State v. Arthur Ray Peoples

Decision Date11 January 2022
Docket NumberDA 19-0070
Citation2022 MT 4
CourtMontana Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. ARTHUR RAY PEOPLES, Defendant and Appellant.

Argued and Submitted on: July 7, 2021

APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eleventh Judicial District, and For the County of Flathead, Cause No. DC 02-319B Honorable Robert B. Allison, Presiding Judge

For Appellant: Chad Wright, Appellate Defender, Kathryn Hutchison (argued), Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana

For Appellee: Austin Knudsen, Montana Attorney General, C. Mark Fowler (argued), Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Travis R. Ahner, Flathead County Attorney, Alison E. Howard Deputy County Attorney, Kalispell, Montana


Dirk Sandefur, Justice

¶1 Arthur Ray Peoples (Peoples) appeals the September 2018 judgment of the Montana Eleventh Judicial District Court Flathead County, denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of a warrantless search of his apartment in Missoula, Montana, in March 2018. We address the following restated issue:

Whether the District Court erroneously denied Peoples's motion to suppress evidence seized in a warrantless probation search of his apartment based on asserted violations of Article II, Sections 10-11 of the Montana Constitution?

We affirm.


¶2 In 2003, Peoples was convicted in Flathead County of operation of an unlawful clandestine methamphetamine laboratory and criminal possession of dangerous drugs. The court sentenced him to a net 20-year prison term, with 5-years suspended, and multitude of conditions applicable to the probationary term of his sentence. Among various other conditions, the sentencing order prohibited him from using alcohol and illegal drugs and required him to obey all laws. The order further mandated that:

[he] must submit to a warrantless search of his person vehicle, place of residence, and place of employment by his supervising officer whenever there is reasonable cause to believe that he has violated the law or any condition of his sentence.

¶3 On February 27, 2017, Peoples discharged onto probation for the suspended term of his sentence under the supervision of a Montana Department of Corrections (MDOC) probation officer (PO) in Missoula.[1] After establishing residence and finding employment, Peoples admitted to his PO on June 1, 2017, that he had used methamphetamine on multiple occasions since discharging onto probation and then subsequently tested positive for methamphetamine use. On August 31, 2017, he again admitted to using methamphetamine, this time "for about a week" and again subsequently tested positive for methamphetamine use.

¶4 On a probation home visit on September 12, 2017, Peoples once again admitted to continued methamphetamine use and again tested positive. On October 12, 2017, he called and reported to his PO that he was yet again using methamphetamine. Following an MDOC administrative intervention hearing, he received a 4-day jail sanction, with 16 more suspended, followed by placement in the MDOC Enhanced Supervision Program (ESP) in which he would be subject to more intensive drug-testing, inter alia. Despite later testing positive for opiate use in November 2017, he ultimately completed the ESP program in January 2018.[2] After Peoples had clean urinalysis tests on his December 2017 and January 2018 home visits, his PO observed drug paraphernalia in plain view on his February 2018 home visit. Upon challenge, Peoples admitted using methamphetamine again.

¶5 At his next home visit on March 7, 2018, the 60 year-old Peoples provided a clean urinalysis sample. However, on March 15, 2018, as she had on several prior occasions, Peoples's wife called his PO after being at his apartment and reported that she believed he was again using methamphetamine. She reported further that she thought he may have overdosed and that she saw a "large amount of blood in his apartment."

