State v. Hanson

Citation132 P.3d 468,142 Idaho 711
Decision Date22 March 2006
Docket NumberNo. 31257.,31257.
PartiesSTATE of Idaho, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. David S. HANSON, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtIdaho Court of Appeals

Molly J. Huskey, State Appellate Public Defender; Erik R. Lehtinen, Deputy Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for appellant. Erik R. Lehtinen argued.

Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General; Rebekah A. Cudé, Deputy Attorney General, Boise, for respondent. Rebekah A. Cudé argued.


David S. Hanson appeals the denial of his motion to suppress evidence, contending that a search for weapons in the vehicle he was driving was not supported by reasonable suspicion that he was armed and dangerous. The State contends that, regardless of the lawfulness of the search, the denial of Hanson's suppression motion should be affirmed because Hanson did not show that he had a legitimate privacy interest in the vehicle that was searched. We conclude that the search was unjustified, but we remand for the district court to determine whether Hanson possessed a privacy interest that was violated by the search.


While Hanson was driving one evening in January 2003 in the downtown area of Coeur d'Alene, a law enforcement officer stopped him for a vehicle equipment violation. Upon the officer's inquiries, Hanson produced a valid Idaho driver's license, and a passenger in the vehicle identified himself as "Dave Anderson." The officer returned to his patrol car to run a check on Hanson's license and registration, which did not yield any information of concern. While the officer was so engaged, the passenger abruptly fled Hanson's vehicle on foot. When the officer returned to the car, Hanson, who had remained in the driver's seat, said he had thought the passenger's name was actually "Jeff."1 Hanson had not mentioned this discrepancy at the time the passenger gave the officer a different name, but he was otherwise cooperative throughout the encounter. He provided a description of his passenger, did not behave aggressively, submitted to and successfully passed sobriety tests, and did not appear to have broken any laws other than the equipment violation for which he had been stopped.

After conducting the sobriety tests, the officer frisked Hanson for weapons and, finding nothing, indicated that he intended to do a limited search of the vehicle for weapons. Hanson said that he did not own the vehicle and that the officer did not have permission to search. Nevertheless, after a backup officer arrived, the first officer searched the passenger compartment of the car, first checking near the passenger seat from which the other individual had fled. The search revealed an unlawfully concealed weapon under the seat, and Hanson was arrested for this offense. In a subsequent search incident to the arrest, police found trace amounts of methamphetamine in a vial in Hanson's pocket and possible ingredients for making methamphetamine in the vehicle. The officer later testified that he initially searched the car out of concern for his own safety because it was dark and because Hanson's companion had been identified by two different names and fled for unknown reasons.

Hanson was charged with possession of methamphetamine, Idaho Code § 37-2732(c), misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia, I.C. § 37-2734A(1), and misdemeanor possession of a concealed weapon, I.C. § 18-3302. He filed a suppression motion, arguing that all the evidence had been discovered as a result of an unconstitutional search of the car. The motion was denied, and he thereafter entered a conditional guilty plea. He now appeals, contending that the district court erred in denying the suppression motion because the officer did not have reasonable articulable suspicion that Hanson was armed and dangerous so as to justify the initial vehicle search, which ultimately led to Hanson's arrest and the search incident to arrest.


Two issues are presented by this appeal: Hanson's argument that the officer's search of the vehicle for weapons was unjustified by any reasonable suspicion that Hanson was armed and dangerous, and the State's contention that even if the search was unlawful, Hanson is entitled to no relief because he did not prove a privacy interest in the vehicle that he, admittedly, did not own. We will first address the lawfulness of the search.

A. The Search for Weapons Was Not Justified

Traffic stops and automobile searches are subject to the Fourth Amendment prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 653, 99 S.Ct. 1391, 1395, 59 L.Ed.2d 660, 667 (1979). A warrantless search is deemed to be "unreasonable" per se unless it falls within one of the specifically established and well-delineated exceptions to the warrant requirement. State v. Zapp, 108 Idaho 723, 726, 701 P.2d 671, 674 (Ct.App.1985) (quoting Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S.Ct. 507, 514, 19 L.Ed.2d 576, 585 (1967)). One such exception was established by the United States Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 24, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 1881, 20 L.Ed.2d 889, 907 (1968), where the Court held that a police officer who has justifiably detained a person for investigation of possible criminal activity may also frisk the individual for the officer's own safety if the officer reasonably believes that the person may be armed and dangerous. See also Zapp, 108 Idaho at 726, 701 P.2d at 674.

In Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 103 S.Ct. 3469, 77 L.Ed.2d 1201 (1983), the Supreme Court held that a Terry frisk may include protective searches of automobiles for weapons. In that case, officers stopped a vehicle they had observed moving erratically and at excessive speed. The driver was dazed, unresponsive, and appeared to be under the influence of some substance. After having been removed from the car, the driver began to walk back toward his vehicle, where the officers had seen a long hunting knife on the floorboard. The officers stopped him and searched the vehicle for weapons. In upholding this search, the Supreme Court said:

[T]he search of the passenger compartment of an automobile, limited to those areas in which a weapon may be placed or hidden, is permissible if the police officer possesses a reasonable belief based on "specific and articulable facts which, taken together with the rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant" the officer in believing that the suspect is dangerous and the suspect may gain immediate control of weapons. "[T]he issue is whether a reasonably prudent man in the circumstances would be warranted in the belief that his safety or that of others was in danger."

Long, 463 U.S. at 1049-50, 103 S.Ct. at 3480-81, 77 L.Ed.2d at 1219-20 (quoting Terry, 392 U.S. at 21, 27, 88 S.Ct. at 1879, 20 L.Ed.2d at 909). Such a search is justified because law enforcement officers may be vulnerable to attack when investigating and detaining suspects who could immediately access weapons inside the vehicle. As we said in State v. Muir, 116 Idaho 565, 567, 777 P.2d 1238, 1240 (Ct.App.1989): "[W]hen the officers had a reasonable belief that a suspect posed a danger and may gain immediate control of a weapon found inside a vehicle, the balance between the invasion of cherished personal security and the protection of the officers justified the protective search." In analyzing the legality of a frisk,

we look to the facts known to the officers on the scene and the inferences of risk of danger reasonably drawn from the totality of those specific circumstances.... [A]n officer carrying out a self-protective search "must be able to point to particular facts from which he reasonably inferred that the individual was armed and dangerous."

Id. (citations omitted) (quoting Sibron v. New York, 392 U.S. 40, 64, 88 S.Ct. 1889, 1904, 20 L.Ed.2d 917, 935 (1968)).

The issue here is whether the search of the vehicle driven by Hanson was justified by the facts known to the officer at that time. The officer testified that he was concerned for his safety, but the question remains whether this subjective concern was objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time and the reasonable inferences he could draw from this knowledge. The record shows that the officer was aware of nine pertinent facts before he searched the vehicle for weapons: (1) it was dark; (2) they were stopped on a city street in downtown Coeur d'Alene; (3) he had stopped Hanson merely for an equipment violation, and a check of police records had not revealed any outstanding warrants or indications of other crimes; (4) during the stop, the passenger exited the vehicle and fled the scene for unknown reasons; (5) afterward, Hanson told the officer that he knew the passenger by a different name than the one the passenger had given; (6) Hanson had not mentioned this discrepancy when the passenger gave the officer his purported name; (7) otherwise Hanson was cooperative, and did not engage in any threatening or suspicious behavior; (8) Hanson passed several sobriety tests, and (9) a pat-down search of Hanson had not revealed any weapons hidden in his clothing. The officer could not have reasonably suspected that Hanson was armed and dangerous merely because it was nighttime, an equipment violation had occurred, and Hanson had not immediately revealed the discrepancy regarding his companion's name. Thus, the central issue is whether the passenger's flight from the vehicle, in combination with the other circumstances, was sufficient to suggest that Hanson was armed and dangerous.

When the passenger ran away and Hanson then said he thought the passenger's name was "Jeff," not "Dave Anderson," the officer had every reason to be suspicious that criminal activity was afoot. However, a police officer's suspicion that an individual is engaged in some kind of unlawful enterprise is not sufficient to justify a protective search for weapons. The...

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