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State v. Wolfe

Supreme Court of Idaho

July 11, 2019

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
MONICA F. WOLFE, Defendant-Respondent.

          Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Canyon County. Davis VanderVelde, District Judge.

         The decision of the district court is affirmed.

          Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for Appellant. Kenneth K. Jorgensen argued.

          Eric Don Fredericksen, State Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for Respondent. Jenevieve C. Swinford argued.

          MOELLER, Justice.

         I. NATURE OF THE CASE

         The State appeals from a Canyon County district court order granting Monica F. Wolfe's motion to suppress evidence obtained from a cell phone in her possession.[1] The district court held that law enforcement unlawfully seized the phone prior to obtaining a warrant to search it. The State argues that the independent source exception applies because law enforcement subsequently obtained a valid search warrant that was not tainted by the unlawful seizure, and therefore, the evidence found on the phone should not have been suppressed. For the reasons stated below, we affirm.

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In early 2017, a dog owned by Robert Wolfe and his new wife became unusually lethargic and eventually died. Around that same time, they noticed golf balls in their yard, some of which had been chewed. Because no one in the family played golf and they did not live near a golf course, suspicion arose. As a result, the family initiated an investigation through Animal Control and discovered that the golf balls appeared to have antifreeze residue on them. A veterinarian later confirmed that the dog died due to ingesting antifreeze and golf balls. From this, the family suspected that the dog had been poisoned. Additionally, from late 2016 to early 2017, Robert and his wife had to replace several vehicle tires that were punctured with screws where the tread and the sidewall of the tire meet.

         Soon after the dog died, Daniel Collins, a man who had dated Robert's ex-wife, Monica Wolfe, contacted Robert and informed him that he had been solicited by Wolfe to kill Robert and his dog. Robert met with Collins at a restaurant and, unbeknownst to Collins, recorded their conversation. During the conversation, Collins stated that Wolfe asked him to find out when Robert left work so that he could "take [him] out from there." Regarding the dog, Collins said that he was hoping he could "get to [Robert]" before it died, and that Wolfe's plan was to mix car antifreeze with meatballs to kill the dog. He further asserted that Wolfe "was asking [him] for help . . . but basically wanted to be the one to have [Robert] underground" because "she [was] angry" with him for obtaining custody of their two kids. After this conversation, Robert contacted the police to report Wolfe and Collins.

         On June 7, 2017, Collins was called in for an interview with Detective Kari Seibel. During the interview, he informed the detective about his interactions with Wolfe, in which she repeatedly expressed her desire to kill Robert and asked Collins to help her devise a plan to kill him so that she could regain custody of their kids. Collins alleged that the plan was to make Robert's death look like a suicide. He told the detective that Wolfe had researched various means of killing Robert and described the different methods she suggested to achieve this end.

         As a result of Collins's statements, Wolfe was later interviewed. After reading Wolfe her Miranda rights, the detective interviewed her for approximately forty minutes. During the interview, Wolfe asserted that, although she and Collins discussed killing Robert on multiple occasions, it was merely "pillow talk" and "fantasy." She also admitted to having a conversation about killing a neighbor's dog with antifreeze, but denied killing Robert's dog. Further, she and the detective discussed text messages that were on a cell phone in her possession. Because the detective believed that evidence of the alleged crimes would be on the phone, she informed Wolfe near the end of the interview that she was going to seize it. Wolfe informed her that she was borrowing the phone from a friend and that, although she had sent various text messages from it, it would not have the information that the detective sought. At that point, the detective seized the phone without a warrant or Wolfe's consent. After the phone was seized, Wolfe made several statements to the detective regarding text messages she sent from the phone concerning her desire to kill Robert. However, she told the detective that "you have to take them in context," as she may have just been angry or joking.

         Days later, the detective obtained a warrant, searched the phone, and discovered evidence supporting the filing of charges against Wolfe. As a result of the phone search, the detective also obtained a second warrant to access Wolfe's Google accounts. In November 2017, Wolfe was indicted on one count of conspiracy to commit murder and one count of aiding and abetting poisoning animals.

         Wolfe filed a motion to dismiss and a motion to suppress. Wolfe argued that the indictment should be dismissed because inadmissible evidence had been presented to the grand jury, the State failed to disclose exculpatory evidence, and the State failed to follow procedure in reclaiming exhibits presented to the grand jury. She further argued that the evidence obtained from the phone and the Google accounts should be suppressed because the phone had been unlawfully seized and the warrant for information from Google was void because it had been executed late. The State argued that the indictment should not be dismissed because Wolfe did not provide applicable law for her argument to dismiss and the grand jury received legally sufficient evidence to support its finding of probable cause. The State ...


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