State v. Malloy, 012121 UTSC, 20190446

Docket Nº:20190446
Opinion Judge:LEE, ASSOCIATE CHIEF JUSTICE
Party Name:State of Utah, Appellee, v. Robert Dennis Malloy, Appellant.
Attorney:Sean D. Reyes, Att'y Gen., Jeffrey S. Gray, Asst. Solic. Gen., Samuel P. Sutton, Dist. Att'y, Salt Lake City, for appellee Andrea J. Garland, Elise C. Lockwood, Salt Lake City, for appellant
Judge Panel:Associate Chief Justice Lee authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Durrant, Justice Himonas, Justice Pearce, and Justice Petersen joined.
Case Date:January 21, 2021
Court:Supreme Court of Utah

2021 UT 3

State of Utah, Appellee,

v.

Robert Dennis Malloy, Appellant.

No. 20190446

Supreme Court of Utah

January 21, 2021

Heard September 11, 2020

On Certiorari to the Utah Court of Appeals Third District, Salt Lake County The Honorable Todd M. Shaughnessy No. 161903789

Sean D. Reyes, Att'y Gen., Jeffrey S. Gray, Asst. Solic. Gen., Samuel P. Sutton, Dist. Att'y, Salt Lake City, for appellee

Andrea J. Garland, Elise C. Lockwood, Salt Lake City, for appellant

Associate Chief Justice Lee authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Durrant, Justice Himonas, Justice Pearce, and Justice Petersen joined.

OPINION

LEE, ASSOCIATE CHIEF JUSTICE

¶1 Robert Dennis Malloy was confronted by police officers while apparently asleep at the wheel of his vehicle at a Salt Lake City McDonald's. The police had been told that a witness had seen someone driving a pickup truck in a McDonald's parking lot who had fallen asleep at the wheel, hit a light pole, and then backed away into a parking stall and nodded off again. When the first police officer arrived, he walked up to the truck, looked inside, and saw someone (Malloy) slouched forward in the driver's seat and not moving. The officer then opened the truck door and saw evidence of drug paraphernalia between Malloy's feet. Follow-up questions and investigation uncovered additional evidence.

¶2 Malloy was charged with felony DUI and possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. He moved to suppress the evidence on the ground that the officer had effected an unreasonable search in opening the door of his truck without first knocking on the window. The district court denied the motion, concluding that the officer was justified in opening the door in service of the police officer's "community caretaking" concerns. Malloy entered a conditional guilty plea, reserving the right to appeal the denial of the motion to suppress.

¶3 The court of appeals affirmed on alternative grounds. State v. Malloy, 2019 UT App 55, 441 P.3d 756. It held that the officer was justified in opening the car door incident to a lawful traffic stop under the standard in State v. James, 2000 UT 80, 13 P.3d 576-a case in which this court noted the settled authority of the police to direct a driver to "leave the vehicle" during the course of an investigation incident to such a stop, asserted that "[c]ausing" a car door to be opened is a "reasonable and practical means" of securing compliance with such an order, and held that there is no "functional" or constitutionally relevant distinction between an officer opening a car door and a driver being asked to do so. Id. ¶¶ 10-13. Because the police had the reasonable suspicion necessary to temporarily detain Malloy in his vehicle and ask him to step out of it, the court of appeals cited James for the proposition that the subsequent search could not be rendered unreasonable on the ground that the officer had opened the car door. Malloy, 2019 UT App 55, ¶ 17. And on that basis, the court of appeals declined to reach the community caretaking considerations addressed in the district court. Id. ¶ 12.

¶4 Malloy filed a petition for certiorari, which we granted. Malloy challenges the court of appeals' decision on two main fronts. He first asserts that the analysis in James is unduly sweeping and has been overtaken by subsequent, binding authority, such as United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400 (2012) (holding that a physical trespass on a vehicle-in the attachment of a GPS device-constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment). And he also contends that the police acted unreasonably-and not in a manner commensurate with any community caretaking concerns-in opening his car door and thereby effecting a search.

¶5 We agree with Malloy's first point as a matter of Fourth Amendment principles. On reflection, and over time, our sweeping statements in James have been revealed to be overbroad. Under Jones and related cases, it can no longer be said that it makes no constitutional difference whether a police officer opens a car door or asks a driver to do so. For reasons explained further below, we repudiate the sweeping language of our opinion in James and hold that the identity of the door-opener may well affect the reasonableness of a given police encounter.

