State v. Donato

Decision Date01 March 2001
Docket NumberNo. 25924.,25924.
Citation135 Idaho 469,20 P.3d 5
PartiesSTATE of Idaho, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Anthony DONATO, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtIdaho Supreme Court

Andrew Parnes, Ketchum, for appellant, argued.

Hon. Alan G. Lance, Attorney General, Boise, for respondent. Deputy Attorney General Karen A. Hudelson argued.

TROUT, Chief Justice.

Anthony J. Donato ("Donato") appeals the judgment of conviction entered upon his conditional guilty pleas to the felony offenses of trafficking in marijuana by manufacturing and possession of marijuana with intent to deliver.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Donato challenges the affidavit supporting the search warrant for his home because it was based, in part, on information collected from Donato's curbside garbage. The police were provided information from an "anonymous" employee of a greenhouse that a man matching Donato's description and driving a car licensed to Donato had purchased several bags of potting soil and, in response to questioning by the informant, indicated he would be growing indoors during the winter and inquired about purchasing indoor grow lights. Based on this information, the police located Donato's car and determined where he lived. The police conducted two searches of Donato's garbage, which had been set at the edge of Donato's property for collection.

During the first search, three bags containing Donato's garbage had been placed in an opaque bag and put inside a trashcan at the edge of Donato's property. When an employee of the garbage collection company was preparing to dump the lidded trashcan into the garbage truck, an officer of the Blaine county Drug Task Force confiscated the trash. The bags were taken to the Blaine County sheriff's office, examined and inventoried. The bags were found to contain an empty pack of zig zag rolling papers, a small green leaf appearing to be marijuana, two root balls containing stems from a plant appearing to be marijuana, and a rolled-up newspaper containing green leaves also appearing to be marijuana. A similar search was conducted less than a month later revealing trash containing three root balls with stems and potting soil, small green leaves, an empty bag of rolling papers, and mail items addressed to Donato.

The police used this information to draft an affidavit of probable cause and obtained a search warrant to search Donato's home. During the search, police found evidence of growing marijuana. Donato was subsequently indicted for trafficking in marijuana by manufacturing, two counts of failing to affix illegal drug tax stamps, and possession of marijuana with intent to deliver.

Donato filed a motion to suppress arguing the search of the garbage container violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 17 of the Idaho Constitution and therefore, the results of the searches must be suppressed, rendering the subsequent search warrant invalid. The district court denied the motion to suppress. Donato entered conditional guilty pleas to the felony offenses of trafficking in marijuana by manufacturing and possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, reserving the right to appeal the denial of the motion to suppress. Donato was sentenced to a unified six-year sentence with two years six months fixed on the trafficking count and a unified two-year sentence with one year fixed on the possession count. The district court ordered the sentences to run concurrently. Donato filed a timely notice of appeal.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In reviewing an order granting or denying a motion to suppress evidence, this Court will defer to the trial court's factual findings unless clearly erroneous. State v. Medley, 127 Idaho 182, 185, 898 P.2d 1093 (1995). However, free review is exercised over a trial court's determination as to whether constitutional requirements have been satisfied in light of the facts found. Id., 898 P.2d at 1096 (citing State v. Weber, 116 Idaho 449, 451-52, 776 P.2d 458, 460-61).

III. DISCUSSION

The district court found, and Donato agrees, the search of his garbage was valid under the United States Supreme Court's interpretation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35, 108 S.Ct. 1625, 100 L.Ed.2d 30 (1988). However, Donato argues Article I § 17 of the Idaho Constitution provides greater protection to privacy rights and, consequently, the search of his garbage was invalid under the Idaho Constitution. Article 1, § 17 of the Idaho Constitution provides:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated; and no warrant shall issue without probable cause shown by affidavit, particularly describing the place to be searched and the person or thing to be seized.

