Latta v. State

Decision Date07 November 2002
Docket NumberNo. CR 01-679.,CR 01-679.
Citation88 S.W.3d 833,350 Ark. 488
PartiesMark LATTA v. STATE of Arkansas.
CourtArkansas Supreme Court

McCullough Law Firm, by: R.S. McCullough, Little Rock, for appellant.

Mark Pryor, Att'y Gen., by: Lauren Elizabeth Heil, Ass't Att'y Gen., and David J. Davies, Ass't Att'y Gen., Little Rock, for appellee.


Appellant Mark Latta appeals the order of the Garland County Circuit Court convicting him of manufacturing a controlled substance, methamphetamine, a Class Y felony, in violation of Ark.Code Arm. § 5-64-401 (Supp.2001). He was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment; thus, this court's jurisdiction is pursuant to Ark. Sup.Ct. R. 1-2(a)(2). Appellant raises five arguments on appeal. Because we agree with Appellant that the trial court erred in denying Appellant's motion to suppress, we reverse the conviction and remand for further proceedings. It is therefore unnecessary for us to address the other points raised by Appellant on appeal.

According to the record before us, four investigators from the Eighteenth East Drug Task Force went to Appellant's home on February 8, 1999, after receiving an anonymous tip that Appellant was maintaining a methamphetamine lab on the premises. The investigators were Todd Sanders, Richard Norris, Cory DeArmon, and Brian Keck. While some of the facts regarding what happened that day are in dispute, it is undisputed that when the officers arrived at Appellant's residence, they knocked on the front door, and it was opened by a black male, later identified to be Melvin Arnold. It is also undisputed that these same officers had been to this residence before in October 1998 and were acquainted with Appellant and knew him to be the owner of the home. The officers, who had identified themselves, asked if Appellant was at home. Arnold responded that he was in the bedroom. What happened next is not entirely clear; suffice to say, that three of the investigators entered the Appellant's living room and called out for Appellant to come out and talk with them.

According to Sanders, the bedroom door was partially open and the officers noticed some movement in the bedroom. The officers then drew their weapons and pointed them at the bedroom door; thus, when Appellant exited the bedroom, there were three guns pointed at him. One of the officers conducted a pat-down search of Appellant's person to check for weapons. Finding none, the three officers put their own weapons away. Sanders then asked Appellant to step outside and talk to him. Appellant, who was barefoot at the time, complied. Norris and DeArmon remained inside the residence, along with three other people who were at Appellant's home at that time.

Once outside, Sanders told Appellant that they had received an anonymous tip that he was cooking methamphetamine again. Appellant denied any such activity and demanded to know who had contacted the officers. Sanders explained that he did not know the identity of the caller and again asked if Appellant was making methamphetamine. Appellant again denied the accusation. Thereafter, Sanders asked if Appellant had any methamphetamine for personal use. Once again, there was a conflict as to how the subsequent events unfolded. According to Sanders, Appellant initially denied having any methamphetamine for personal use, but when confronted about it again, finally admitted that he had some in a brown pill bottle in his bedroom. Sanders then stated that Appellant led him to his bedroom and turned over the pill bottle. Sanders asked if Appellant had anything else, and Appellant handed him a pie plate with methamphetamine residue on it. According to Sanders, this question and answer session went on two or three more times, until Appellant finally said there was nothing else. Then, Sanders asked if the officers could look around the house, and Appellant agreed.

Appellant was arrested and initially charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver. The information was later amended to include a manufacturing charge. After his arrest, Appellant denied that he ever admitted to Sanders that he was in possession of drugs or that he handed over the brown pill bottle or pie plates. Appellant contended that Sanders kept him outside while DeArmon and Norris searched his house. Further, Appellant stated that he never gave consent for the search. Appellant filed several pretrial motions, including two motions to suppress. The first motion, filed by Appellant's first attorney, on May 12, 1999, alleged that the search was invalid because it was made without a warrant and was based on Appellant's alleged consent, which was not voluntarily given.

