910 P.2d 1229 (Utah 1996), 940402, State v. Anderson

Docket Nº:940402.
Citation:910 P.2d 1229
Opinion Judge:RUSSON, Justice:
Party Name:STATE of Utah, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. Lester ANDERSON, Defendant and Appellant.
Attorney:Fourth District, Millard County, Boyd L. Park. Jan Graham, Atty Gen., Todd A. Utzinger, Asst. Atty Gen., Salt Lake City, for plaintiff. Shelden R. Carter, Provo, for defendant.
Case Date:February 02, 1996
Court:Supreme Court of Utah

Page 1229

910 P.2d 1229 (Utah 1996)

STATE of Utah, Plaintiff and Appellee,


Lester ANDERSON, Defendant and Appellant.

No. 940402.

Supreme Court of Utah.

February 2, 1996

Page 1230

Jan Graham, Atty Gen., Todd A. Utzinger, Asst. Atty Gen., Salt Lake City, for plaintiff.

Shelden R. Carter, Provo, for defendant.

RUSSON, Justice:

Lester Anderson appeals the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence prior to his guilty plea for possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine) with the intent to distribute, a second degree felony, and for possession of a controlled substance (marijuana) with the intent to distribute, a third degree felony. 1 This case was certified to this court by the Utah Court of Appeals under rule 43 of the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure. 2 We affirm.

  1. FACTS

    In reviewing the trial court's ruling, we recite the facts in the light most favorable to the trial court's findings. State v. Pena, 869 P.2d 932, 936 (Utah 1994); State v. Ramirez, 817 P.2d 774, 782 (Utah 1991).

    In May 1993, as a result of reports from two informants, the Millard County Sheriff's Office suspected that Anderson was trafficking narcotics. On the night of May 9, Deputy Sheriff Jeffrey Whatcott was informed by Beth Fullmer, Anderson's former live-in girlfriend, that Anderson and Vance Abbott had gone to Las Vegas, Nevada, to purchase methamphetamine. According to Fullmer, Anderson and Abbott were traveling in Anderson's Cadillac and were planning to return to Millard County the following afternoon via highway 257. Fullmer also warned Deputy Whatcott that Anderson might be armed. Later that night, Deputy Whatcott delivered Fullmer's information to Detective Robert Dekker, who was at the time investigating a theft possibly perpetrated by Anderson.

    On the following day, at about 1:30 p.m., Detective Dekker received similar information concerning Anderson's smuggling activities from another police officer. Millard County Deputy Sheriff Forest Roper reported that a second informant had accused Anderson of transporting narcotics. This informant revealed that Anderson and a companion, Abbott, were transporting drugs from Las Vegas to Millard County. Furthermore, the informant asserted that Anderson would return that afternoon on highway 257. The informant also warned that Anderson would be armed. Deputy Roper did not disclose the identity of his informant, who had actually received the information from another undisclosed source, but he testified that he had known the informant for approximately five years.

    Upon receiving the second report from Deputy Roper, Detective Dekker asked the county attorney's office to obtain a search warrant. The county attorney's office set about securing the warrant.

    However, because of the urgency of the situation, Detective Dekker made alternate plans in case he could not execute a search warrant before Anderson arrived at his home. He met with Deputy Whatcott, Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Eric Nielsen (Trooper Nielsen), and Millard County Deputy Sheriff Brad Nielsen (Deputy Nielsen) at about 2 p.m., informed them of the informants' reports, and advised the officers to be on the lookout for Anderson's vehicle. Detective Dekker further instructed them that if any of the officers located Anderson, he should report the discovery to him.

    Detective Dekker also cautioned the officers that both informants had warned of Anderson's possession of firearms. Both Deputy Whatcott and Deputy Roper were familiar with Anderson's numerous weapons. Both had been to Anderson's house on unrelated calls and had observed Anderson's guns. For these reasons, Detective Dekker

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    wanted Anderson detained before he arrived at his house containing his array of weaponry. The detective therefore determined that Anderson's vehicle should be stopped as soon as it was spotted, even if no search warrant had been obtained by that time.

    Detective Dekker and Deputy Whatcott then drove to Anderson's house, which was five to six miles off highway 257, to verify that his Cadillac was not present. Upon arrival, the officers noticed that several vehicles were at the house but Anderson's Cadillac was not.