This section of the Idaho Constitution is substantially similar to the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The purpose behind Article 1, § 17 of the Idaho Constitution parallels the statement of purpose given by the United States Supreme Court: "The Fourth Amendment and art. 1 § 17 are designed to protect a person's legitimate expectation of privacy, which `society is prepared to recognize as reasonable'." State v. Thompson, 114 Idaho 746, 749, 760 P.2d 1162, 1165 (citing Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 143, 99 S.Ct. 421, 430, 58 L.Ed.2d 387, 401 (1978) (citations omitted)). The similarity of language and purpose, however, does not require this Court to follow United States Supreme Court precedent in interpreting our own constitution. See id. at 748, 760 P.2d at 1164 (citing State v. Newman, 108 Idaho 5, 10 n. 6, 696 P.2d 856, 861 n. 6 (1985); State v. Johnson, 110 Idaho 516, 520 n. 1, 716 P.2d 1288, 1292 n. 1 (1986)).

State Courts are at liberty to find within the provisions of their constitutions greater protection than is afforded under the federal constitution as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court. See, Oregon v. Hass, 420 U.S. 714, 719, 95 S.Ct. 1215, 1219 (1975). This is true even when the constitutional provisions implicated contain similar phraseology. Long gone are the days when state courts will blindly apply United States Supreme Court interpretation and methodology when in the process of interpreting their own constitutions.

Newman, 108 Idaho at 10 n. 6, 696 P.2d at 861 n. 6. Although the United States Supreme Court establishes no more than the floor of constitutional protection, this Court has found there is "merit in having the same rule of law applicable within the borders of our state, whether an interpretation of the Fourth Amendment or its counterpart—Article I, § 17 of the Idaho Constitution—is involved. Such consistency makes sense to the police and the public." State v. Charpentier, 131 Idaho 649, 653, 962 P.2d 1033, 1037 (1998).

In California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35, 108 S.Ct. 1625, 100 L.Ed.2d 30 (1988), the United States Supreme Court was presented with facts that closely parallel the facts of this case. In Greenwood, the police, acting off information indicating that Greenwood might be engaged in narcotics trafficking, twice obtained garbage bags from his regular trash collector that were left on the curb in front of Greenwood's house. Id. at 37-38, 108 S.Ct. at 1627, 100 L.Ed.2d at 34-35. The Court in Greenwood begins with the test for Fourth Amendment protection:

The warrantless search and seizure of the garbage bags left at the curb outside the Greenwood house would violate the Fourth Amendment only if respondents manifested a subjective expectation of privacy in their garbage that society accepts as objectively reasonable.

Id. at 39, 108 S.Ct. at 1628, 100 L.Ed.2d at 36 (citations omitted). The respondents in Greenwood, like Donato, argued they had a subjective expectation of privacy where the trash was placed for collection in opaque plastic bags, the collector was expected to pick up and mingle the trash with the trash of others and it was only temporarily on the street and unlikely to be inspected by anyone. The Court recognized that although the respondents may not have expected the contents of the garbage would become known to the police or other members of the public, "[a]n expectation of privacy does not give rise to Fourth Amendment protection ... unless society is prepared to accept that expectation as objectively reasonable." Id. at 40, 108 S.Ct. at 1628, 100 L.Ed.2d at 36. The Court concluded society would not accept as reasonable the claim to an expectation of privacy in trash left for collection in an area accessible to the public and respondents had exposed their garbage to the public sufficiently to defeat their claim to Fourth Amendment protection. Id. at 39-40, 108 S.Ct. at 1628, 100 L.Ed.2d at 36-37.

Donato argues our previous extensions of Article 1, § 17, are a guidepost for determining the scope of protection under Article 1, § 17 of the Idaho Constitution and should be followed to construe our Constitution to afford Idaho citizens a privacy right in their curbside garbage. Admittedly, we have previously found Article 1, § 17, in some instances, provides greater protection than the parallel provision in the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. See, e.g., State v. Webb, 130 Idaho 462, 943 P.2d 52 (1997); State v. Guzman, 122 Idaho 981, 842 P.2d 660 (1992); State v. Thompson, 114 Idaho 746, 760 P.2d 1162 (1988). However, in these cases, we provided greater protection to Idaho citizens based on the uniqueness of our state, our Constitution, and our long-standing jurisprudence. None of these factors...

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