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State v. Sessions

Supreme Court of Idaho

October 21, 2019

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
COLETON MYERS SESSIONS, Defendant-Respondent.

          Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Elmore County. Nancy A. Baskin, District Judge.

         The order of the district court is affirmed.

          Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for appellant State of Idaho. Kenneth K. Jorgensen argued.

          Eric D. Fredericksen, State Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for respondent Coleton Myers Sessions. Maya P. Waldron argued.

          STEGNER, JUSTICE.

         Upon the apparent belief that Coleton Sessions was selling tainted marijuana that had caused adverse medical symptoms to its users, police officers arrived at and entered Sessions' house, and seized illegal substances and paraphernalia. Sessions was arrested and charged with multiple criminal offenses. He moved to suppress the evidence seized by the officers because it was procured without a warrant in violation of his constitutional rights. Based on the information that the officers had at the time they entered the home, the district court determined it was not reasonable for officers to believe that anyone inside the home was in need of immediate medical assistance and granted Sessions' motion to suppress. The State appeals, arguing that the warrantless entry and search were justified as a result of exigent circumstances. Because the district court's conclusions are supported by substantial and competent evidence, we affirm the district court's order granting the motion to suppress.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On August 19, 2016, at approximately 10:00 p.m., Patrol Sergeant Scott Smith of the Mountain Home Police Department responded to an emergency call to find Steven Miller lying on a lawn. Smith observed that Miller could talk and move his head, but was unable to move the rest of his body. Miller told Smith that he had recently consumed some alcohol and marijuana. Smith believed the cause of Miller's paralysis was tainted marijuana. When Smith asked where Miller obtained the marijuana, he said he bought it from Sessions.

         An ambulance arrived and transported Miller and Smith to St. Luke's Elmore Medical Center. Smith began to ask other officers, including Detective Kent Ogaard and Officer Hurly, whether there had been other reports similar to Miller's. Ogaard testified that he was informed that a couple of people had ended up at the hospital.[1]

         Around midnight, Smith, Ogaard, and Hurly drove to Sessions' residence, the location where Miller said he had purchased the marijuana. The officers never attempted to obtain a warrant to search Sessions' home. Smith and Hurly were in police uniforms; Ogaard was in plain clothes. Ogaard knocked on the door. A woman answered the knock. After the woman opened the door, officers testified that they detected a strong odor of marijuana.[2]

         The officers testified that this was not a normal marijuana investigation, due to reports that a few people in the community had possibly been affected by tainted drugs. Officers testified that they were operating under the belief that Sessions was selling tainted marijuana that could harm the user. After officers detected the odor of marijuana, they believed it possible that someone in the house might have consumed the marijuana and therefore needed help. The officers entered the home without obtaining permission or a search warrant. The woman who answered the door did not consent to the officers entering the home.

         Upon entering the home, the officers noticed drug paraphernalia in the living room. Ogaard's questioning of the woman led him to believe that weapons might be inside the home. However, there was no evidence that the officers conducted a protective sweep to see if anyone was in medical distress. Nevertheless, the officers testified that had they not been concerned for the physical safety of the inhabitants, they would not have entered the home.

         Ogaard asked the woman if the homeowner, Sessions, was available. Sessions came from down a hallway and spoke with the officers. Only after the conversation with Sessions did the officers search the residence. The officers located marijuana. No one at the home was found to be in any medical distress.

         The State charged Sessions with manufacturing marijuana, delivery of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Sessions moved to suppress the evidence based on the officers' warrantless entry into his home. The State responded to the motion to suppress, acknowledging that the officers entered Sessions' home without a warrant, but arguing that the warrantless entry was justified by exigent circumstances. The district court granted Sessions' motion to suppress because exigent ...


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