People v. Santistevan

Decision Date17 March 1986
Docket NumberNo. 85SA86,85SA86
Citation715 P.2d 792
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Richard SANTISTEVAN, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

Jon Neil Barclay, Dist. Atty., Third Judicial Dist., Franklin D. Azar, Asst. Dist. Atty., Trinidad, for plaintiff-appellant.

Garrett Sheldon, Walsenberg, for defendant-appellee.

DUBOFSKY, Justice.

In this interlocutory proceeding under C.A.R. 4.1, the People appeal from an order of the Las Animas County District Court suppressing certain evidence against the defendant Richard Santistevan in a prosecution for third degree burglary. 1 The evidence suppressed consisted of the results of a police officer's examination of the defendant's hands by means of an ultraviolet light. The district court ruled the ultraviolet light examination unconstitutional as a warrantless nonconsensual search not supported by exigent circumstances. We reverse.

On January 1, 1984, the manager of a motel in Trinidad, Colorado, reported the theft of money from coin-operated laundry machines and vending machines in the motel to an officer of the Trinidad Police Department. In an effort to identify the thief, the officer put fluorescent powder and paste into and around the coin box of one of the machines. The next day, the motel manager notified the police officer that money had again been taken from the machines.

Because the manager and the police officer found coins from the marked machine in the cash register at the front desk of the motel, their suspicions focused on the desk clerks and employees with access to the laundry room. The manager contacted two of the employees and asked them to come to the motel. One other employee and the defendant were already at the motel for their regular work shifts. The assembled employees were asked to place their hands under an ultraviolet light that had been set up by the police officer. The evidence in the record conflicts as to whether the employees were informed by the police officer of the nature or purpose of the investigation and whether the officer advised the employees of their Miranda 2 rights before examining their hands. When the defendant, without apparent objection, placed his hands under the ultraviolet light, the police officer discovered traces of fluorescent powder or paste. The officer then gave the defendant a Miranda advisement, and, after questioning him in the motel office, permitted him to leave.

On April 25, 1984, a complaint charging the defendant with burglary was filed. Prior to trial the defendant moved to suppress the results of the ultraviolet light examination on the grounds that the examination was not preceded by Miranda warnings and that the procedure was an unconstitutional search. The district court granted the motion to suppress.

On appeal the People contend that the examination of the defendant's hands was not a search within the scope of constitutional prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures. They further argue that if the district court ruled correctly that the examination was a search, then the defendant voluntarily consented to the search, thereby obviating the need for a warrant. We decide that the police investigative procedure here was a search, but that the court's consideration of whether the defendant consented to the search suggests an improper focus on the defendant's lack of knowledge of the purpose of the ultraviolet light examination.


Under the fourth amendment to the United States Constitution, "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated." Article II, § 7 of the Colorado Constitution also provides that "[t]he people shall be secure in their persons, papers, homes and effects, from unreasonable searches and seizures."

As we stated in People v. Unruh, 713 P.2d 370, 377 (Colo.1986), when an individual challenges as a search a governmental investigative activity that involves an intrusion into that person's privacy, we must conduct "a two-step inquiry: (1) was the intrusion a search; (2) if so, was it a reasonable search." See also Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967). To answer the first question, we must determine whether the individual had a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to the governmental intrusion. We conclude on the basis of this analysis that the investigative activity employed by the police officer in the present case constituted a search, a conclusion that finds support in the opinions of other courts.

In Cupp v. Murphy, 412 U.S. 291, 93 S.Ct. 2000, 36 L.Ed.2d 900 (1973), the defendant, who was suspected of strangling his wife, was detained at the police station while the police took samples of scrapings from under his fingernails. The samples were analyzed and later introduced as incriminating evidence at the defendant's trial. Although the United States Supreme Court ultimately decided that the taking of the samples was permissible under a recognized exception to the warrant requirement, it held that "the search of the respondent's fingernails went beyond mere 'physical characteristics ... constantly exposed to the public,' ... and constituted the type of 'severe, though brief, intrusion upon cherished personal security' that is subject to constitutional scrutiny." Id. at 295, 93 S.Ct. at 2003 (citations omitted). Similarly, in the present case, the examination of Santistevan's hands with an ultraviolet light went beyond the type of exposure to which, in the absence of governmental interference, persons are subjected each day. As did the defendant in Cupp v. Murphy, Santistevan had a reasonable expectation of privacy from an ultraviolet light examination of the substances present on his hands, the incriminating character of which was not evident to the naked eye. See 1 W. LaFave, Search and Seizure §§ 2.2, 2.6 (1978); see also State v. Howell, 524 S.W.2d 11 (Mo.1975) (swabbing of defendant's hands with solution that allowed police officers to determine that defendant recently had fired a gun was a search).

