122 P.3d 506 (Utah 2005), 20021004, Brigham City v. Stuart

Docket Nº:20021004.
Citation:122 P.3d 506, 2005 UT 13
Opinion Judge:NEHRING, Justice:
Party Name:BRIGHAM CITY, Plaintiff and Petitioner, v. Charles W. STUART, Shayne R. Taylor and Sandra A. Taylor, Defendants and Respondents.
Attorney:Durrant, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which Wilkins, Associate C.J., concurred. Mark L. Shurtleff, Att'y Gen., Jeffrey S. Gray, Asst. Att'y Gen., Salt Lake City, Leonard J. Carson, Brigham City, for petitioner.
Case Date:February 18, 2005
Court:Supreme Court of Utah

Page 506

122 P.3d 506 (Utah 2005)

2005 UT 13

BRIGHAM CITY, Plaintiff and Petitioner,


Charles W. STUART, Shayne R. Taylor and Sandra A. Taylor, Defendants and Respondents.

No. 20021004.

Supreme Court of Utah

February 18, 2005

Rehearing Denied July 18, 2005.

Page 507

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 508

Attorneys: Mark L. Shurtleff, Att'y Gen., Jeffrey S. Gray, Asst. Att'y Gen., Salt Lake City, Leonard J. Carson, Brigham City, for petitioner

Rod Gilmore, Layton, for respondent

On Certiorari to the Utah Court of Appeals

NEHRING, Justice.

¶1 We granted certiorari to review the court of appeals's affirmance of the trial court's order granting defendants Charles Stuart and Shayne and Sandra Taylor's motion to suppress evidence obtained during a warrantless entry into a home. The single issue we are called upon to decide is whether the court of appeals properly affirmed the trial court's determination that the warrantless entry was not supported by exigent circumstances and was, therefore, unlawful. We conclude that the court of appeals was correct and affirm.


¶2 Four Brigham City police officers responded to a complaint of a loud party. They arrived at the offending residence at about three o'clock in the morning. They traveled to the back of the house to investigate the noise. From a location in the driveway, the officers peered through a slat fence and observed two apparently underage males drinking alcohol. The officers then entered the backyard through a gate, thereby obtaining a clear view into the back of the house through a screen door and two windows. The officers saw four adults restraining one juvenile. The juvenile broke free, swung a fist and struck one of the adults in the face. Two officers then opened the screen door and "hollered" to identify themselves. When no one heard them, they entered the kitchen. After entering, one of the officers again shouted to identify and call attention to himself.

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As those present in the kitchen became aware of the officers, they became angry that the officers had entered the house without permission.

¶3 The officers subsequently arrested the adults. They were charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, disorderly conduct, and intoxication. The defendants filed a motion to suppress which gave rise to this petition.

¶4 The trial court entered the following findings of fact in support of its order granting the motion to suppress:

"1. On July 23, 2001, at approximately 3:00 a.m., four Brigham City Police officers were dispatched . . . as a result of a call concerning a loud party.

2. After arrival at the residence, the officers, from their observations from the front of the residence, determined that it was obvious that knocking on the front door would have done no good. It was appropriate that they proceed down the driveway alongside the house to further investigate.

3. After going down the driveway on the side of the house, the officers could see, through a slat fence, two juveniles consuming alcoholic beverages. At that point, because of the juveniles, there was probablecause for the officers to enter into the backyard.

4. Upon entering the backyard, the officers observed, through windows and a screen door an altercation taking place, wherein it appeared that four adults were trying to control a juvenile. At one point, the juvenile got a hand loose and smacked one of the occupants of the residence in the nose.

5. At that point in time, the court finds no exigent circumstances to justify the officers' entry into the residence. What he should have done, as required under the 4th amendment, was knock on the door. The evidence is that there was a loud, tumultuous thing going on, and the evidence is that the occupants probably would not have heard, but under the 4th amendment he has an obligation to at least attempt before entering."

Brigham City v. Stuart, 2002 UT App 317, ¶12, 57 P.3d 1111 (quoting trial court order).

¶5 The court of appeals determined that Brigham City had not challenged the trial court's findings of fact and denied an attempt by Brigham City to supplement the factual findings. Id. at ¶ 6. The court of appeals adopted the facts as found by the trial court and based its holding on them. Id.

¶6 Brigham City has urged us to expand our review of the facts to include all of the evidence received at the suppression hearing. Brigham City did not, however, ask us to review the court of appeals's denial of its attempt to expand the scope of reviewable facts. We therefore confine the factual component of our review to the facts considered by the court of appeals.


