clarke was tried on the remaining charges. A jury convicted him of felony possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine), misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance (marijuana), and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia. Clarke appeals, alleging the district judge erred in denying his motion to suppress and that the deputy prosecutor engaged in misconduct during closing argument that resulted in an unfair trial.

         Clarke's appeal advances claims that his arrest for a misdemeanor committed outside the presence of the officer was unconstitutional under both the federal and state constitutions and that the prosecutor's comments during closing argument constituted prosecutorial misconduct. Because we find Clarke's constitutional argument to be dispositive, we do not reach his remaining arguments.

         II. ...

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