People v. Mendoza-Balderama, MENDOZA-BALDERAM

Decision Date24 May 1999
Docket NumberMENDOZA-BALDERAM,D,No. 98-SA460,98-SA460
Citation981 P.2d 150
Parties1999 CJ C.A.R. 2798 The PEOPLE of The State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Jaime Armandoefendant-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.

H. Craig Skinner, Denver, Colorado, Attorney for Defendant-Appellee.

Justice SCOTT delivered the Opinion of the Court.

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects citizens and their homes "against unreasonable searches and seizures." 1 The " 'touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness.' " Ohio v. Robinette, 519 U.S. 33, 39, 117 S.Ct. 417, 136 L.Ed.2d 347 (1996) (quoting Florida v. Jimeno, 500 U.S. 248, 250, 111 S.Ct. 1801, 114 L.Ed.2d 297 (1991)). Thus, a trial court, called upon to review the conduct of the police in the course of a challenged search, must determine whether the police acted in a manner that was "unreasonable." The "fact specific reasonableness inquiry," Robinette, 519 U.S. at 39, 117 S.Ct. 417, conducted by trial courts is, then, of paramount importance in determining whether a particular government action violates this fundamental constitutional guarantee.

The People (State) filed this interlocutory appeal to challenge an order of the Adams County District Court (trial court) suppressing evidence obtained during a search of the defendant's home after the defendant was arrested. Because the trial court did not first make clear its conclusion as to probable cause, and because the trial court's findings are not sufficient to support its secondary conclusion that the police entered defendant's home in the absence of exigent circumstances, we vacate the trial court's order. We return this matter to the trial court with instructions to make further findings, on this record or in its discretion after further proceedings, as to whether probable cause and exigent circumstances existed to permit a warrantless search of defendant's home.


Born in Grand Junction, Colorado, Jaime Armando Mendoza-Balderama (defendant) is a twenty-seven-year-old citizen of the United States. For the past eight years, he has lived in both Mexico and the United States, traveling back and forth between the two countries. At the time of his arrest, the defendant lived in a mobile home in Thornton, Colorado, located in Adams County.

A. The Arrest and Vehicle Search

On March 3, 1998, at about 3:30 p.m., a reliable informant contacted Detective Tom Sanchez (Detective Sanchez) of the Denver Police Department. The informant advised Detective Sanchez that a drug delivery would take place at a Taco Bell restaurant located at the 300 block of South Federal Boulevard in Denver. Detective Sanchez was advised that the defendant would be driving a purple Thunderbird containing a quarter kilogram of cocaine inside the trunk and that the cocaine was to be delivered to a person named Jose who would be driving a black RX7. Relying upon that information, Detective Sanchez and ten other officers set up surveillance at the Taco Bell. At approximately 4:30 p.m., both the defendant and the driver of the RX7 arrived at the Taco Bell.

Within minutes, having independently confirmed several details of the tip, including matching the defendant to a physical description provided by the informant, officers at the Taco Bell intervened, stopping both drivers. Detective Patrick Fitzgibbons (Detective Fitzgibbons), a narcotics investigator with 21 years of experience, approached the defendant and immediately informed him that he was under arrest. Another officer asked the defendant for permission to search the Thunderbird he was driving. The defendant refused to let the officers search the Thunderbird, explaining that it was his wife's car.

After defendant was taken into custody, the police transported him to a Denver police station. There, the defendant informed the police that his friend Jose had put drugs in the car and that there was a gun under the front seat. With that information, at about 7:30 p.m., Detective Sanchez obtained a warrant to search the Thunderbird. Shortly thereafter, the officers executed the search warrant and seized a 9 mm handgun and over 250 grams of cocaine from the trunk. The defendant was charged in the Denver District Court with possession of a controlled substance, based on the search of his car under a warrant issued for that purpose. That proceeding is not before us.

