People v. Gouker

Decision Date23 May 1983
Docket NumberNo. 81SC98,81SC98
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Petitioner, v. John R. GOUKER, Respondent.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

J.D. MacFarlane, Atty. Gen., Richard F. Hennessey, Deputy Atty. Gen., Mary J. Mullarkey, Sol. Gen., John Daniel Dailey, Asst. Atty. Gen., Denver, for petitioner.

J. Gregory Walta, State Public Defender, James England, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, for respondent.

ERICKSON, Chief Justice.

We granted certiorari to review People v. Gouker, 628 P.2d 149 (Colo.App.1981). The court of appeals held that the respondent, John R. Gouker, had been illegally detained and questioned and that evidence obtained as the result of an illegal arrest should be suppressed as "fruit of the poisonous tree." Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 83 S.Ct. 407, 9 L.Ed.2d 441 (1963). We conclude that Gouker was legally arrested pursuant to an outstanding felony arrest warrant and, accordingly, reverse the court of appeals. We remand the case to the court of appeals to address the undecided issues of whether the respondent was denied a fair trial and whether the evidence was sufficient as a matter of law to support the respondent's conviction.


On September 2, 1977, six-year old Valerie Reedy was awakened by a man knocking on the front door of the Reedy residence and on Valerie's bedroom window. Valerie went to the door and heard the man say: "Let me in. I'm your uncle." Valerie opened the door for the man and accompanied him into the Reedy's foyer. The man again told Valerie that he was her uncle and that "I know your mother is Linda." After a brief conversation, the man grabbed Valerie and carried her out of the house and towards the street. Suddenly, the man dropped or threw Valerie to the ground and struck her at least one time. Valerie then walked back to her home and awakened her parents by knocking on the front door.

Valerie's father called the Westminster, Colorado police department and reported the incident. The police took Valerie to a hospital where she was hospitalized for her injuries. That night, Valerie could provide little information to the police other than the fact that her assailant was a "white male."

Police investigators subsequently learned that a woman named Linda Berry had lived at the same address as the Reedys until she sold the house and moved late in 1976. Linda Berry's husband, George Berry, was John Gouker's uncle. Gouker had lived with the Berrys for a time in the early 1970's and had visited Linda Berry in late 1976 at the home which was later sold to the Reedys. Linda Berry had three children, one of whom was a girl slightly older than Valerie Reedy.

Consequently, the police focused their attention on John Gouker as a leading suspect in the case. The police learned that Gouker had moved back to the Denver area from California late in the summer of 1977 and was working at a Denver amusement park. The police also learned that Gouker was wanted in California on an outstanding felony warrant and that he was planning to leave Colorado imminently.

The Westminster police contacted Gouker at about 10:00 p.m. on September 3, 1977, at the amusement park where he was working. Gouker, who was a ticket-taker for the roller-coaster ride, was asked to accompany the investigating officers to a park office for questioning. Upon entering the office, Gouker was informed that he was under arrest, advised of his Miranda rights, and questioned for approximately forty-five minutes. At that time, he produced a bond receipt and claimed that he had made bond on the California warrant. Gouker also told the police about his activities on the night that Valerie Reedy was assaulted and, after making several inconsistent statements, was formally arrested and charged with kidnapping and assault. Several days later, Valerie Reedy identified Gouker from a photograph taken after the arrest and provided other information about her assailant which was used at trial.

At trial, John Gouker was convicted of second-degree kidnapping, section 18-3-302, C.R.S.1973 (1978 Repl.Vol. 8), and third-degree assault, section 18-3-204, C.R.S.1973 (1978 Repl.Vol. 8), and was sentenced to prison. The court of appeals reversed the convictions and remanded for retrial. The reversal was predicated on the conclusion that the arrest was not supported by probable cause because the police did not have a reasonable belief that Gouker had committed a crime when he was detained and interrogated in the park office. The court also suppressed evidence which was obtained subsequent to the arrest, including a photographic identification and various inculpatory statements, but permitted an in-court identification of the suspect to be admitted on retrial.


