People v. McCullough, No. 99SA317.

Decision Date03 July 2000
Docket NumberNo. 99SA317.
Citation6 P.3d 774
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Andre Carl McCULLOUGH, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

Robert S. Grant, District Attorney Seventeenth Judicial District, Michael J. Milne, Senior Deputy District Attorney, Brighton, Colorado, Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellant.

David S. Kaplan, Colorado State Public Defender, Paul Crane, Deputy State Public Defender, Brighton, Colorado, Attorneys for Defendant-Appellee.

Justice RICE delivered the Opinion of the Court.

The People bring this interlocutory appeal pursuant to C.A.R. 4.1, appealing the trial court's order suppressing evidence obtained by parole officers during a routine, unannounced home visit to the defendant's residence. The defendant moved for suppression of the evidence on the basis that the parole officers' warrantless search of his belongings was conducted in violation of his constitutional rights because the officers lacked reasonable grounds to believe that he had committed a parole violation. The trial court agreed that the parole officers lacked reasonable grounds to conduct the search and suppressed the evidence discovered by the officers during the search of the defendant's belongings. We hold that the trial court applied the incorrect legal standard to the parole search by requiring the parole officers to have reasonable grounds to perform the search. Furthermore, we find that the search was conducted in compliance with constitutional standards governing parole searches. Accordingly, we reverse the order of the trial court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


The defendant, Andre McCullough, was released from the Department of Corrections on September 19, 1998, to serve a three-year term of parole. Upon his release, Mr. McCullough signed a standard "Parole Agreement" containing several mandatory conditions,1 one of which provided, "Parolee further agrees to allow the Parole Officer to search his person, or his residence, or any premises under his control, or any vehicle under his control." After completing a ninety-day intensive supervision period, Mr. McCullough was transferred to the case load of parole officer Margaret Heckenbach in January 1999.

On March 10, 1999, at approximately 5:00 p.m., parole officers Heckenbach and Kelly Messamore, Ms. Heckenbach's supervisor, proceeded to the residence of the defendant for the purpose of conducting an unannounced home visit.2 Mr. McCullough opened the door, and Ms. Heckenbach and Ms. Messamore entered the apartment and immediately saw several open containers of alcohol.3 Ms. Heckenbach testified at the suppression hearing that she believed it was Mr. McCullough's roommate, Kevin Hartwell, who was drinking and not Mr. McCullough. Ms. Heckenbach asked Mr. McCullough which room was his and he responded that he slept on the couch but that he kept all of his belongings in a bedroom closet. Mr. McCullough showed Ms. Heckenbach the location of the closet with his belongings. After verifying with Mr. McCullough that all of the belongings in the closet were his, Ms. Heckenbach proceeded to search the belongings in the closet. In the pocket of a jacket in the closet, Ms. Heckenbach discovered a baggie of cocaine. Mr. McCullough was subsequently arrested and charged with Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance.4

Mr. McCullough moved to suppress the evidence on the basis that it was seized in violation of his rights under the United States and Colorado Constitutions. Mr. McCullough argued that the parole officers did not have reasonable grounds to believe he had committed a parole violation when they searched his belongings. The trial court considered Mr. McCullough's motion at a suppression hearing and found that the fact that someone else in the apartment may have been drinking did not provide reasonable grounds to search the pocket of the jacket where the cocaine was found. The court considered the subjective view of the parole officers when it analyzed the question of whether reasonable grounds existed and found that the officers conducted the search not because they believed they had reasonable grounds to suspect there was a parole violation, but because they believed they had the authority to do so based on the parole agreement. Therefore, the trial court suppressed the cocaine found by the officers as well as the statements made by the defendant to the officers concerning ownership of the clothing in the closet.


This case raises important issues concerning the extent of a parolee's Fourth Amendment protections. The task for us in this case is to determine the legal standard that governs a parole officer's search of a parolee or his belongings. To determine the appropriate legal standard, we first review our precedent governing parole searches. We then examine the parole statute presently in force in Colorado and conclude that the legislature intended to change the existing legal standard when it amended the statute. Accordingly, the next component of our analysis involves a determination of the constitutionality of the parole statute as amended. Finally, we apply this legal standard for parole searches to the undisputed facts before us to determine if the search in the instant case comported with constitutional requirements.


