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State v. Cook

Supreme Court of Idaho

July 10, 2019

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
SAMANTHA NICOLE COOK, Defendant-Appellant.

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

         The order of the district court denying defendant's motion to suppress is reversed; the judgment of conviction is vacated and remanded.

          State Appellate Public Defender's Office, Boise, for appellant, Samantha Nicole Cook. Jenny Swinford argued.

          Idaho Attorney General's Office, Boise, for respondent, the State of Idaho. Ted Tollefson argued.

          Stegner, Justice.

         This appeal is brought by Samantha Cook (Cook) as a result of the denial of her motion to suppress evidence. Cook was pulled over by a police officer after the officer noticed her vehicle lacked both front and rear license plates. As the vehicles slowed to pull over, the officer noticed a piece of paper in the rear window of Cook's car. Upon approaching the pulled-over vehicle, the officer noticed that the piece of paper was a temporary registration permit, which was unreadable due to condensation from rain earlier in the evening. The officer then spoke with Cook, detected the smell of marijuana, searched her vehicle, located controlled substances, and arrested her.

         Cook filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained during the stop on the grounds that the officer lacked probable cause to stop her vehicle. The district court denied Cook's motion. The district court found, based on State v. Kinch, 159 Idaho 96, 356 P.3d 389 (Ct. App. 2015), that reasonable suspicion existed that Cook had violated Idaho Code section 49-432(4), which requires a driver to display a permit "upon the windshield of each vehicle or in another prominent place where it may be readily legible." As a result, the district court found the seizure legal and the evidence obtained after the seizure properly obtained. The Court of Appeals affirmed. This Court granted Cook's petition for review.

         On appeal, Cook argues, among other things, that the district court erred in denying her motion to suppress because Idaho Code section 49-432(4) is unconstitutionally vague as applied to her conduct. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we conclude the statute is unconstitutionally vague. We reverse the district court's denial of Cook's motion to suppress; we vacate Cook's conviction and remand for further proceedings.


         On October 29, 2016, shortly after midnight, a Kootenai County Sheriff's Deputy, Ryan Jacobson (Jacobson), was traveling westbound in his patrol vehicle on Highway 53 in rural Kootenai County. It had been raining that evening. As Jacobson drove past Cook, he noticed that her car lacked a front license plate. He did not see a temporary permit displayed as he passed the car. Once Jacobson passed Cook's vehicle, he looked in his rearview mirror and noticed that the vehicle also lacked a rear license plate. Jacobson then turned around in order to investigate Cook's vehicle.

         While following Cook, Jacobson was unable to see either a rear license plate or a temporary permit. Jacobson also believed he witnessed Cook's vehicle drive over the right-hand fog line.[1] Jacobson activated his emergency lights. As the vehicles pulled over and were nearly stopped, Jacobson observed a piece of paper displayed in the rear window of Cook's vehicle. It was difficult to see due to heavy condensation in Cook's rear window.

         Once both vehicles were stopped, Jacobson walked towards Cook's vehicle and only then recognized that the piece of paper in the window was in fact a temporary registration permit. Despite being right next to the temporary permit, Jacobson still could not read the expiration date. Jacobson then contacted Cook, the sole occupant of the vehicle, in order to obtain information from her. Once he collected Cook's information, Jacobson walked back to his patrol vehicle but first stopped again at the rear window to examine the temporary permit more closely. Jacobson had to wipe the condensation off of the rear window in order to read the expiration date. Only then was Jacobson able to determine the piece of paper was a valid temporary permit.

         Jacobson returned Cook's information to her but asked her to step out of the vehicle and speak with him. Cook obliged. At some point while speaking with Cook, Jacobson noticed that Cook was unusually nervous. More importantly, he had also detected the odor of marijuana. Upon questioning, Cook admitted that others had smoked marijuana in her vehicle earlier that evening. Jacobson then searched the car based on the odor and Cook's admission. He found both heroin and methamphetamine. Cook was arrested and more contraband was found on her person, including another controlled substance, Suboxone.

         Cook filed a motion to suppress, arguing that Jacobson did not have reasonable suspicion to stop her car. The district court held a hearing on Cook's motion. Jacobson was the only witness. The district court later announced its oral decision denying the motion to suppress. The district court reasoned that Cook's temporary registration, although properly posted, was not readily legible as required by Idaho Code section 49-432(4); therefore, ...

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