¶7 When reviewing cases under certiorari jurisdiction, we apply a standard of correctness to the decision made by the court of appeals rather than the trial court. State v. Warren, 2003 UT 36, ¶ 12, 78 P.3d 590. However, the ultimate question of whether a particular set of facts satisfies a given legal standard is a mixed question of law and fact. State v. Pena, 869 P.2d 932, 936 (Utah 1994).

¶8 We recently announced our intention to review for correctness mixed questions of law and fact in search and seizure cases and to undertake this task based on a totality of the circumstances. State v. Brake, 2004 UT 95, ¶ 15, 103 P.3d 699. In Brake, we cited a desire to develop uniform search and seizure standards to aid law enforcement officers as the reason for adopting a less deferential standard when reviewing whether a particular set of facts surrounding a warrantless search or seizure offended constitutional protections. Id. at ¶ 14. The court of appeals issued its opinion in this case before we modified the standard of review in Brake. Although we conduct our review under the standard announced in Brake, we nevertheless reach the same conclusion that the court of appeals reached under its "measure of deference" standard.

¶9 The accuracy of the subsidiary facts relied upon by the court of appeals was

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unchallenged. Our review is therefore limited to the correctness of the legal conclusion reached by the trial court and ratified by the court of appeals that no exigent circumstances justified the officers' entry into the home.

¶10 Our aspiration to provide useful guidance to those charged with the day-to-day responsibility of putting search and seizure law into practice is handicapped by the manner in which search and seizure cases are presented to us. This case, like Brake and an array of its search and seizure predecessors, 2 either does not raise or inadequately briefs a state constitutional claim. The reluctance of litigants to take up and develop a state constitutional analysis is surprising in light of our repeated statements that federal Fourth Amendment protections may differ from those guaranteed our citizens by our state constitution. See, e.g., State v. Debooy, 2000 UT 32, ¶ 12, 996 P.2d 546 ("While this court's interpretation of article I, section 14 has often paralleled the United States Supreme Court's interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, we have stated that we will not hesitate to give the Utah Constitution a different construction where doing so will more appropriately protect the rights of this state's citizens."); State v. Watts, 750 P.2d 1219, 1221 n.8 (Utah 1988) ("[C]hoosing to give the Utah Constitution a somewhat different construction may prove to be an appropriate method for insulating this state's citizens from the vagaries of inconsistent interpretations given to the fourth amendment by the federal courts."); State v. Hygh, 711 P.2d 264, 271-73 (Utah 1985) (Zimmerman, J., concurring) (stating that state and federal search and seizure law are not identical).

¶11 In Brake, for example, we took issue with the usefulness of federal Fourth Amendment jurisprudence concerning the police officer safety justification for warrantless automobile searches. Brake, 2004 UT 95 at ¶¶ 27-31, 103 P.3d 699. Our reasoning in Brake emanated to a great extent from cases in which we concluded that article I, section 14 of the Utah Constitution provides a greater expectation of privacy than the Fourth Amendment as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court.

¶12 Where the parties do not raise or adequately brief state constitutional issues, our holdings become inevitably contingent. They carry within them an implicit qualification that if properly invited to intervene, our state's Declaration of Rights might change the result and impose different demands on police officers and others who in a very real sense are the everyday guardians of constitutional guarantees against unreasonable searches and seizures.

¶13 In the not so distant history of this court, we engaged in an ongoing and robust discussion over whether and to what extent we should defer to the federal courts when called upon to interpret provisions of our Declaration of Rights, which parallel the federal Bill of Rights. State v. Anderson, 910 P.2d 1229, 1234-42 (Utah 1996); State v. Poole, 871 P.2d 531, 534-36 (Utah 1994); State v. Larocco, 794 P.2d 460, 465-71 (Utah 1990). In Anderson, we counseled against departing from the guidance from federal courts except when "compelling circumstances" required it. 910 P.2d at 1235. To do otherwise would cause unnecessary confusion and undercut the policy objective of giving clear direction to judges and law enforcement officials. Id. Justice Stewart in his concurrence cautioned against unquestioning fealty to federal precedent on matters of individual liberty. Id. at 1240. He defended his view by noting that "[t]he framers of the Utah Constitution necessarily intended that this Court should be both the ultimate and final arbiter of the meaning of the provisions in the Utah...

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