We have considered the constitutionality of a warrantless parole search on only one prior occasion. In People v. Anderson, 189 Colo. 34, 536 P.2d 302 (1975), we considered whether a parole officer's warrantless search of the apartment of his parolee, Alvin Lee Anderson, violated the Fourth Amendment. In that case, a parole officer learned of a potential parole violation when Anderson's wife told the parole officer that Anderson was living with her. The officer knew that Anderson had not reported a change of address to him, as required by his parole agreement. The parole officer proceeded to the apartment of Anderson's wife, who was also on parole, to determine if Anderson had established his residence there and had violated his parole. The apartment manager admitted the parole officer into the apartment and, during the search of the apartment, the officer discovered evidence implicating Anderson in a felony theft, for which Anderson was subsequently charged and convicted.

In our analysis of the constitutionality of the search, we first recognized that the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on "unreasonable" searches and seizures5 applies to searches of parolees but we stated that "what may be a reasonable search when a parolee is the subject of the investigation may be unreasonable when directed against another person." Id. at 36, 536 P.2d at 304. Although the parole officer lacked a search warrant, we stated that, in the context of a parole search, "the need for a search warrant is eliminated." Id. at 37, 536 P.2d at 305. After reviewing case law from other jurisdictions, we declared that "Colorado will adopt the middle ground. This requires a parole officer who is investigating a parole violation to have reasonable grounds to believe that a parole violation has occurred." Id. Applying our holding to the facts in that case, we determined that the search was lawful because the parole officer had "reasonable grounds to enter the apartment to determine whether it was Anderson's established residence." Id. at 38, 536 P.2d at 305.

In the instant case, the trial court applied this "reasonable grounds" legal standard in its resolution of the motion to suppress. However, subsequent to Anderson, the legislature amended the parole statute with the intention of removing the requirement for "reasonable grounds." Therefore, we find that the trial court applied the incorrect legal standard to this search. Our analysis of this issue therefore encompasses an examination of the amended parole statute.


Twelve years after our decision in Anderson, the legislature amended the parole statute by adding a section containing a list of mandatory conditions to be included in every parole agreement.6 One of these conditions, section 17-2-201(5)(f)(I)(D), provides that a parolee shall "allow the parole officer to make searches of his person, residence, or vehicle."7

Our first task in interpreting this statute is determining whether the legislature intended to alter the Anderson requirement of "reasonable grounds to believe that a parole violation has occurred" when it amended the statute. In interpreting the meaning or scope of any statutory term, our goal is to effectuate the intent of the legislature. See Regional Transp. Dist. v. Lopez, 916 P.2d 1187, 1192 (Colo.1996); Lakeview Assocs. v. Maes, 907 P.2d 580, 584 (Colo. 1995). To do so, we look first to the language of the statute itself to determine the legislative intent. See Lopez, 916 P.2d at 1192; Maes, 907 P.2d at 584. If the statutory language is unambiguous, it is unnecessary to resort to rules of statutory construction. See Lopez, 916 P.2d at 1192; Maes, 907 P.2d at 584.

In the instant case, we are examining a section of the parole statute that was added by amendment in 1987. When interpreting legislative amendments, we assume that the General Assembly was apprised of existing case law. See People v. Williams, 984 P.2d 56, 62 (Colo.1999). Thus, in the instant case, we presume that the legislature was fully aware of the "reasonable grounds" standard annunciated in Anderson when it amended the parole statute. Furthermore, when a statute is amended, it is presumed that the legislature intended to change the law. See Robles v. People, 811 P.2d 804, 806 (Colo.1991); People v. Hale, 654 P.2d 849, 851 (Colo.1982).

With these guidelines in mind, we look now to the statute in question. As noted above, section 17-2-201(5)(f)(I)(D) was added to the parole statute by amendment of the General Assembly in 1987. We note that at the time that ...

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