People v. Oynes

Decision Date08 February 1996
Docket NumberNo. 94CA0676,94CA0676
Citation920 P.2d 880
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Robert OYNES, Defendant-Appellant. . II
CourtColorado Court of Appeals

Gale A. Norton, Attorney General, Stephen K. ErkenBrack, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Timothy M. Tymkovich, Solicitor General, E. Michael Hoffman, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

David F. Vela, Colorado State Public Defender, Thomas M. Van Cleave, III, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, for Defendant-Appellant.

Opinion by Judge HUME.

Defendant, Robert John Oynes, appeals the judgment of conviction entered following a trial to the court in which he was found guilty of one count of cultivation of marijuana. Defendant's appeal rests solely upon the trial court's ruling denying his pre-trial motion to suppress evidence and statements obtained as the result of two allegedly unlawful searches. We affirm.



Defendant first argues that the trial court erred in ruling that, for constitutional purposes, no "search" occurred when a police officer used binoculars to observe marijuana plants in defendant's bedroom window from a vantage point on private property. We perceive no error.

On the morning of August 28, 1993, a deputy with the La Plata County Sheriff's Office was hiking through a series of rolling hills and small canyons outside the town of Marvel. He entered a large pasture and noticed a house with outbuildings approximately three hundred yards away.

Because it was a particularly cloudy and dark morning, the deputy's eye was drawn to an extraordinarily bright light emanating from the upstairs window of the house. The deputy described the brightness as being similar to that of an electric arc welder.

The deputy approached the house to within sixty yards. Although he did cross stock fences in approaching the house, at all times he remained outside a fenced area immediately surrounding the house which contained a manicured grass lawn that was unlike the surrounding pasture land.

Using a pair of binoculars of unspecified strength, the deputy looked through the uncovered window into the room containing the bright light. There, he observed a hanging, hooded light above several plants. Based on the shape, pattern, and texture of the plant leaves, he believed the plants to be marijuana.

The deputy then moved to the side of the house facing the drive approaching the residence and walked to within a distance of forty yards, again staying outside the lawn area immediately surrounding the residence. From there, he observed a window behind which was some type of dark covering material.

Leaving the property by means of the drive leading to a county road located on the opposite side of the property from which he had approached, the deputy noticed for the first time a "no trespassing" sign and a closed metal gate. The deputy did not have permission of the owner to enter the fenced land from which he made his observations and did not know who owned the property.

At the suppression hearing, defendant testified that he leased the house and yard surrounded by the "inner fence" from the owner, but that the owner used the surrounding fields for his own purposes.

For purposes of the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement, "[a] search occurs when the government intrudes on an area where a person has a 'constitutionally protected reasonable expectation of privacy.' " Henderson v. People, 879 P.2d 383, 387 (Colo.1994) cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1063, 115 S.Ct. 677, 130 L.Ed.2d 609 (1994).

This determination is governed by a "two-part inquiry: [F]irst, has the individual manifested a subjective expectation of privacy in the object of the challenged search? Second, is society willing to recognize that expectation as reasonable?" California v. Ciraolo, 476 U.S. 207, 211, 106 S.Ct. 1809, 1811, 90 L.Ed.2d 210, 215 (1986).

The objective reasonableness of a privacy expectation is a fact-specific inquiry which must take account of all circumstances and is not tied to a single factor nor controlled by a specific formula. The defendant bears the burden of establishing that a search has taken place. Henderson v. People, supra.

In United States v. Dunn, 480 U.S. 294, 107 S.Ct. 1134, 94 L.Ed.2d 326 (1987), the United States Supreme Court held that no "search" occurred when officers entered a field enclosed by stock fences and looked inside the open door of a barn which was located outside the curtilage of the residence on the property. Although Dunn did not involve observation of the interior of a residence, the Court assumed that the interior of the barn was an area protected by the Fourth Amendment and explained that "there is no constitutional difference between police observations conducted while in a public place and while standing in the open fields." United States v. Dunn, supra, 480 U.S. at 304, 107 S.Ct. at 1141, 94 L.Ed.2d at 337.

The similar treatment of open fields and public places is significant because a police officer standing in a public place may view the interior of a private residence if observable with the naked eye. See People v. Gomez, 632 P.2d 586 (Colo.1981) (no "search" where officer standing on entrance walkway looked through curtain opening into motel room), cert. denied, 455 U.S. 943, 102 S.Ct. 1439, 71 L.Ed.2d 655 (1982); People v. Donald, 637 P.2d 392 (Colo.1981) (no "search" where officer standing on common entrance viewed illegal activity in apartment through a window).

Our supreme court has never directly addressed the question of whether a police officer's use of binoculars to view the interior of a residence constitutes a "search," but it has cited authorities from other jurisdictions involving the use of optical devices to enhance viewing abilities.

For example, in People v. Becker, 188 Colo. 160, 533 P.2d 494 (1975), the supreme court approvingly cited Commonwealth v. Hernley, 216 Pa.Super. 177, 263 A.2d 904 (1970), cert. denied, 401 U.S. 914, 91 S.Ct. 886, 27 L.Ed.2d 813 (1971). In Hernley, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held that police officers' use of binoculars of unspecified strength to view the interior of a printshop was not a search because the defendant's failure to curtain the window demonstrated a failure to manifest an expectation of privacy.

Under the unique circumstances of this case, we agree with the district court that the deputy's actions did not constitute a "search." As the district court observed, the objective reasonableness of defendant's expectation of privacy was substantially undermined by his display of a high intensity light that "invites not only the gaze of the curious, but also attracts the attention of the casual observer." Our review of the photographic exhibits confirms that, even on a sunny day, defendant's unusually bright halide light could be seen from a great distance. Defendant's actions simply did not manifest the type of subjective privacy expectation typically connected with ordinary activities conducted inside a private residence.

Moreover, the deputy made his observations while standing in an open field, an area over which defendant enjoyed no reasonable expectation of privacy. See United States v. Dunn, supra. While the remote location of the residence gives rise to a greater expectation of privacy than might exist in a metropolitan location, the area was not shown to be so completely uninhabited that it was reasonable for defendant to believe that no person with a pair of binoculars would ever view his brightly illuminated window from the surrounding fields.

Absent evidence in the record indicating that the deputy's...

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2 books & journal articles
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    ...U.S. 1 (1980) 31 Colorado v. Bertine, 479 U.S. 367 (1987) 162 Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S. 157 (1986) 108, 117, 120 Colorado v. Oynes, 920 P.2d 880 (Colo. App. 1996) 142 Colorado v. Spring, 479 U.S. 564 (1987) 107, 121 TABLE OF CASES 337 Columbus v. Fraley, 324 N.E.2d 735 (Ohio 1975) 89 C......
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