Rideout v. State

Decision Date28 October 2005
Docket NumberNo. 04-261.,No. 04-260.,04-260.,04-261.
Citation122 P.3d 201,2005 WY 141
PartiesJason Carl RIDEOUT, Appellant (Defendant), v. The STATE of Wyoming, Appellee (Plaintiff). Michael Scott Rideout, Appellant (Defendant), v. The State of Wyoming, Appellee (Plaintiff).
CourtWyoming Supreme Court

Representing Appellants: Stuart S. Healy of Healy Law Firm, Sheridan, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee: Patrick J. Crank, Wyoming Attorney General; Paul S. Rehurek, Deputy Attorney General; D. Michael Pauling, Senior Assistant Attorney General; and Jennifer A. Golden, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. Golden.

Before HILL, C.J., and KITE, VOIGT, and BURKE JJ., and BROOKS, D.J.

HILL, Chief Justice.

[¶ 1] In these consolidated cases, Jason Carl Rideout (J.C. Rideout) and his brother, Michael Scott Rideout (Scott Rideout) (collectively referred to as the Defendants) appeal a district court order denying their motions to suppress marijuana and associated paraphernalia seized from J.C. Rideout's residence after police officers effectuated a warrantless entry to secure the residence after detecting the odor of marijuana emanating from the residence and from Scott Rideout's person. We affirm.

ISSUES

[¶ 2] The Defendants filed virtually identical appellate briefs. The issue they present is:

Did the District Court err in denying [Defendants'] Motion to Suppress by finding the State had sustained its burden of proving that the forcible entry into [Defendants'] home was justified under the "exigent circumstances" exception to the search warrant requirements of the Constitutions of the United States of America and the State of Wyoming?

The State offers a slightly different statement of the same issue:

Whether the district court properly denied [Defendants'] Motions to Suppress Evidence obtained from Appellant Jason Carl Rideout's residence following two officers' warrantless entry to secure the residence and subsequent search pursuant to consent and a search warrant.

FACTS

[¶ 3] J.C. Rideout was arrested and incarcerated in the Sheridan County Detention Center on February 14, 2004, on charges unrelated to the current proceedings. Around 10:00 p.m. on February 16, 2004, it was noticed that a piece of metal framing was missing from a window in the Detention Center. A search of two adjoining cell blocks was commenced. Sergeant Kody Lamb and his canine unit were called to assist in the search. After the search of the cell block was completed, Sergeant Lamb suggested that he take his dog through the Detention Center property room where prisoners' personal effects were stored during their term of incarceration. The dog alerted on the bag containing J.C. Rideout's property. Inside of a jacket, a portion of a marijuana joint was found in a cigarette packet.

[¶ 4] Sergeant Lamb interviewed J.C. Rideout, who denied knowledge of the marijuana, claiming that he had grabbed a jacket belonging to his friend, Jeremy Chacon, when he was arrested. Since J.C. Rideout had been arrested at his own residence, Sergeant Lamb inquired whether Jeremy Chacon could be found there. J.C. Rideout replied "no" and provided some vague directions to where Jeremy Chacon resided. Sergeant Lamb subsequently received information that a Justin Chacon was living at J.C. Rideout's residence. Sergeant Lamb suspected that J.C. Rideout may have confused names. Wanting to contact Jeremy Chacon before J.C. Rideout had an opportunity to do so, he asked Sheridan County Deputy Sheriffs Ryan Mulholland and Casey Cunningham to go by J.C. Rideout's residence, and if there was any activity, to contact the residents.

[¶ 5] The deputies arrived at the residence at about 1:28 a.m. on February 17. The lights were on inside the residence and as the deputies exited their vehicle, they immediately recognized the smell of burnt marijuana. The odor became "more obvious" as they approached the residence. As they were climbing the stairs to the front door, the deputies observed through a picture window someone moving quickly from the dining room area in the front of the house toward the back. At the front door, the odor of burnt marijuana was "fairly strong." They knocked on the door but there was no answer. After the deputies knocked a second time, Scott Rideout opened the door, slipped out, and closed it behind him.

[¶ 6] Deputy Mulholland smelled marijuana on Scott Rideout, who denied smoking anything other than cigarettes. Scott Rideout informed the deputies that Jeremy Chacon was not at the residence and that Justin Chacon, not Jeremy, lived there. Scott Rideout offered to get Justin. Deputy Mulholland agreed but asked Scott Rideout to call for him from the front door and not to go inside the residence. When Scott Rideout opened the door, the deputies received a "very strong" odor of burnt marijuana.