¶6 In so stating we are not holding that any and all police acts of door-opening amount to Fourth Amendment searches- much less unreasonable searches, or unreasonable searches triggering the exclusionary rule. In fact, we do not conclude that the evidence here is subject to exclusion. We affirm the denial of Malloy's motion to suppress under the authority of Davis v. United States, 564 U.S. 229 (2011). Davis establishes an important limitation on the exclusionary rule. It holds that evidence secured in "objectively reasonable reliance on binding . . . precedent" is not subject to exclusion. Id. at 232.

¶7 We affirm on that narrow basis. While repudiating and limiting the sweeping language of our opinion in James, we hold that the police here acted objectively reasonably in reliance on that precedent. And we thus affirm the denial of the motion to suppress without reaching the ultimate question of the reasonableness of the search or seizure in question (as an element of a traffic stop or an encounter incident to community caretaking).

I

¶8 In the early hours of a March morning in 2016, Officer Matthew Overman responded to a report that "the driver of [a] truck had fallen asleep and hit" a light pole in a McDonald's parking lot in Salt Lake City. Overman received an update on his way to the scene-an indication that the driver had initially passed out, then stirred, backed into a parking space, and passed out again. When he got to the McDonald's, Overman saw no damage to either the truck or the pole. A witness approached Overman and told him what had happened, and that he was worried the driver was dead, as "he looked gray." Overman took down the witness's contact information before approaching the truck. As he neared the truck, Overman observed that the driver was "kind of slumped, slouched forward" over the steering wheel, and "appeared to be unconscious."

¶9 Without knocking, Officer Overman opened the door of the truck. The driver (Malloy) immediately turned and looked at him. Overman observed a drug pipe on the floor of the vehicle between Malloy's feet, which he retrieved as he asked Malloy "what he was doing and why he was slouched over." The officer asked Malloy to exit the truck, and as he did, Overman saw a meth pipe on the driver's seat, as well as a plate of pancakes and sausage on the console between the seats. After being handcuffed and told to sit on the curb, Malloy told a backup officer who had arrived that "he had taken oxycodone for some foot pain." Malloy then "failed a series of field sobriety tests" and was arrested for driving under the influence of drugs. "In a search incident to arrest, the officers found heroin in Malloy's left coat pocket." After obtaining a search warrant, the officers collected a blood sample, which ultimately tested positive for methamphetamine.

¶10 Malloy was charged with driving under the influence of drugs, unlawful possession of a controlled substance, and possession of drug paraphernalia. He moved to suppress the evidence, asserting that Overman had "conducted an unlawful search when he opened the truck door without first knocking on the window to see if Malloy would respond." The State opposed the motion, "arguing that opening the truck door was justified" under an emergency aid or community caretaking "exception[] to the warrant requirement." The district court denied the motion, concluding that the search was reasonable as a matter of emergency aid or community caretaking.

¶11 After entering a conditional plea, Malloy filed an appeal from the denial of the motion to suppress. On appeal, the State again argued that opening the door was justified under the emergency aid exception. The court of appeals affirmed on an alternative ground. Because Overman could have opened the door to investigate Malloy's condition as part of a lawful traffic stop, opening the door was not an independent search, but a factor incidental to a reasonable investigation of the driver. State v. Malloy, 2019 UT App 55, ¶ 19, 441 P.3d 756 (relying on State v. James, 2000 UT 80, ¶ 13, 13 P.3d 576).

¶12 Malloy sought to challenge that decision in a petition for certiorari, which we granted. Our review on certiorari is for correctness. State v. Ainsworth, 2017 UT 60, ¶ 13, 423 P.3d 1229 ("We review the court of appeals' decision for correctness, without according any deference to its analysis.").

II

¶13 Malloy presents two principal challenges to the decision of the court of appeals. He first contends that the court of appeals erred in giving controlling effect to our sweeping statement in State v. James that there is no "functional" or constitutionally relevant distinction between an officer opening a car door and a driver being asked to do so. 2000 UT 80, ¶ 13, 13 P.3d 576. Because in his view the police acted unreasonably-and not in a manner commensurate with any community caretaking concerns-in opening his car door and thereby effecting a search, Malloy also claims that the evidence secured by the police should have been excluded.1

¶14 We agree with Malloy's first point but reject his second. First, we find the sweeping language of our holding in James to have been overtaken by subsequent, binding authority-in particular, the decision in United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400 (2012). In light of cases like Jones, we hold that there may well be a "functional," constitutionally relevant distinction between an officer opening a car door and a driver being...

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