¶6 The PO later testified that, upon obtaining his supervisor's authorization for a forced entry if necessary, the PO, accompanied by two other MDOC probation officers and a deputy United States Marshal, went to Peoples's apartment complex the next day to check on him and conduct a probation search regarding his reported illegal drug use, possible overdose, and the "large amount of blood" reported by his wife.[3] It later came out at a hearing that the wife's report of a large amount of blood in Peoples's apartment had also piqued the interest of one of the accompanying probation officers who had recently received unconfirmed third-hand information that he may have been involved in some capacity in a recent homicide in the Missoula area.[4] The PO later testified that, upon arrival at the apartment complex, the officers saw Peoples's car parked outside his apartment. He testified that they then repeatedly knocked on his apartment door for "a long time" in a "very loud" manner, announced "that we were Probation," but received no response from Peoples. Rather than force the door, one of the other officers called the apartment complex manager who came to the scene with a key to Peoples's apartment.[5] The PO then opened the apartment door with the key and he and the other three officers entered the apartment with their sidearms temporarily drawn.[6] The PO testified at the suppression hearing that, upon entry into the apartment, they immediately saw Peoples "seated on his bed" naked and, as they continued "closer to" him, saw "a baggy of white crystalline substance," suspected as methamphetamine, "near him" in plain view "on his bed."[7] One of the probation officers immediately handcuffed the naked Peoples and left him sitting on the bed while the others performed a protective sweep of the apartment. On cross-examination, the PO acknowledged that, in the process, the officers saw suspected "spots of blood" on the floor in or about the adjacent bathroom/laundry area of the apartment. He testified that one of the other probation officers called the Missoula Police Department (MPD) and reported their discovery of the suspected methamphetamine as well as blood spots "that [they] thought needed further investigation."[8] The PO explained at hearing that it is "customary that [we] call law enforcement" when a probation search yields "evidence of a new crime." He testified that the probation officers and the deputy Marshal then waited with Peoples in the apartment until an MPD officer arrived about 30 minutes later. The PO stated that he stood nearby Peoples for most of that time, except when he briefly stepped away to look at the blood spots that the other officers were looking at on the adjacent floor in the bathroom/laundry area while waiting for the MPD to respond.

¶7 Upon arrival, the MPD officer found Peoples still sitting handcuffed, naked on his bed with one of the probation officers nearby. At the prompting of the MPD officer, the PO allowed Peoples to get dressed and the police officer later took him into custody regarding his suspected methamphetamine possession and removed him from the apartment.[9] The PO testified at the subsequent revocation hearing that Peoples was "calm and compliant" throughout the process.

¶8 Pursuant to § 46-18-203, MCA, the PO subsequently filed a report of probation violation (ROV) alleging that Peoples violated the terms and conditions of his probation on March 16, 2018, based on possession and use of methamphetamine and refusing to open the door for probation officers when they knocked and announced their presence at his apartment. Based on the ROV, the State filed a petition for revocation of his suspended sentence. After obtaining appointed counsel and answering "not true" to the alleged violations, Peoples filed a motion to suppress the methamphetamine evidence found in his apartment. The sole asserted grounds for suppression were that the search and resulting seizure were constitutionally unreasonable because "[t]he stated basis for . . . [the] forced entry . . . was a pretext for . . . [a] warrantless search of [his] home" and that "[l]aw enforcement lacked sufficient justification" for the search. At the subsequent evidentiary hearing on the motion, the State presented the testimony of Peoples's PO who ultimately testified that he believed he had reasonable cause to conduct a warrantless probation search of Peoples's apartment under the circumstances. Peoples presented no evidence to support his assertion that the probation search was a pretext for a search of his residence for evidence for some other law enforcement purpose.[10] Analogizing the circumstances of this case to those in State v. Therriault, 2000 MT 286, 302 Mont. 189, 14 P.3d 444, Peoples's sole argument at the close of hearing was that the alleged "violation[s] of conditions . . . did not give them the right to break in the door and search" his home. Orally at the close of hearing, and in a supplemental written order, the District Court denied the motion to suppress based on its ultimate finding and conclusion that the search and resulting seizure were lawful under the probation search exception to the warrant requirements of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article II, Sections 10-11 of the Montana Constitution.

¶9 On September 27, 2018, during the initial adjudicatory stage of the subsequent hearing on the merits of the probation revocation petition, the District Court took judicial notice of the evidentiary hearing record from the prior suppression hearing, as well as its resulting findings of fact conclusions of law, and judgment denying the motion. Defense counsel then concurred that the PO should give supplemental testimony regarding the truth of the alleged probation violations and ...

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2 cases
  • State v. Mefford
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court
    • September 27, 2022
    ... ... searches. U.S. Const. amend. IV; Mont. Const. art. II, § ... 11; State v. Peoples , 2022 MT 4, ¶ 12, 407 ... Mont. 84, 502 P.3d 129; State v. Staker , 2021 MT ... 151, ¶ 10 n.9, 404 Mont. 307, 489 P.3d 489; ... Thomas , ¶ ... ...
  • State v. Mefford
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court
    • September 27, 2022
    ... ... U.S. Const. amend. IV ; Mont. Const. art. II, 11 ; State v. Peoples , 2022 MT 4, 12, 407 Mont. 84, 502 P.3d 129 ; State v. Staker , 2021 MT 151, 10 n.9, 404 Mont. 307, 489 P.3d 489 ; Thomas , 13. Both the ... ...

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