State v. Smith, Docket No. 48358

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Citation168 Idaho 463,483 P.3d 1006
Decision Date23 March 2021
Docket NumberDocket No. 48358
Parties STATE of Idaho, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Melonie Dawn SMITH, Defendant-Appellant.

Eric D. Fredericksen, Idaho Appellate Public Defender, Boise, attorney for Appellant. Brian Dickson argued.

Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, attorney for Respondent. Jeff D. Nye argued.

BEVAN, Chief Justice.

This case comes to the Court on a petition for review from the Idaho Court of Appeals. Defendant Melonie Dawn Smith appeals her criminal conviction for first degree murder and destruction, alteration, or concealment of evidence. On appeal, Smith asserts that the district court: (1) erred when it denied her motion to suppress; (2) abused its discretion when it admitted certain testimony over her objection; and (3) committed fundamental error by (a) admitting a video and (b) not striking the prosecutor's comments in closing arguments. Smith further argues that she was deprived of her right to a fair trial due to the accumulation of errors. We affirm.


On February 11, 2017, Guy Lopez went to the Bingham County Sheriff's office to report that a friend of his, Melonie Smith, had been involved in the homicide of David Davis. Lopez told the officers that during a drive, Smith confessed she had killed Davis two days earlier and his body was lying in her kitchen. Smith explained that a man named Kevin (later identified as Kevin Day) shot Davis in the legs twice outside of her home. Day then left the scene and Davis entered Smith's home where, after Smith attempted to stop the bleeding, she shot Davis in the head. Smith told Lopez she was so upset by Davis's screams and bleeding that she "shot him in the back of the head like an animal that had been hit by a car." Smith then asked Lopez to help her move the body and her large couch, which had brain material on it, outside the trailer, where she intended to place it over Davis's body, and burn both the couch and the body in an effort to conceal or destroy evidence. Lopez told Sergeant Mark Phillips that he had just come from Smith's home and observed the victim wrapped in plastic. Lopez also saw brain matter in the home and observed blood and human debris dripping down the wall. In addition, Lopez viewed part of the skull, and "bones and stuff," in the wood-burning stove.

Lopez described Smith's home (a double-wide trailer) to the officers, found the location on Google Maps, and identified Smith's address. Lopez detailed that other guns could be found in the home and described one gun (different from the one Smith had used to shoot Davis) behind the front door. Lopez also described all the vehicles that could be found at Smith's house and detailed other buildings on the lot. Lopez drew a diagram of the trailer and a second map with directions to Smith's house. Sergeant Todd Howell articulated to Sergeant Phillips that a search warrant would be necessary. After he finished his interview with Lopez, Sergeant Phillips spoke to other officers and related his concern that Smith would destroy more evidence given her efforts to burn parts of the body in the wood-burning stove. In addition, after the interview concluded Lopez belatedly told Sergeant Phillips that Smith also had a methamphetamine lab outside the home. Sergeant Phillips left the interview room and told officers they would need a hazmat team due to the methamphetamine chemicals, and another officer cautioned Sergeant Phillips that Lopez had told fantastic stories in the past.

Officers were sent to watch Smith's home until the arrival of the officers who were to contact the occupants. Three officers, Detective Randy Herbert, Detective Luis Chapa, and Sergeant Phillips, approached Smith's home around 11 o'clock p.m. The officers knocked on the door and announced that they were with the Bingham County Sheriff's Office. Despite what was described as "freezing cold" temperatures, Smith exited the home, shutting the door behind her, wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and closed-toed shoes.

Detective Herbert verified Smith's identity and explained the police received a report about "something going on" and that the officers wanted to come in and see if everything was okay. Smith responded "everything's fine" and that no one inside needed medical attention. Smith said that her mother, Bettie Duke, was the only other person present in the home. Detective Herbert informed Smith that if she refused the request to let to officers look for a person in need of medical attention, the scene would be sealed and both Smith and her mother would have to leave the residence. Smith argued and stated the police could not seal her home without a warrant. At that point, Duke opened the front door, enough only to stand between the door and the doorframe. Smith told Duke that the officers were there to "come in my house and tear my shit apart."

The officers objected to this description of their intentions, at which point Smith asked her mother in front of the officers if she was hurt, Duke answered "no."