A Denno hearing was held on April 26, 1999. At this hearing, Sanders simply stated that they knocked on Appellant's door, it was opened by a black male, and the officers stepped inside. They then asked where Appellant was, and the black male told them that he was in the bedroom. On cross-examination, Sanders stated that the black male let them in by simply opening the door. When asked what the other officers were doing while he was outside, Sanders said he did not know if they were conducting any type of search. Sanders admitted that he never read Appellant his Miranda rights before taking him outside, because he was not in custody. According to Sanders, after repeated questioning, Appellant finally admitted to having some methamphetamine for personal use. Sanders stated that Appellant then voluntarily retrieved the bottle from his bedroom, as well as the pie plates he gave to him. Sanders also admitted that he did not obtain written consent to search and that the officers lacked probable cause to get a search warrant.

Investigator Richard Norris testified at the Denno hearing that they entered the residence after Arnold opened the door. Norris admitted that Arnold gave no indication to the officers that they could enter the house. In fact, Norris stated, "I don't think he could have invited us in, it not being his house." Norris also testified that he initially went outside with Sanders and Appellant, but spent most of his time inside the house. He did not hear Appellant give Sanders consent to search the house, but did hear Appellant admit that he had a pill bottle.

Investigator Cory DeArmon testified that when Arnold opened the door he told the officers to "come in." He denied searching the house while Sanders talked with Appellant. DeArmon also did not hear Appellant consent to the search; rather, he was told by Sanders that they could search the house. DeArmon did testify that he saw Appellant lead Sanders to the bedroom and hand over other evidence.

The final witness to testify was Investigator Brian Keck. He stated that he remained outside the house to contain the area. At no point did Keck enter Appellant's residence. The trial court subsequently entered a written order on May 5, 1999, finding that the statements Appellant made to officers on February 8 were admissible because he was not in custody at that time and could have told the officers to leave at any time.

A second motion to suppress was filed by Appellant's current counsel on December 27, 1999, alleging generally that suppression was warranted, because Appellant's Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. A hearing on this second motion to suppress was held on April 20, 2000. At this hearing, Sanders again testified, but some of his testimony differed slightly from what he testified to at the Denno hearing. This time, Sanders stated that after Arnold opened the door, he asked if Appellant was there, whereupon Arnold said he was and "basically just stepped out of the way[.]" Sanders stated that the officers went inside the home about three feet past the doorway. Sanders also testified that after Appellant admitted to having some methamphetamine for personal use, he responded, "Well, you know, we're here, you know. Let's just go ahead and get this taken care of today. You want to give it to me?" Sanders did admit that Appellant had previously ordered police off his property. The State presented no other evidence during the suppression hearing.

Appellant then testified on his own behalf. He stated that he had previously come into contact with these officers in October 1998 when he ordered them off his property, unless they obtained a search warrant. Appellant stated there were "No Trespassing" signs posted on his property both in October and in February. According to Appellant, while he was outside with Sanders, Norris went back into the house, and the officers came outside and notified him that they had found some evidence after conducting a search. Appellant stated that he was then taken back into the house. He denied ever voluntarily turning over any evidence, or ever admitting to Sanders that he was in possession of any methamphetamine.

Arnold also testified for the defense at this hearing. He explained that he had come to Appellant's house that day looking for someone to give him a ride to work. He stated that he never gave police consent to enter Appellant's home on February 8. According to Arnold, when asked by the officers where Appellant was, he simply told them that Appellant was busy. Thereafter, the officers simply opened the door and entered the home. Arnold testified that he recalled Sanders taking Appellant outside to talk to him. He heard Sanders ask Appellant who was in the bedroom, but heard no other part of the conversation.

At the close of the suppression hearing, the trial court requested that the parties submit simultaneous briefs on the suppression issue within ten days of the hearing. The trial court subsequently entered an order on April 26, 2000, denying Appellant's motion to suppress. In so ruling, the trial court made the following findings:

1. Officers went to Defendant's residence to interview the Defendant about reports of drug activity.

2. The Defendant's door was answered by a guest....

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  • State v. Brown
    • United States
    • Arkansas Supreme Court
    • March 25, 2004
    ...knowledge of the right to refuse consent to search is not a requirement to prove the voluntariness of consent. See Latta v. State, 350 Ark. 488, 88 S.W.3d 833 (2002) (court stated that, in most situations where consent is freely and voluntarily given, the "knock and talk" procedure has been......
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