The issue in this case is whether the respondent's arrest was supported by probable cause. The court of appeals held that Gouker was arrested when the police detained him for interrogation in the amusement park office. According to the court, at some point in the encounter, the police overstepped the bounds of an investigatory stop, Stone v. People, 174 Colo. 504, 485 P.2d 495 (1971), and improperly arrested Gouker before they had probable cause to do so.

Under normal circumstances, a consensual interview between the police and a suspect or witness is not considered an investigatory stop. As we said in Stone v. People, supra, "[t]here is an area of proper police procedure in which an officer having less than probable cause to arrest nevertheless may detain an individual temporarily for certain purposes and not violate the unreasonable search and seizure limitation of the Fourth Amendment." Id. at 508, 485 P.2d at 497. See also Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968); People v. Schreyer, 640 P.2d 1147 (Colo.1982); People v. Johnson, 199 Colo. 68, 605 P.2d 46 (1980). In People v. Schreyer, supra, we held that "[a]lthough an investigatory stop itself does not constitute an arrest, whenever detention and questioning by a police officer are more than brief or cursory, there is an arrest which must be supported by probable cause." 640 P.2d at 1150. Here, we need not determine whether the encounter constituted an investigatory stop and, if so, at what point the stop became an arrest. The police had probable cause to arrest Gouker based on the outstanding California felony warrant; therefore no illegal arrest occurred as a result of the detention or interrogation.

After the Westminster police focused their investigation on Gouker, his record was checked for background information. The existing California warrant was discovered at that time. We have held that an outstanding arrest warrant from another jurisdiction may "provide the probable cause needed to make an arrest." People v. Coto, 199 Colo. 508, 510, 611 P.2d 969, 970 (1980) (Florida warrant provided probable cause to arrest). 1 Other jurisdictions have also held that an outstanding arrest warrant establishes sufficient probable cause to justify a warrantless arrest. See, e.g., United States v. McDonald, 606 F.2d 552 (5th Cir.1979); United States v. Palmer, 536 F.2d 1278 (9th Cir.1976); State v. Everett, 110 Ariz. 429, 520 P.2d 301 (1974); Childress v. United States, 381 A.2d 614 (D.C.App.1977); Carter v. State, 18 Md.App. 150, 305 A.2d 856 (1973). Mere existence of an outstanding arrest warrant does not conclusively establish probable cause, however. The United States Supreme Court held in Whitely v. Warden, 401 U.S. 560, 91 S.Ct. 1031, 28 L.Ed.2d 306 (1971), that an arrest warrant must be supported by probable cause or the arrest will be illegal. Thus, Whitely precludes the police from establishing probable cause to arrest by the expedient of obtaining an arrest warrant which may be used by arresting officers who are unaware that the warrant is not supported by probable cause. See also Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 99 S.Ct. 2689, 61 L.Ed.2d 433 (1979) (arrest pursuant to a facially valid arrest warrant legal; arrestee free to challenge the validity of underlying warrant). Michigan v. Doran, 439 U.S. 282, 99 S.Ct. 530, 58 L.Ed.2d 521 (1978) (in extradition proceedings, rendering state may rely on probable cause determination of demanding state).

The police are entitled to make an arrest based on an outstanding felony arrest warrant. Adequate protection is provided to arrested persons by allowing a post-arrest determination of the validity of the warrant. Whitely v. Warden, supra. We therefore hold that the existence of an outstanding warrant provides a prima facie showing of probable cause, although the person arrested may challenge the validity of the arrest warrant at a post-arrest probable cause hearing. 2 See Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 95 S.Ct. 854, 43 L.Ed.2d 54 (1975).


The respondent argues that the outstanding felony arrest warrant did not provide probable cause in this case because the officer chose to arrest on the local charges instead. There is some testimony in the record which indicates that the arresting officer may not have based his arrest of the respondent on the California warrant without more information. The findings of the trial court establish, however, that the outstanding felony warrant was partially a basis for the officer's warrantless arrest. 3

The respondent, in essence, is arguing that a subjective analysis of the arresting officer's motives for making an arrest should be used in cases where multiple crimes are being investigated. Instead of determining whether the state had in its possession sufficient evidence to establish probable cause for a warrantless arrest, Colo. Const. article II, section 7, the respondent would have us delve into the arresting officer's subjective reasons for making an arrest decision. For example, an officer may believe he has probable cause to make...

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