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State v. Gonzales

Supreme Court of Idaho

October 7, 2019

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
GILBERT ALEXANDER GONZALES, JR., Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Lansing L. Haynes, District Judge.

         The District Court's order denying Gonzales' motion to suppress is reversed. Accordingly, the judgment of conviction is likewise vacated.

          Eric D. Frederickson, Idaho State Appellate Public Defender, Boise, attorney for Appellant. Jenevieve C. Swinford argued.

          Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, attorney for Respondent. John C. McKinney argued.

          BEVAN, JUSTICE

         I. Nature of the Case

         Gilbert Gonzales, Jr., appeals the district court's order denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained following a warrantless seizure. Gonzales was arrested and charged with possession of methamphetamine and introducing or attempting to introduce methamphetamine into a correctional facility. Gonzales moved to suppress, asserting the warrantless seizure was without legal justification and the evidence obtained was fruit of that illegality. The district court denied the motion after finding the seizure was lawful. The Court of Appeals reversed the district court's order denying the motion to suppress. This Court granted the State's petition for review. We now reverse the district court's order denying Gonzales' motion to suppress and vacate the judgment of conviction.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         At about 1:30 a.m. on March 3, 2017, Officer Joseph Scholten of the Coeur d'Alene Police Department was patrolling a shared parking lot between the La Quinta Inn & Suites and Shari's Restaurant. Both businesses were open. During his patrol, Officer Scholten observed a black Chevy Blazer parked in a dark area between the two businesses. Soon after, Officer Scholten observed a woman exit the vehicle and walk toward the La Quinta entrance. Officer Scholten recognized this woman from recent criminal investigations as Arielle Padel. Officer Scholten was familiar with Padel because she had recently reported her vehicle as stolen from an associate and later reported her vehicle had not been stolen. Additionally, Officer Scholten knew that Padel, among other associates, was suspected of firearm thefts in the area.

         Based on the time of Padel's presence in the parking lot, the location of her vehicle in the darkened area, and his familiarity with Padel, Officer Scholten exited his patrol car and tried to speak with Padel. Padel made it clear she did not want to talk and continued to walk toward the La Quinta entrance. Officer Scholten found Padel's behavior abnormal and suggestive of Padel trying to get away from Officer Scholten and her own vehicle. After Padel left, Officer Scholten approached Padel's vehicle from the passenger side, shined his flashlight inside the vehicle and observed a man, later identified as Gonzales, lying on the floor with his head, side, and feet on the floor.[1] At that time, Officer Scholten turned the flashlight and shined it on himself to show Gonzales he was a police officer. Gonzales then exited the vehicle through the driver's side door. As Gonzales exited, Scholten observed Gonzales to be nervous and twitching and he instructed Gonzales to put his hands behind his back so Scholten could pat him down for weapons. Gonzales made a slight movement as if to put his hands behind his back, but then ran away. Officer Scholten followed Gonzales, caught him, detained him, and conducted a pat down for weapons. While detained, Officer Scholten learned Gonzales was on probation and contacted his probation officer who issued an agent's warrant for his arrest. Scholten placed Gonzales under arrest. During a later search at the jail, methamphetamine was found on Gonzales.

         The State charged Gonzales with one count of possession of a controlled substance, in violation of Idaho Code section 37-2732(c)(1), and one count of introducing major contraband into a correctional facility, in violation of Idaho Code section 18-2510(3). Gonzales moved to suppress all evidence obtained following the warrantless seizure. Gonzales argued Officer Scholten lacked reasonable suspicion to seize him before or after he fled. The State did not file a response to the motion.

         A hearing on Gonzales' motion to suppress was held and the district court orally denied the motion to suppress. The district court determined that Gonzales was detained when Officer Scholten shined his flashlight into the vehicle, revealed he was a law enforcement officer, and may have suggested a need for Gonzales to exit the vehicle. The district court held there was reasonable suspicion for this detention based on Padel's involvement in prior investigations, Padel walking away from Officer Scholten, and Gonzales lying down in the backseat of Padel's vehicle that was located in the darkest part of the parking lot. The district court also found Officer Scholten's reasonable suspicion was "heightened" when Gonzales fled. Finally, the district court determined Officer Scholten had probable cause to believe that Gonzales obstructed and delayed an officer once he fled. Thus, the district court determined the seizures were reasonable. Based on these findings, the district court later issued a written order denying Gonzales' motion to suppress.

         Under a Rule 11 plea agreement, Gonzales pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance and entered an Alford[2] plea to introducing major contraband into a correctional facility. Gonzales reserved the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. Gonzales timely appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed. This Court granted the State's petition for review.

         III. ...


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