In Adams County proceedings based on charges arising out of a search of his home, the defendant was charged with unlawful possession with intent to distribute twenty-five grams but less than 450 grams of a controlled substance, pursuant to section 18-18-405(3)(a), 6 C.R.S. (1998), a class-three felony. At the request of the Denver police, the Thornton Police Department conducted a search of the defendant's home. It is that search which is the subject of defendant's Fourth Amendment challenge, and the State's appeal of the trial court ruling discussed more fully below.

The defendant pleaded not guilty and thereafter filed a motion to suppress evidence seized during a police search of his home. The motion claimed that the search was in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and article II, section 7 of the Colorado Constitution.

On October 8 and October 30, 1998, the trial court conducted pretrial hearings on defendant's motion. For purposes of those proceedings, there was a general agreement as to events leading up to the defendant's arrest. However, the events following his arrest were very much in dispute. At the hearing, several police officers testified as to one version of facts regarding the search of the defendant's home. Contradicting the testimony of the police officers, the defendant offered evidence through his own testimony and the testimony of a second witness which suggests a different version of the events surrounding the search of his home.

B. The Contradictory Testimony Regarding the Search of Defendant's Home

After his arrest, the defendant was taken to a Denver police station. There, Sergeant Richard Kroncke (Sergeant Kroncke) conducted a custodial interrogation of the defendant, which began at about 7:15 p.m.


According to the testimony of Sergeant Kroncke, at the outset, he verbally advised the defendant of his Miranda 2 rights. During the interrogation that followed, the defendant identified his residence as a mobile home located at 1201 West Thornton Parkway, in Thornton, Colorado. Sergeant Kroncke testified that he then asked if there were any narcotics or cocaine at the defendant's home; that the defendant informed him that cocaine was hidden in the bedroom of his home; and that the defendant consented to a search of his home. However, no other officers were present at the time the defendant gave Sergeant Kroncke verbal consent to search his home.

Acting on that information and the defendant's consent, Sergeant Kroncke asked the Adams County Sheriff's Department and Thornton Detective Randy Goin (Detective Goin) to conduct a consent search of the defendant's home.

Detective Goin, who supervised the search at the defendant's home, also testified. Detective Goin testified that he and several other officers arrived at the defendant's home to conduct a consent search at approximately 8:00 p.m. Detective Goin decided to knock on the door rather than use a key they obtained from the defendant to enter the defendant's home. 3 Detective Goin further testified that after knocking, he saw a person pull back a paper covering the window in the front door and look out. Detective Goin displayed his badge and announced "Police." He then saw the person run from the door and retreat elsewhere into the home. Detective Goin continued to knock for about fifteen seconds. In response, the door was opened by Daisy Martinez (Daisy), a juvenile and the daughter of Caroline Martinez (Martinez), who also occupied defendant's home. 4

Fearing that evidence was being destroyed, Detective Goin and the other officers entered the home. Upon entering, the officers asked Daisy if she knew where Martinez was. Once inside the home, Detective Goin noticed a closed door in the bedroom area. He opened the door and observed drugs and drug paraphernalia. He next opened the door to the bathroom, where Martinez was located.

Detective Goin further testified that Martinez initially consented to a search of the home. Shortly after the search began, however, Martinez withdrew her consent. According to Detective Goin, Martinez did not withdraw her consent until after the officers discovered drugs and drug paraphernalia. When Martinez withdrew her consent, the officers immediately stopped their search and sought a search warrant. Utilizing information obtained as a result of the original entry, the officers did eventually obtain a search warrant. After the search warrant was issued, the officers immediately executed the warrant and seized a total of twenty-one items, including drug paraphernalia, three containers of substances believed to be cocaine, and 9 mm ammunition.


The defendant and one other witness, Daisy, also testified at the hearing. The defendant testified that he was not advised of his Miranda rights, but he admitted that he signed an advisement form during his custodial interrogation. He further testified that he refused to give Sergeant Kroncke consent to conduct a search of his home. However, the defendant did not refute or contradict Sergeant Kroncke's testimony that he advised Kroncke that he routinely stored drugs at his house for a third party. Nor did the defendant offer any evidence to contradict Sergeant Kroncke's testimony that the defendant told him there were drugs hidden in the defendant's home.

Daisy, who was twelve years old at the time of the search, testified that earlier...

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