871 P.2d 531 (Utah 1994), 920524, State v. Poole

Docket Nº:920524.
Citation:871 P.2d 531
Opinion Judge:HOWE, Justice:
Party Name:STATE of Utah, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Mark POOLE and John Wood, Defendants and Appellees.
Attorney:R. Paul Van Dam, Atty. Gen. and David B. Thompson, Asst. Atty. Gen., Salt Lake City, for plaintiff and appellant. Wilford N. Hansen and Mitchell D. Maughan, Payson, for defendants and appellees.
Case Date:March 04, 1994
Court:Supreme Court of Utah
 
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Page 531

871 P.2d 531 (Utah 1994)

STATE of Utah, Plaintiff and Appellant,

v.

Mark POOLE and John Wood, Defendants and Appellees.

No. 920524.

Supreme Court of Utah.

March 4, 1994

Rehearing Denied April 18, 1994.

Page 532

R. Paul Van Dam, Atty. Gen. and David B. Thompson, Asst. Atty. Gen., Salt Lake City, for plaintiff and appellant.

Wilford N. Hansen and Mitchell D. Maughan, Payson, for defendants and appellees.

HOWE, Justice:

This appeal is before us on certification from the court of appeals, pursuant to rule 43, Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure. The State appeals from the trial court's dismissal of a criminal information against defendants for lack of evidence. This necessitates review of the trial court's suppression order that led to the dismissal. The order is properly reviewable under State v. Troyer, 866 P.2d 528 (Utah 1993).

FACTS

Utah Highway Patrol Officers Bushnell and Mangleson observed defendants Mark Poole and John Wood driving north in a truck on Interstate Highway 15. Bushnell testified that Wood, the driver, appeared to have a "drawn look" on his face and bloodshot eyes. The officers decided to follow the vehicle and, during the next three minutes, noticed that it was weaving within its lane on the highway. These factors led Bushnell to suspect that the driver was intoxicated and prompted him to pull over and stop the vehicle. Mangleson also observed that the bed of the truck seemed "odd." Bushnell testified that he asked Wood for his driver's license and vehicle registration. Wood produced a driver's license and a registration belonging to the vehicle's owner, Michael Anello. Wood also showed Bushnell written permission from the vehicle's owner allowing Poole to drive his truck. Bushnell asked Wood to step out of the vehicle to take field sobriety tests.

When Bushnell asked Wood if he had been drinking, he responded that he was just tired. Bushnell then inquired whether there were any drugs, alcohol, or weapons in the truck, to which Wood answered, "No." The officers did not administer any field sobriety tests at the scene following the initial stop, nor did they issue any citations.

In checking for alcohol, Bushnell requested and received Wood's voluntary consent to search the vehicle. Bushnell then proceeded to search the cab of the truck. He found tools behind the front seat but nothing that would confirm his initial suspicion of the presence of alcohol or of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Meanwhile, Mangleson spoke with Poole, the passenger. He asked Poole to step out of the vehicle and conducted a protective patdown during which he discovered a large wad of cash. Having found no evidence of alcohol in the cab of the truck, Bushnell asked and received Wood's permission to search defendants' duffel bags in the flatbed of the truck. That search revealed no incriminating evidence.

Page 533

Mangleson testified that he started "exploring" the bed of the truck while Bushnell was searching the cab. He examined the top and bottom of the flatbed and measured lines that were six to eight inches apart. This discrepancy, indicating the possibility of a concealed compartment, prompted Mangleson to continue his investigation on the theory that the concealed compartment likely contained contraband. Mangleson asked Poole to lift up a piece of plywood resting on the truck bed. Using a screwdriver, Mangleson then pried open a section of metal sheeting and discovered a six- to eight-inch-high compartment beneath the flatbed. At this time, Poole withdrew his consent for a further search. However, Mangleson continued his search by removing the metal sheeting, which provided him with a clear view of contraband within the enclosed compartment. The officers ultimately retrieved almost 200 pounds of marijuana. Defendants were arrested and charged with unlawful possession of over 100 pounds of marijuana, a second degree felony, under Utah Code Ann. §§ 58-37-8(2)(a)(i) and (b)(i) (Supp.1993).

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Defendants moved to suppress the seized evidence. Following a hearing, the trial court issued a memorandum decision granting defendants' motion. The State agreed that defendants' proposed written findings of fact and conclusions of law fairly reflected the content of the memorandum decision but nonetheless submitted objections to them. The State requested the inclusion of one additional finding, namely, that Mangleson had "discovered numerous similar concealed compartments" over his many years as a trooper and that these compartments had "nearly always contained controlled substances or other items of contraband."

Refusing this request, the trial court issued its findings of fact and conclusions of law as per defendants' original proposal. The court concluded that the officers had an articulable suspicion to stop and detain defendants and that defendants had originally given, and then withdrawn, their consent to search the vehicle. The court further ruled that Mangleson's discovery of a concealed compartment in the truck did not constitute probable cause to continue the search absent defendants' consent. The court ordered the suppression of the contraband evidence on the ground that it was discovered in an illegal search and then dismissed the case with prejudice for lack of evidence.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

We are asked to review the trial court's determination that the surrounding facts did not constitute probable cause to continue searching the vehicle after defendants withdrew consent. The State urges this court to apply the clearly erroneous standard of review to that ruling.

This court has yet to consider which standard appellate courts should apply when reviewing determinations of probable cause to continue a search in the absence of consent. In State v. Pena, 869 P.2d 932 (Utah 1994), we articulated, at length, the standard of review appropriate to reasonable-suspicion determinations. Although the legal standards and consequences of probable cause and reasonable suspicion are distinct, we believe that the standards for reviewing them should be the same. As explained in Pena, we review the underlying factual finding of the trial court for clear error. Id. at 539 n. 4. We review the legal conclusion of "probable cause" for correctness, and in so doing, we afford a "measure of discretion" which parallels that in Pena to the trial court's legal determination of whether the officers had probable cause to search the truck bed. Id. at 535.

ANALYSIS

The trial court concluded that the officers had articulable suspicion to detain defendants. It also concluded that voluntary consent was given and then withdrawn prior to the discovery of contraband. Based on our review of the facts and testimony, we find that the trial court was correct in these particulars. The trial court further held that the presence of a concealed compartment did not constitute probable cause to continue the search without a warrant or consent. We

Page 534

will review that conclusion for correctness as set forth in Pena.

Through its conclusion as to the lack of probable cause, the trial court erroneously elevated the probable-cause standard to unrealistic heights. As Justice Stewart reasoned in State v. Dorsey, 731 P.2d 1085 (Utah 1986):

[P]robable cause does not require more than a rationally based conclusion of probability: "In dealing with probable cause, however, as the very name implies, we deal with probabilities. These are not technical; they are the factual and practical considerations of every day life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act. The standard of proof is accordingly correlative to what must be proved."

Id. at 1088 (quoting Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 175, 69 S.Ct. 1302, 1310, 93 L.Ed. 1879 (1949)); see Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 243-44 n. 13, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 2334-35 n. 13, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983).

In the course of a legitimate stop of the vehicle, Officer Mangleson discovered several facts which in their totality constitute probable cause. We need not and do not adopt a per se rule that a false bed and hidden compartment alone constitute probable cause to search, as the State urges and Justice Durham's dissent mistakenly charges us with doing. Rather, we apply a totality-of-the-circumstances analysis. First and foremost, the truck had a significant and unusual alteration in its bed which was in plain view and which concealed a secret compartment. Second, this truck was traveling a known drug trafficking route. 1 Third, the compartment was discovered by an officer with twenty-four years of experience in the field who had seen other false beds that contained...

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