[¶ 7] At that point, the deputies concluded that the smell of burnt marijuana established probable cause that a misdemeanor crime — possession of a controlled substance — was being committed. The deputies decided to enter the residence and secure it before seeking a search warrant in order to prevent the destruction of any evidence.

[¶ 8] Once inside the residence, the deputies observed in plain view marijuana seeds and approximately a quarter ounce of marijuana in plastic containers on the dining room table along with six small marijuana plants growing in a planter by the table. Justin Chacon was located in the kitchen area and brought to the dining room, where he and Scott Rideout were advised that they were under investigative detention and were read their Miranda1 rights.

[¶ 9] Both Justin Chacon and Scott Rideout agreed to answer questions. Justin Chacon admitted to smoking marijuana with a friend, who had left and whom he would not identify, about 45 minutes before the deputies arrived. He also denied that the marijuana found in J.C. Rideout's property belonged to his brother, Jeremy Chacon. Justin Chacon denied a request for consent to search the residence claiming that he did not have the authority to do so as he only lived there, and that any consent to search was up to J.C. Rideout. Similarly, Scott Rideout refused the request for consent to search because he did not live there. Justin Chacon and Scott Rideout were then placed under arrest for possession of a controlled substance.

[¶ 10] After the evidence found in plain view was secured, Deputy Mulholland left to secure a search warrant. Meanwhile, Sergeant Lamb contacted J.C. Rideout and obtained his consent to search the residence. The officers returned to the residence and began to search it, with the exception of Justin Chacon's room, which they concluded required a search warrant since he had refused consent. The search of the residence revealed numerous items related to drug trafficking, including a bag of marijuana weighing just under a pound in the kitchen, along with small amounts of marijuana in various other rooms, a large quantity of plastic baggies, forty $20 dollar bills, and a suspected drug ledger.

[¶ 11] The case was turned over to officers from the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI), who obtained a search warrant for Justin Chacon's room, and J.C. and Scott Rideout's vehicles, as well as their financial records. The search of Justin Chacon's room disclosed a digital scale, gallon size plastic baggies, and a small quantity of marijuana. A small amount of marijuana and what appeared to be ledgers detailing drug transactions were found in Scott Rideout's vehicle. Similar documents were located in J.C. Rideout's vehicle.

[¶ 12] Later in the day on February 17, DCI interviewed all three subjects individually. J.C. Rideout disclosed that the residence was owned by his mother. He admitted that he wired money to Scott Rideout, who would bring marijuana from his home in Arizona to Sheridan in one- to two-pound quantities. Justin Chacon acknowledged that the marijuana and digital scale found in his room were his. He also claimed that Scott Rideout was bringing marijuana to Wyoming from Arizona. Scott Rideout only admitted that he had brought the marijuana found on the dining table from Arizona. The search of the Rideouts' financial records confirmed that significant sums of money had been wired from J.C. Rideout to his brother in Arizona.

[¶ 13] J.C. Rideout was charged with one count of possession of a Schedule I controlled substance (marijuana) with intent to deliver in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 35-7-1031(a)(ii) (LexisNexis 2005). Scott Rideout was charged with one count of possession of a Schedule I controlled substance (marijuana) in an amount greater than three ounces in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 35-7-1031(c)(iii) (LexisNexis 2005). The Defendants pleaded not guilty and filed separate motions to suppress the evidence seized from the residence. After a hearing, the district court denied the motions finding that the smell of burnt marijuana gave the officers probable cause to believe that a crime was being committed within the residence and that exigent circumstances existed justifying a warrantless entry of the residence to secure it and preserve evidence of the crime. Thereafter, the Defendants entered into a plea agreement wherein they pleaded guilty to the respective charges against them while reserving the right to challenge on appeal the district court's order denying the motions to suppress. The Defendants' consolidated appeals are now before us.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶ 14] The standard we apply when reviewing a district court's ruling on a motion to suppress is well established:

We generally do not disturb evidentiary rulings made by a trial court unless the trial court abused its discretion. Wilson v. State, 874 P.2d 215, 218 (Wyo.1994). In reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress evidence, we do not interfere with the trial court's findings of fact unless the findings are clearly erroneous. Gehnert v. State, 956 P.2d 359, 361 (Wyo.1998)....

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