    At about 2:30 p.m., Trooper Nielsen sighted Anderson's Cadillac heading north on highway 257. Trooper Nielsen recognized the driver as Anderson. Following Detective Dekker's instructions, Trooper Nielsen reported to Detective Dekker, who, with Deputy Whatcott, joined the pursuit near Deseret, Utah. Because Trooper Nielsen was the only officer in a marked patrol car and wearing a uniform, Detective Dekker requested an additional marked patrol car before authorizing the stop of Anderson.

    Shortly thereafter, Trooper Nielsen, joined by Detective Dekker, Deputy Whatcott, and Deputy Nielsen, stopped Anderson's Cadillac not far from his residence intending to conduct a warrantless search for contraband. Out of concern for their safety, the officers decided to "detain and secure" the two men. The officers, with weapons drawn, ordered Anderson and Abbott out of the Cadillac and commanded the two men to place their hands on their heads, walk backward, and lie face down on the ground. The officers then handcuffed the two men and searched them for weapons. Although the pat-down search revealed no firearms, Deputy Whatcott discovered a canister of what appeared to be marijuana on Abbott. No contraband was found in Anderson's immediate possession.

    After ensuring their safety, Deputy Whatcott and Trooper Nielsen searched Anderson's Cadillac for weapons and drugs. There, the officers found a canister and a bag, each containing marijuana. At that time, no methamphetamine was located.

    After locating marijuana in the Cadillac and in Abbott's possession, Deputy Whatcott placed both Anderson and Abbott under arrest. In addition, Anderson's vehicle was towed to a secure impound lot located at the sheriff's office. The lot was enclosed by a chain link fence, and police authorization was required to enter the area.

    The morning after his arrest, Abbott requested and received an interview with Millard County Deputy Sheriff John Kimball. Abbott divulged to Deputy Kimball that methamphetamine was hidden underneath the carpet on the front-passenger side of Anderson's Cadillac. Thereafter, Deputy Kimball and Deputy Roper conducted a warrantless search of Anderson's Cadillac in the impound lot. Just as Abbott had reported, the officers found quantities of methamphetamine hidden in Anderson's vehicle.

    Anderson was charged with two counts of unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, both felonies under section 58-37-8(1)(a)(iv) and (1)(b)(i)-(ii) of the Utah Code. Anderson moved to suppress as evidence the marijuana and the methamphetamine seized from his vehicle under both article I, section 14 of the Utah Constitution and the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The trial court denied Anderson's motion. Anderson subsequently entered, and the trial court accepted, a conditional guilty plea to the crimes charged. The conditional plea preserved Anderson's right to appeal the suppression ruling. Anderson appealed to the Utah Court of Appeals, which certified the case to this court pursuant to rule 43 of the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure.

    On appeal, Anderson raises three claims of error regarding the trial court's evidentiary rulings: (1) The initial stop by police escalated to the level of an arrest and was not supported by probable cause; (2) a warrantless roadside search of Anderson's vehicle was neither supported by probable cause nor necessitated by exigent circumstances; and (3) the warrantless station house search of Anderson's vehicle conducted the day after Anderson's arrest was not necessitated by exigent circumstances.

    Anderson argues that the warrantless roadside search does not fall within the automobile exception to the warrant requirement

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    because the police lacked probable cause to search and the circumstances surrounding the roadside search were not so exigent that the police were unable to secure a search warrant. According to Anderson, the police could have acquired a warrant either immediately after receiving the first informant's tip or immediately after receiving the second. Further, Anderson contends that the search cannot be justified as incident to a valid arrest. A valid arrest requires probable cause, which Anderson claims the police did not have.

    In addition, Anderson claims that the warrantless search of his vehicle at the police station house was similarly unlawful. He asserts that the automobile exception is unavailable because even if the police had probable cause to believe that the vehicle contained contraband, they had plenty of time to secure a search warrant.

    The State counters that the actions of the police were constitutionally permissible. The State contends that the roadside search of Anderson's Cadillac falls within the automobile exception to the warrant requirement. The police had probable cause, argues the State, based on information acquired from two informants and independent police corroboration. Also, exigent circumstances existed because Anderson's car was movable, the occupants were alerted, and the evidence may have been destroyed had the police left to secure a search warrant. In addition, the State asserts, contrary to Anderson's contentions, the police did not have time to obtain a warrant, and the record so indicates. The State also claims that the police should not be judged by the standard for arrests because until the police discovered the marijuana during the roadside search of Anderson's vehicle, they merely detained Anderson and Abbott out of concern for their safety.

    As to the search of Anderson's car at the police impound...

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