Smith then turned to the officers and said, "you want to know what happened? Somebody got hurt, and they left." Upon further inquiry, Smith identified the person who got hurt as "David." Smith elaborated that Kevin Day shot David Davis in the leg in Smith's driveway but both men had left the premises. Detective Chapa informed Smith that the officers had information Davis was still in Smith's home, and that he was dead. Smith denied this information. Detective Chapa stated the officers needed to confirm that Davis was not inside the home in medical need. Smith repeatedly denied the officers' requests to search her home and stressed that they needed a search warrant. The officers seized the home in anticipation of getting a search warrant and explained that because the home had been seized, Smith and Duke needed to exit the home. Smith continued to tell the officers that they could not enter her home without a warrant. The officers put Smith in handcuffs. Sergeant Phillips reminded his fellow officers that there were firearms in the home.

After Smith had been removed from the front deck, Detective Herbert knocked on the front door. Duke returned to the door and officers explained the situation to her. Duke affirmed that no one was in the home except Smith and herself. Duke then told the officers she was going into the home to retrieve a coat. Detective Herbert responded that he had to go into the home with her because the property had been seized by the Bingham County Sheriff's Department. As the conversation continued, one of the officers again cautioned that firearms were present in the home and both Duke's and the officers' safety was at risk. Duke finally stated she was too shaky to stand in the doorway. The officers invited her to go inside and sit down but reminded her they would follow her. Duke turned away from the officers and re-entered the home. Despite Duke's oral protests, the officers followed her inside.

Sergeant Phillips' body camera revealed that he and Detective Herbert walked through the home with their guns drawn. One of the officers repeatedly stated, "Sheriff's Office, come out" as they walked through the home. The video from Sergeant Phillips' body camera showed debris lying throughout the scene, as Lopez had described it, and spaces large enough to hold a human body were illuminated with his flashlight. Detective Chapa remained with Duke. In the laundry room, officers discovered a large black bag on the floor. Detective Chapa came in and felt the end of the bag and identified what he believed to be two feet. The bag was not opened, moved, or removed by the officers. The officers removed Duke from the home, sealed the house, and procured a search warrant.

About six hours after Lopez contacted the police, around 3:00 a.m. on February 12, 2017, a search warrant was served to search Smith's home. Inside, the officers found Davis's body wrapped in the black plastic bag as described by Lopez. Smith was charged with murder in the first degree and destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence. Smith moved to suppress the evidence, asserting the search of her house was in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution, because the officers' entry into the house was without a warrant, without consent, and not justified by exigent circumstances. The State opposed Smith's motion.

After a hearing, the district court denied Smith's motion to suppress. The court first determined, "[b]ased upon the information known to the officers at the time they secured the home, an exigency existed to preserve evidence of a serious crime." That said, the court found no exigency existed with regard to persons in need of medical attention because the officers knew Davis was already dead. The district court also determined that the officers had reason to believe other persons besides Duke might be in the house, and that they might be armed and dangerous; thus, when Duke reentered the house after it was seized, the officers had reason to escort her and conduct a protective sweep for officer safety. The district court held the discovery of Davis' body in the plastic bag occurred in plain view during the protective sweep. Further, the court determined that "even if the officers' warrantless entry into Smith's home had been illegal ... the evidence seized pursuant to the Warrant would have inevitably been discovered."

Smith's case proceeded to trial. During trial, the State sought to introduce Exhibit 4 into evidence, which contained Sergeant Phillips' body camera footage depicting Smith's repeated refusals to allow the officers into her home. Smith's attorney objected, stating he expected that Lopez would testify before the exhibit was admitted because the officers' claim that "We have information out here that someone needs medical assistance" stemmed from Lopez's...

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  • State v. Smith
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • March 23, 2021
    ...168 Idaho 463483 P.3d 1006STATE of Idaho, Plaintiff-Respondent,v.Melonie Dawn SMITH, Defendant-Appellant.Docket No. 48358Supreme Court of Idaho, Boise, February 2021 Term.Filed: March 23, 2021Eric D. Fredericksen, Idaho Appellate Public Defender, Boise, attorney for Appellant. Brian Dickson......

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