Another court, faced directly with the question of whether the use of an ultraviolet lamp to examine a suspect's hands constituted a search, stated that "[t]here can be little doubt that an inspection of one's hands, under an ultraviolet lamp, is the kind of governmental intrusion into one's private domain that is protected by the Fourth Amendment." United States v. Kenaan, 496 F.2d 181, 182 (1st Cir.1974). The defendant in Kenaan was arrested after an ultraviolet lamp exposed traces of fluorescent powder on his hands, indicating that he had handled a parcel that previously had been dusted with fluorescent powder and contained cocaine. The court in Kenaan concluded that "the reach of the Fourth Amendment ... should certainly encompass a detailed inspection, by special instrument, of one's skin." Id. (footnote omitted). 3 We agree with the reasoning in Kenaan and hold that a person has a reasonable expectation that police officers will not subject his hands to an ultraviolet lamp examination to discover incriminating evidence not otherwise observable and that requiring a person to submit to an ultraviolet lamp examination constitutes a search.


Because we conclude that the governmental activity here constituted a search, we must determine whether the search was reasonable. People v. Unruh, 713 P.2d at 377. A search conducted without prior judicial approval is per se unreasonable unless the search fits within an established exception to the warrant requirement. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. at 357, 88 S.Ct. at 514; People v. Unruh, 713 P.2d at 377.

One of the exceptions to the warrant requirement, and the only one offered by the People as applicable to this case, is consent to the search. 4 A police officer may search for incriminating evidence when the person to be searched voluntarily consents. Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 93 S.Ct. 2041, 36 L.Ed.2d 854 (1973). Consent is voluntary when it is the product of free and unconstrained choice and not the result of force, threat, or promise, express or implied. Id.; People v. Elkhatib, 632 P.2d 275 (Colo.1981). Voluntariness is a question of fact to be determined from the totality of circumstances, and factors to be considered include the age, education and intelligence of the person consenting to the search; the duration, location, and other circumstances of the search; and the consenting person's state of mind. People v. Carlson, 677 P.2d 310, 318 (Colo.1984); People v. Helm, 633 P.2d 1071 (Colo.1981). The prosecution has the burden to prove voluntariness by clear and convincing evidence. Carlson, 677 P.2d at 318; Helm, 633 P.2d at 1077.

In asking us to overturn the district court's ruling that the evidence was "not sufficient to establish that the defendant voluntarily consented to the search," the People note that the defendant, age 21 and a high school graduate, testified that he put his hands under the light voluntarily, and that he was not threatened in order to obtain his consent. Although the district court concluded that the evidence was not sufficient to establish voluntary consent, the only specific finding supporting the court's conclusion was that the defendant "was not told the purpose for which he was being asked to perform this act." Thus, the district court's ruling turns on the defendant's lack of knowledge of the purpose of the search.

No case in Colorado directly addresses the question of whether knowledge of the purpose of a search is a prerequisite to establishing the voluntary character of the consent to search. However, we have held that although the suspect's knowledge of a right to refuse consent is a factor to be taken into account, such knowledge is not a prerequisite to establishing the voluntary character of a consent search. Schneckloth, 412 U.S. at...

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16 cases
  • People v. Boff
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court
    • December 19, 1988
    ...(1977). Even within the scope of a given exception, the search must meet the ultimate requirement of reasonableness. See People v. Santistevan, 715 P.2d 792, 794 (Colo.), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 965, 107 S.Ct. 468, 93 L.Ed.2d 412 (1986). One of the well-recognized exceptions to the warrant r......
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    ...of mind. Consent may be voluntary even when the person is not aware of or is misinformed as to the search's purpose. People v. Santistevan, 715 P.2d 792 (Colo.1986), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 965, 107 S.Ct. 468, 93 L.Ed.2d 412 Although deception by the police is not condoned by the courts, the......
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4 books & journal articles
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