State v. Ritter

Decision Date07 May 1991
Docket NumberNo. 59290,59290
Citation809 S.W.2d 175
PartiesSTATE of Missouri, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Roger Charles RITTER, Defendant-Respondent.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

J. Christian Goeke, Asst. Pros. Atty., Union, for plaintiff-appellant.

John Klosterman, Columbia, for defendant-respondent.

CRANE, Judge.

The state appeals pursuant to § 547.200 RSMo 1986 from the order of the trial court granting the motion of defendant Roger Charles Ritter to suppress evidence seized from a parked automobile owned by a third party. We reverse.

The facts are uncontested. While Officer Mike Turner of the Union, Missouri, police department was on routine patrol, he noticed the defendant standing in front of a parked vehicle located on a corner parking lot. Turner was aware that there was a warrant for defendant's arrest for failing to appear on a charge of writing bad checks. Turner also knew that the vehicle did not belong to defendant.

Turner pulled onto the lot directly behind defendant. Defendant got into the automobile and closed the door behind him. Turner observed defendant lift up in the seat as if to remove something from his pocket and lean to the rear as if to place it in the back seat. As soon as Turner exited his vehicle, defendant got out of the vehicle he was in, shut the door and walked toward Turner. Defendant appeared very nervous. Turner told defendant that there was a warrant for his arrest. Defendant responded, "Please don't do this to me. Please give me a break." Turner handcuffed him and placed him under arrest.

Turner told defendant that he thought he saw him place something in the back seat. Defendant, acting very nervous, responded, "Mike, please give me one break. There isn't that much." Turner asked defendant for the keys. Defendant asked him if he had a search warrant. Turner grabbed the keys out of defendant's pocket. He then placed defendant in the back seat of the patrol car and called for back-up assistance. After unlocking the car, he proceeded to search the automobile. Turner found a marijuana cigarette in the front, between the bucket seats. The officer who responded to the call for assistance found a vial of what appeared to be methamphetamines on the rear floor-board of the automobile. After the search, the officers secured the automobile and transported defendant to the police station.

Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence taken from the automobile, alleging that "the search was unlawful in that it was conducted without a warrant, without probable cause, and was not within the scope of any exception to the warrant requirement." After a hearing on the motion, the court sustained the motion to suppress. The trial court found probable cause to believe contraband, probably drugs, was in the car, but held a search warrant was required, stating:

Here he [the officer] had the keys, he [the defendant] was under arrest, he wasn't going back to the car. The defendant couldn't get back in the car. He knew the car belonged to someone else. Even though that person wasn't here in court, I think we need to give some consideration to that other party. As far as that other party coming back with a set of keys and driving it off, the other officer could have stayed there, prevented that from happening. It was during the daylight, it wouldn't have been any problem of going to a judge, get a search warrant. * * * Or, more than likely, if they had gone down and asked the gal who owned the car "Do you mind if we look through the car," she would have said "Go look for yourself." More than likely she would have said that. He didn't do that.

The state raises one point on appeal, that the trial court erred in suppressing the evidence on the grounds that a search warrant was required. 1 We agree.

The state contends that under Missouri law the officer was permitted to make "an immediate search upon the finding of probable cause without presenting the issue of probable cause to a magistrate." The burden is on the state to justify a warrantless search and to demonstrate that it falls within an exception to the warrant requirement. State v. Burkhardt, 795 S.W.2d 399, 404 (Mo. banc 1990); Section 542.296.6 RSMo 1986. "On appeal by the state as authorized by § 547.200, RSMo 1986, the correctness of the trial court's decision is measured by whether the evidence is sufficient to sustain the findings." State v. Cross, 757 S.W.2d 613, 614 (Mo.App.1988).

The prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures is enforceable against the states under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 655, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 1691, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081, 1090 (1961); State v. Witherspoon, 460 S.W.2d 281, 283-84 (Mo.1970). Generally, a search of private property without proper consent is " 'unreasonable' unless it has been authorized by a valid search warrant." Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 439, 93 S.Ct. 2523, 2527, 37 L.Ed.2d 706, 713 (1973) (quoting Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523, 528-529, 87 S.Ct. 1727, 1731, 18 L.Ed.2d 930, 935 (1967)). However, a broad and well-established exception to the warrant requirement arises where an automobile is the subject of the search. State v. Burkhardt, supra, 795 S.W.2d at 404; State v. Milliorn, 794 S.W.2d 181, 183 (Mo. banc 1990). This exception arises from the facts that an automobile is mobile, Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 153-54, 45 S.Ct. 280, 285, 69 L.Ed. 543, 551 (1925), may be easily taken or vandalized, Cady, supra, 413 U.S. at 448, 93 S.Ct. at 2531, 37 L.Ed.2d at 718, and there is a diminished expectation of privacy in an automobile compared to a home or office. California v. Carney, 471 U.S. 386, 391, 105 S.Ct. 2066, 2069, 85 L.Ed.2d 406, 413 (1985). Law enforcement personnel may search an automobile and seize contraband without a warrant if (1) probable cause is established and (2) exigent circumstances necessitate the search. Milliorn, supra, 794 S.W.2d at 183, citing Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42, 51, 90 S.Ct. 1975, 1981, 26 L.Ed.2d 419, 428 (1970).

The trial court found probable cause. 2 The only question is whether "exigent circumstances" necessitated the search. Our Supreme Court has held that "[a]s a practical matter, exigent circumstances exist whenever an automobile is involved; the mere possibility that the vehicle can be moved is generally sufficient justification for a warrantless search." Milliorn, supra, 794 S.W.2d at 183 (emphasis added). The trial court did not specifically address the existence of exigent circumstances but did recognize the possibility that the owner could come with another set of keys and drive it away.

Warrantless searches of vehicles by law enforcement officers with probable cause have been sustained where there is any possibility of the vehicle being moved or the evidence in it being removed before a search warrant is obtained. Although it is clear that exigent circumstances exist when an unapprehended defendant may return to drive his vehicle away, State v. Holt, 695 S.W.2d 474, 477 (Mo.App.1985); State v. Brown, 476 S.W.2d 519, 522 (Mo.1972), it is equally clear that exigent circumstances exist when the vehicle used by an apprehended defendant belongs to a third party who could presumably remove the car or its contents. Furthermore exigent circumstances exist where the car is on a parking lot where it would be accessible, not only to the owner, but also to vandals. United States v. Caroline, 791 F.2d 197, 199 (D.C.Cir.1986) (reversing the trial court and finding exigent circumstances to justify a warrantless search of an automobile driven by the defendant but owned by her friend, where the police knew that the car was owned by a third party who presumably had a set of keys); United States v. Evans, 481 F.2d 990, 994 (9th Cir.1973) (finding exigent circumstances where "police could reasonably believe the evidence might evaporate through the efforts of [defendant's] girlfriend who owned and had a right to immediate possession of the vehicle."); United States v. Ellis, 461 F.2d 962, 966 (2nd Cir.1972) (finding exigent circumstances where police took keys from a defendant in custody, went to a parking lot and unlocked an automobile belonging to a third person in order to search it because it was "not inconceivable" that the car could have been driven away or vandalized), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 866, 93 S.Ct. 162, 34 L.Ed.2d 115 (1972); United States v. Alden, 576 F.2d 772, 776 (8th Cir.1978) (finding exigent circumstances where an automobile belonging...

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7 cases
  • State v. Donovan
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • October 24, 2017
    ...1997) ("Searches of automobiles, because they are mobile, are generally excepted from the warrant requirement."); State v. Ritter , 809 S.W.2d 175, 177 (Mo. App. E.D. 1991) ("[A] broad and well-established exception to the warrant requirement arises where an automobile is the subject of the......
  • State v. Blackman
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • February 8, 1994
    ...erroneous. Id. at 183. We review the factual findings only to determine if they are supported by substantial evidence. State v. Ritter, 809 S.W.2d 175, 177 (Mo.App.1991). We defer to the trial court's ability to weigh the credibility of the witnesses. Milliorn, 794 S.W.2d at 183-84. We view......
  • State v. Collins
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • September 10, 1991
    ...1 This statute was repealed in 1989.2 Defendant does not question the existence of exigent circumstances. See, e.g. State v. Ritter, 809 S.W.2d 175 (E.D.Mo.1991) and cases discussed therein.3 Ross reflects an anomaly created by the intersection of two separately developed doctrines concerni......
  • State v. White, 60066
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • June 16, 1992
    ...whether the search and seizure was permissible pursuant to the "automobile exception" to the warrant requirement. See State v. Ritter, 809 S.W.2d 175 (Mo.App.1991).9 We note that defendant has no standing to challenge the police's search of Powell and no standing to protest the introduction......
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